Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Last Boxoffice Weekend of the year . . .

And the live-action cartoon, Night at the Museum, had a huge Friday boxoffice with over $13 million (bigger than its opening Friday and about double the second place Happyness) to start things off. Happy Feet, after finishing 9th last weekend, is in eighth place with another $3 million. Updates to follow . . .

Sunday update: Night at the Museum was the resounding winner, with $36.7 million, and is already at $116 million. Happy Feet took another ninth place, with just under $8 million, for a domestic cume of $176 million. And as proof that people aren't in the mood for counter-programming during the holidays, Black Christmas opened in 13th place with a meager $3.7 million.

Hope you all have a Happy New Year's eve, and drive safely.

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'Toon Year in Review -- Part III

And yet more backward glances at the year gone by. This time we look at the summer months...

June '06

Pixar/Disney's Cars enjoys a $63 million opening on its way to a $244,082,982 domestic theatrical gross. It ends up the #2 Disney release (and #2 film of the year) after Pirates. But its opening falls below "analysts" expectations.

Fox announces that prime-time series Futurama will go back into production. This makes the third Fox nighttime series to return from the dead (Family Guy and King of the Hill being the predecessors to perform the Lazarus miracle.)

There are press reports of a government probe of the WGAw and DGA failing to pay European residuals to directors and writers.

July '06

Animation's overseas ticket sales: A commenter points out that foreign box office has Ice Age 2 as the top animated flick of the year, then Over the Hedge, then Cars. (This is all before Happy Feet becomes December's animation sweetheart.

Monster House debuts at #2 ($22 million) then drops far faster than other recent animation releases (the L.A. TIMES speculates the fall off is caused by bad word-of-mouth from parents who think the flick is too intense.)

Ant Bully arrives D.O.A. (#5, $8.4 million) on its way to a lacklustre total of $28 million.

Comicon unfolds in San Diego, bigger and more crowded than ever.

Pinky and the Brain debuts on DVD.

The Animation Guild is informed by Disney that the studio wide-cutbacks announced by the company will not include feature animation employees (this turns out to be not quite correct.)

August '06

SIGGRAPH opens in Boston. TAG President Kevin Koch takes it all in.

Barnyard, the long-in-production, San Clemente-based 'toon, opens with a $16 million gross, double most predictions.

Animation legend Ed Benedict, the father/designer of Fred, Wilma, Boo Boo and many others, passes away on August 28th.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXXV

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Another New England snow scene -- an early card of the prototypical New England bridge over a frozen stream. As you can see, the styles vary a lot.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006


I just caught up with VARIETY's insightful front page story from a couple of days ago. It seems the trade paper has come across an amazing slice of reality:

Surveying the most crowded year in history for animated features, there's no escaping the fact that the right release date helps. A lot.

Successful toons tend to have very strong legs, dropping just 20%-30% each week. Those legs can get cut off, however, when another animated feature for families opens.

DreamWorks' "Over the Hedge," for instance, had a decent $38 million bow and declined less than 30% in its second and third weekends. In its fourth frame, however, "Cars" opened, and "Hedge" took a 50% hit, putting a big dent in its B.O. momentum.

It's good to know that when two high-profile animated family films collide in the marketplace, one or the other suffers. I guess this is sort of like when two horror films come out close together, or two spy adventures debut within a week of each other, that the first film in release usually takes a hit.

I never realized this before, so it's fine that a knowlegable show biz trade paper puts it on the front page. Next week, VARIETY will clue us that the sun rises in the east.

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'Toon Year in Review -- Part II

As the year (and this blog) rolled on, animation continued to heat up. (It couldn't have been otherwise, with all the animated productions in work and soon to be in release). But we digress. On to the months of April and May...

April '06

The month of many rain showers starts with a bang as Ice Age 2: the Meltdown collects $70.5 million on its opening weekend and stays strong throughout the four-week period.

Production ramps up on The Simpsons feature. Hulett reports on blog that the film is being made in Cinemascope (tm) and is called on the carpet by a production manager for revealing the screen shape.

Cartoon Network continues its winning streak with Ben 10, My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Camp Lazlo, Class of 3000, Foster's home for Imaginary Friends. A shorts program is also up and running.

IDT Entertainment (swallowed up by STARZ Media the following month) negotiates a three-year deal with TAG (IDTE is not in the regular animation bargaining unit.) TAG's voting members ratify the new three-year pacts by 94%.

The Screen Actors Guild Board approves a new animation (voice actors) contract.

May '06

Digital storyboards accelerate their expansion through the animation industry.

Over the Hedge opens with $38.5 million, $1.5 million below analysts' estimates. (Picture goes on to a worldwide gross of $330 million and the 130th slot on "Alltime Worldwide Box Office list." Still, those analysts did think it underperformed.)

At WDFA, word circulates that Clements and Musker will direct a new hand-drawn feature...Word also goes around that Personal Service Contracts, initiated by Eisner-Katzenberg in the early '90s, will come to an end under Lasseter-Catmull. And do, in fact, come to a finish by late summer.

Warner Bros. Animation has Scooby and Shaggy, Batman, Loonatic, Legion of Superheros and other direct to video projects in production.

Sixty-fifth anniversary of the Disney strike.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXXIV

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

An earlier card featuring white doves of peace and a distant mission.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

'Toon Year in Review -- Part I

Kevin and I have been posting on this blog for almost a year now, and it's time -- since we are at the end of '06 -- to look back at some of the milestones in Southern California animation from the year gone by. Let's face it, there were a lot of them. So, without further ado...

January '06

The Weinstein Co. goes wide with its animated feature Hoodwinked after a limited release in December. Picture, budgeted somewhere around $15 million, goes on to gross over $50 million domestically and $100 million worldwide.

Disney announces the acquisition of Pixar. WDFA exec David Stainton moves to new offices in the Frank Wells Building.

February '06

DisneyToon Studios cancels Chicken Little 2. Development staff laid off.

Ballots for the new IATSE Basic Agreement (negotiated in November-December '05) mailed out to IA members. (TAG members receive no ballots as they aren't part of the bargaining unit.)

TAG blog is launched. Animation artists everywhere rejoice.*

March '06

The Simpsons' feature is announced via a theatrical trailer attached to Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (which, in and of itself, goes on to gross almost $700 million worldwide. Between "The Simpsons" and the output of Blue Sky Animation in New York, Fox finds itself warming to animation...)

Animation director Mark Dindal (Cats Don't Dance, The Emperor's New Groove, Chicken Little) and animation producer Randy Fullmer depart Walt Disney Feature Animation.

The Simpsons (the teevee series) gets picked up for another two years -- until 2008.

Andrew Millstein, former veep of DreamQuest and Disney Animation Florida, named exec v.p. of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

WDFA's Gnomio and Juliet feature leaves the feature division, ultimately moving to Miramax.

Fox's King of the Hill, after a three-month shutdown, is announced to be returning to production.

IA Basic Agreement ratified by 67.3% of voting members.

TAG President Kevin Koch registers his first complaint on the blog about media whining over the "animation glut." More complaints from Koch and Hulett follow.

DizToon production execs tell Hulett that Tinkerbell might not go over well with new production topkick John Lasseter. Production execs turn out to be psychic. Or knowledgeable. Or both.

Disney-Pixar marriage becomes official (after the 45-day waiting period required by Securities and Exchange Commision.) Buzz goes around at WDFA's "hat building" that the division might eventually move to a new facility in Glendale.

The TAG 2006-2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated and approved by the TAG negotiating committee.

*This is known as I-R-O-N-Y.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXXIII

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

A non-traditional card this time. Neither a Santa/reindeer character card nor a landscape. But the lion lying down with the lamb.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXXII

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Another landscape card, this taking a bit of the style of Tyrus Wong, the background artist-designer responsible for much of the look of "Bambi." I think it's pretty safe to say that the Disney background artists -- most of whom had artistic careers outside of the studio -- influenced each other quite a lot.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Let's Retire the Word "Glut"

Kevin and I have beaten on this particular dead horse for months now, but let me go over this one more time: We must retire the word "glut" as its connected to animation generally and animated features in particular...

I continue to get phone calls from reporters that include (or start with) the words "Do you think the glut of animated features has hurt (fill in the blank)?"...

I mean, here's an example of it...and another....and yet another...

You get the idea. Everybody has picked up on this four-letter word and run with it. Right into the ground. As Kevin and I have pointed out here on more than one occasion, as I've pointed out to various ink-stained wretches who've phoned up, there is no glut. None. Nada.

There are only moving pictures that people want to see, and moving pictures that people don't want to see. When was the last time you saw one article that said, "Live action movies are tanking because of this terrible glut of live action movies."?

You haven't seen that article and you won't see that article because the storyline for the falling off of live action at the nation's AMCs is always because 1) DVDs are killing movie box office, 2) home theaters are killing movie box office, 3) downloading on the internet is killing movie box office, 3) pirated DVDs (related to 2) are killing movie box office (also non-pirated DVDs), 4) the lower quality of live action films is killing movie box office. Etc.

It isn't ever: The glut of live action films is killing live action box office. Why? Because it's not the MSM's agreed-upon storyline.

So I'll say what I've said before. "Animation glut" has little to do with non-performing animated features. Bad animated features (and sometimes bad marketing and bad luck with the release date of said animated feature) do.

So we'll now dispense with the word "glut," okay? There were sixteen animated features (give or take) released in '06. A lot of them did fine. We'll get a dozen (give or take) in '07. A lot of them will do fine. On their merits. And sixteen features or twelve features or even thirteen features does not constitute a glut. At best it's a trickle or gentle flow.

Are we clear on this? Thank you and goodnight.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXXI

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

And as there are Siamese cats and reindeer, so are there mice, this time marching.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

End of Year Studio Overview

So here's a quick end-of-year look at recent happenings in and around a selection of L.A. studios...

At Warners, they wait for the new series to start, also the move from Sherman Oaks back to Burbank...

At Disney Toons, they wait for the remodel of the second floor of the Sonora Building, the final shipment of scenes for Little Mermaid III, overseas, the next turn in development of the long-gestating Tinkerbell. Division top-kick Sharon Morrill announces to staff that the DVD sales of Fox and the Hound II exceeded company expectations by 25%.

At Disney Television Animation, Mickey's Clubhouse and Emperor's New School get pick-ups and rehire crew, My Friends Tigger and Poohwraps up and waits to go on the air. (Most of DTVA is now headquartered on the remodeled first floor of the Disney Sonora building in Glendale.)

At Disney Feature Animation 160 staffers (117 of them under TAG's jurisdiction) get notified of impending layoffs on December 11 and 12; TAG and the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans hold informational meetings a couple of weeks later. One Disney veteran says to me ruefully: "New management said in those first big meetings we had, 'We're not here to downsize, nobody's getting laid off' but here we are. Getting laid off."

As he talks, I think back to the meetings with Tom Schumacher and Peter Schneider a half-dozen years before, when the same things were said, and then? Downsizing.

Lesson here? Sometimes management misrepresents, sometimes management gets caught in the same changing dynamics that staff does. Stuff happens. And then today's assurances of job stability become tomorrow's pink slips. Companies are not families. When there is no work they put their "children" up for adoption.

At DreamWorks, Jeffrey Katzenberg tells reporters (one of whom tells me), "I've got no intention to sell DreamWorks Animation. I'm not Steve Jobs with some other company besides Pixar to run."

At Starz Media/Film Roman, more Simpsons television artists still move down to the feature version on the first floor, overtime continues, and production continues to accelerate. The feature should complete its first pass in the production pipeline early in the new year. Then of course, revisions commence (even as Simpsons writers continue to revise on their end...

And we hope your New Year will be a good one...

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXX

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Santa with one of the reindeer, kicking back at the beach the day after Christmas. But I don't think you could have a reindeer smoking on a Christmas card today. Who would publish it?

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXIX

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

This heavily designed nativity scene was done in the early sixties. It's very close to a study Dad painted for an indie Christmas film he produced, painted and wrote called A Light Shines in the Darkness. He pitched the finished film to Walt Disney, who passed. I recall Dad saying that Walt liked it, but didn't want to pick up a sixteen-minute art film with heavy religious overtones.

The staff and officers of the Animation Guild wish you and yours the happiest of Christmases.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXVIII

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

An appropriate Christmas eve study: Santa under the gun. time-wise.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

CGI Extravaganzas

Happy Feet is still in the Top Box Office Ten, but let's put that to one side for a moment. Four of the top ten films this holiday season are heavy with CGI. And surely in this time of production layoffs, that is a good happenstance, no?...

Night at the Museum resides at #1.

Charlotte's Web sits at #5.

Eragon holds on to #6.

And Happy Feet now totals $155,756,000 in domestic box office as it clings to #9.

I'd say the above box office performers are something from which animators, lighters, tech directors and the rest of us should draw comfort.

Update: Happy Feet finishes at #8 for the holiday weekend (through the 24th) with $159.1 million tucked in its pouch.

Night at the Museum finishes the three-days with $30.8 million (a robust #1, considering the tepid reviews); Charlotte's Web lands at #5 while Eragon plunks down at #6. Merry Christmas and the happiest of box office returns!

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A Memo John Lasseter Would NEVER Send...

...or any other modern Hollywood executive. But back in 1935, things were, ah, different. Warner Bros., then as now headquartered in Burbank, had a policy of putting communications on paper. In fact, at the bottom of each WB interoffice memo was the following:

Verbal messages cause misunderstanding and delays (please put them in writing.)

So executives did. And the following memorandum, written by WB's production head Hal Wallis, probably focussed the attention of director Michael Curtiz when he read it (the memo deals with the feature Captain Blood, the Pirates of the Caribbean of its day)...

To: Curtiz

From: Wallis

Subject: Captain Blood

I have talked to you about four thousand times, until I am blue in the face, about the wardrobe in this picture. I also sat up here with you one night, and with everybody else connected with the company, and we discussed each costume in detail, and also discussed the fact that when the men get to be pirates that we would not have "Blood" dressed up.

Yet tonight, in the dailies, in the division of the spoils sequence, here is Captain Blood with a nice velvet coat, with lace cuffs out of the bottom, with a nice lace stock collar, and just dressed exactly opposite to what I asked you to do.

I distinctly remember telling you, I don't know how many times, that I did not want you to use lace collars or cuffs on Errol Flynn. What in the hell is the matter with you, and why do you insist on crossing me on everything that I asked you not to do? What do I have to do to get you to do things my way? I want the man to look like a pirate, not a molly-coddle. You have him standing up here dealing with a lot of hard-boiled characters, and you've got him dressed up like a God damned faggot...

I suppose that when he goes into the battle with the pirates (the French) at the finish, you'll probably be having him wear a high silk hat and spats.

When the man divided the spoils you should have had him in a shirt with the collar open at the throat, and no coat on at all. Let him look a little swashbuckling, for Christ sakes! Don't always have him dressed up like a pansy! I don't know how many times we've talked this over...

I hope that by the time we get into the last week of shooting the picture, that everybody will be organized and get things right. It certainly is about time.

Today, of course, the wording of a production memo like this would no doubt be a little different. Nobody would use the word "molly-coddle." Nobody would even know what it means.

Errol Flynn without the velvet coat, by Al Hirschfeld

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXVII

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

You can always tell what was hot with the card companies, because here's yet another card of the friar.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Dina Babbitt Auschwitz artwork follow-up

A couple of months ago I posted about Dina Babbitt's efforts to get her Auschwitz paintings returned. I just got an email update on how that's going, along with the transcript of a recent NPR interview with Mrs. Babbitt on the subject. It's a fascinating interview, and you can hear it by clicking the link, or read it below . . .

Update on the Wyman Institute's Campaign for the Return of Dina Babbitt's Auschwitz Paintings

December 21, 2006

Dear friends:

I am writing to share with you the latest news about the campaign to help Mrs. Dina Babbitt regain the portraits that the Nazis compelled her to paint in Auschwitz, and to update you on our auction plans.

Mrs. Babbitt was recently featured on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program. A transcript of the show is attached below. As you will see, the interviewer mentioned our petition by 450 cartoonists, animators, and comic book creators, led by Joe Kubert, in support of Mrs. Babbitt. Thank you again for participating in that important petition.

The Wyman Institute is moving ahead with a second petition by cartoonists and comic book creators, led by Roy Thomas (it is being signed by those who missed the first one); we are also circulating a petition by attorneys and legal scholars; and we will be developing school curriculum materials about Mrs. Babbitt's struggle.

As you know from our previous emails, the Wyman Institute is organizing an auction of comic and cartoon artwork, to support Mrs. Babbitt’s struggle. We are still early in this process, so there is plenty of time for additional artists to contribute. I hope you will consider doing so.

We have already received donated artwork from Ralph Bakshi (two pieces), Jackson "Butch" Guice (three pieces), Sal Amendola, James E. Lyle (three pieces), Guy Gilchrist (of the "Nancy" comic strip) and Greg Theakston.

In addition, pledges to contribute art have been received from John Romita, Jr., Ron Garney, Walter Simonson, Alan Weiss, Don Perlin, Michael Netzer, Mike Vosburg, Joe Rubinstein, Lynn Johnston ("For Better or For Worse"), Jim Keefe, Rob Stolzer, and Jesus Antonio. And Michael Moorcock has offered to donate pages from the manuscript of one of his books.

Would you please consider donating a new sketch, or a previously-published illustration or page, to this worthy cause? It can be a drawing of a character with which you have been associated, or any other characters you choose. All proceeds will be used strictly in support of the Wyman Institute's efforts on behalf of Mrs. Babbitt.

All artwork should be sent to:

Dr. Rafael Medoff, Director The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies 11738 Lovejoy St. Silver Spring, MD 20902

With thanks in advance for your support and all best wishes for the holidays, Rafael Medoff

“All Things Considered” - National Public Radio, November 30, 2006

I’m Robert Siegel, and we’re going to hear now from 83 year old Dina Babbitt, who was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, where she went to art school. Many years later in Hollywood, she was an assistant animator whose hands contributed to some very familiar cartoons.

Dina Babbitt: For the past seventeen years, I was doing Cap’n Crunch. Before that, I was at Warner Brothers and I was doing Wily E. Coyote --which I didn’t like very much because of all the little things in it that have to be very carefully animated-- and Tweety Bird and all these things-- you know, everything that Warner Brothers had in its cartoon department.

RS: Now flash back several decades to 1944, and what Dina Babbitt was drawing was anything but comical. It was life-saving. Her name was Dina Gottliebova and, like thousands of her fellow Czech Jews, she was an inmate in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele wanted portraits of Gypsies to document what the Nazis saw as their degenerate racial characteristics. His photographs, he said, lacked the proper colors. He learned about the young Jewish artist who had painted a mural on the children’s barracks at Birkenau. So Dina was summoned, and told to paint. And by doing so, she survived.

DB: I was called to the sick bay where Dr. Mengele was standing, in a small room, behind a desk. And one of our Jewish doctors who was in there too, said to me, Dr. Mengele is going to keep you here, you don’t have to go on the transport. At which point I said, “What about my mother?,” and Dr. Hellman got very flustered, and said, “You can’t possibly--” And then Dr. Mengele interrupted and said, “What is her number?” You know, we had tatoos--

RS: Yes, tatoos on your arms.

DB: And I didn’t know [her number]. I forgot it. So he sent somebody to fetch my mom, and she came, and this is how my mother and I got on the list.

RS: Dina made nine watercolors for Mengele, nine portraits of Gypsy prisoners, nowadays we would call them Roma. In 1973, she learned that seven of the portraits are in the Auschwitz Museum [in Poland], and she’s been trying to gain ownership of them ever since. You can see what these watercolors look like at our website, The museum says they are an integral part of the collection. Dina Babbitt says they are an integral part of her life. She vividly remembers the day in 1944 when Dr. Mengele, notorious for conducting experiments on inmates, set her up with a makeshift studio.

DB: And Mengele sent for two more chairs, so one chair was my easel and the other chair was for the subejct I was supposed to paint, and one chair for me to sit on. And I got a pad and paints, watercolors. Then he said to me to go and pick a subject outside. So I went out and there were a group of girls standing nearby, and I asked one would she please come and sit for me and I’m going to paint her. She came in, and I painted her. This is the girl with the red scarf. And when I finished her a few days later, to my surprise, he said I didn’t sign it, when he took it. And at first I asked him, “Do you mean my name or my number?” And he said, “Your name.” So, anyhow--

RS: And this was the first of nine portraits, I gather, that you did in watercolors.

DB: Yes, nine portraits, in watercolor. And two I did on my own camp, of two people--they were never found, or at least--I don’t know.

RS: Seven of these watercolor portraits had been acquired by or for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, which has them--I’ve seen reproductions of them--they’re very striking, I’ve seen them on line. You say those are your drawisngs and you want them back.

DB: I want the originals back, because those I held in my hands in 1973 when I came there for the first time. I actually held them. They brought them to me. You know, I am all for them being repoduced as much as possible. I want the world to know that the Gypsies had a Holocaust, just like we did.

RS: Do you remember what it felt like back in 1944, to to be sitting across from a Gypsy prisoner at Birkenau?

DB: Well, the one I was closest to was Celine,that’s the second one, the one with the blue scarf. She had just lost her baby, it was two months old and it starved to death. She had no milk, there was no way she could feed it. I got white bread for her, because she said she couldn’t swallow, she couldn’t hold down the bread. That was crucial, of course, because we had such tiny rations that if you couldn’t eat what was given to you, that was a death sentence right there. So luckily, Mengele sent his orderly, who was bringing me my soup every day, to bring me white bread, which I could share--I gave it to Celine, of course. And therefore I painted her slowly, because I wanted to be with her as long as possible. So I think it took about a week to do Celine.

RS: How did you sit across from these people, doing a task for Josef Mengele, one of the truly criminal characters of the twentieth century, trying to make something beautiful out of that watercolor?

DB: It was a litlte bit of an escape for me too, you know. I have been always painting and sculpting. The fact that I had a chance to do it in Birkenau and Auschwitz was a bit of an escape, although the starvation was still rampant. I mean, you don’t know what it feels like to be hungry without any chance of appeasing it. It’s a different thing than being hungry for lunch or for dinner here. It’s a pain, it’s a physical pain in your stomach. So I was sitting there, painting, and for a moment I could forget about all that. Also, if you look into somebody’s face, doing a portrait, you look into that person, you look inside of the person. And for a moment, you become involved with--you are almost one. You can see what the person is thinking about or what his past was, or so on. Anyway, with Celine it was an instant friendship and it came out in the paintings. So I am attached to these paintings. and I don’t understand anybody who can possibly try to keep them from me. Can you?

RS: Dina Babbitt’s request for the originals of her watercolors has been supported over the years by a Sense of Congress resolution and a petition signed by hundreds of cartoonists and animators.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum states its position on its web site. It says, in part, “Both death certificates and prisoner cards produced in large number by scrupulous Nazi camp bureaucracy and works of art created in the camp, either made by prisoners on orders of the SS or illegally, are unique documents and pieces of evidence, having the greatest meaning, significance and impact in the place of their creation.”

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Animating In Harmony

The Goof in "How to Play Baseball."

The Blackwing Diaries has this New York Times article on Disney shorts. It's not new, but it's relevant to the following anecdote, so I recount:

Four new shorts are in development at Disney: “The Ballad of Nessie,” a stylized account of the origin of the Loch Ness monster; “Golgo’s Guest,” about a meeting between a Russian frontier guard and an extraterrestrial; “Prep and Landing,” in which two inept elves ready a house for Santa’s visit; and “How to Install Your Home Theater,” the return of Goofy’s popular “How to” shorts of the ’40s and ’50s, in which a deadpan narrator explains how to play a sport or execute a task, while Goofy attempts to demonstrate — with disastrous results. The new Goofy short is slated to go into production early next year.

The idea for “Home Theater” came from the experience Kevin Deters, one of its two directors, had buying a large-screen TV. “For years I’ve been saying to my wife, let’s get a nice, large TV, because I’ve been suffering with a 30-inch screen,” he said. “She finally acquiesced around the time of the Super Bowl. When we went shopping, we discovered the stores had ‘Delivery in Time for the Big Game!’ and similar promotions, some of which appear in the film.”

I ran into one of Disney's Grand Old Animators out on the sidewalk beginning of the week, a guy who's been there -- off and on -- since the 'seventies. He told me he was starting to animate on Home Theater, working on the Goof. Said he was working with software called Harmony (if I remember the name right) that allows him to draw directly onto the computer screen. I asked the inevitable question:

"Miss the paper and pencil?"

He gazed into the middle distant and said "No, not really. It hasn't been that hard to get into. I kind of like it, in fact. Pretty easy to draw with the thing. And I don't have all those eraser crumbs in my lap anymore."

So there you have it. Technology marches on. No more eraser crumbs.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXVI

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Could have been another standard-issue "shepherds and star in the desert" card - but the shadows, sky and thunderheads give it design pizzazz.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tink in Suspended Animation

Clap everybody! Clap real loud!...

HOLLYWOOD -- Top Walt Disney Co. animation executives have delayed next year's release of a "Tinker Bell'' DVD that the company was counting on to drive sales of a key new line of merchandise aimed at young girls.

The decision is important because Disney has been hoping Disney Fairies, introduced last year, can replicate some of the success the company has enjoyed with its lucrative Disney Princesses line of dolls, clothes, videos and other merchandise.

But executives from Pixar Animation Studios, who now run Disney animation, decided the plot of "Tinker Bell'' needed some tinkering of its own.

As a result, the film, originally scheduled for next fall, is being pushed back until at least 2008, according to Disney animation employees and company executives.

I've been ambling through the Frank Wells Building for years, admiring the Tinker Bell artwork decorating the walls. Well done stuff. But as the LA TIMES relates, and story artists have told me like forever, the story -- even years later -- still requires "substantial work."

The picture had commenced animation and there was a small animation crew in Burbank, a large one in India. But I guess animation has been put on hold.

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Disney Changes II

The second meeting of soon-to-be-laid off Disney staffers happened at the hat building yesterday. We had bigger attendance than the first meeting, but we didn't catch everyone. Since we handed out important info and got lots of questions, we synopsize the main points in Q and A form...

My end date at Disney's is March 30, 2007. How long until my Motion Picture Industry Health Insurance runs out?

If you've worked at Disney for a year or more, you should have a year or more of health coverage beyond your end date. For example, if your MPI health plan card has 08/01/06-12/31/06 as your coverage dates, then you will most likely be covered until 12/31/07 because you'll have 300 contributed hours to make that coverage happen.

And beyond 12/31/07, you'll likely have another six months of coverage because you (likely) have 300-plus hours in MPI Health Plan's "Bank of Hours." And that's enough for an additional six month's worth of health insurance. At the time your coverage ends, the Plan will send you a letter notifying you that unless you authorize the Plan to use hours in your Bank of Hours to extend coverage, no more health benefits. You'll need to return the enclosed form to the Plan for that extra half-year of coverage. If you don't, no health insurance.

What about pensions? I've worked here off and on for like, seven years, but I've never put together enough years in a row to qualify for the monthly pension. I think this kind of sucks.

The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plans have two parts: The Defined Benefit Plan is a monthly-annuity type pension and takes five years to vest (when you're "vested," it means you're qualified to receive the pension.) The Individual Account Plan -- essentially a balanced stock and bond account -- takes ten forty-hour work-weeks to vest (400 contribution hours). Both these pension plans are automatic when you start work at the studio.

So, let's say you labored at the Mouse House (or some other signator company) for two years, then went away for three years, then came back for three years, then left for five years. You're correct in assuming that you never reached the magic five-year threshhold to qualify for the monthly annuity (the Defined Benefit Plan.) The good news, however, is that you would have qualified for the Individual Account Plan (since you only need ten weeks to vest it), and you would probably have somewhere between five and twenty grand sitting in the account, with each one of those grands earning interest.

One other point: If it were up to the Animation Guild (or any other union under the Industry Plan), everyone would be vested in both pension plans in ten weeks. But it's not up to the Animation Guild. The Motion Picture Industry Plan operates under the federal Taft-Hartley law, so half of its trustees are from participating companies that are trying to contain plan costs. It costs the plan more money if every participant vested lickety-split, hence the five-year vesting time. It saves the companies money.

There's one other pension plan offered to Disney employees working under the TSL/839 agreements, and that's The Animation Guild 401(k)Plan. This one is optional, not automatic. In 2006, you could have tucked 15,000 pre-tax dollars into it (there is no match.) Unlike the Industry Plans, this one is portable to anywhere in the U.S. of A. Anyone who has been away from the industry for ninety days or more can roll her/his 401(k) money into any other qualified retirement account or 401(k) plan.

I'm getting laid off, but there are a couple of other people in my department who have been here way less time than me and have less skills than me. How can the company get rid of me and not them? Doesn't the Animation Guild have seniority in the contract?

Since the mid-eighties, the Seniority Clause in the 839 contract (the same language is in the TSL contract) has allowed signator company wide discretion in who they retain, and who they lay off:

In hiring, layoffs, and recalls, the principal of seniority shall apply as set forth below; except that, where the merit and ability of one individual is, in the sole discretion of the Producer, superior to that of another individual, Producer's judgement shall prevail unless the Union can demonstrate that the producer did not reach its decision fairly and reasonably and without discrimination of any kind...

No company operates as a strict meritocracy. Skills are important, but cronyism, politics and pay-rates also play a part.

Disney Feature Animation is no different than other companies. It reaches its decisions of retention and dismissal via lots of different routes. The collective bargaining agreement, unless there is raw discrimination that can be proven, allows them to do so. This might be crappy, but it's hard to reverse crappiness in a contract arbitration.

My end date is March 2. Is this enough time for me to earn a pension year in 2007?

It is if you don't take time off between now and March 2. This is possible because the '07 pension year "begins on the Sunday before the last Thursday of a calendar year and ends on the Saturday before the last Thursday of the subsequent calendar year."

This could be an important point if you are close to vesting the Defined Benefit Plan. If you're not sure where you stand, we suggest you check with the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan (818-769-0007).

Addendum:There's a lot of non-signator effects houses and game companies out there. What if I go to work at one of them? What happens to my benefits? How can I start getting benefits again?

If you go to work at a non-signator studio, you can let us know, sign a rep card, help us organize it. If there's enough critical mass for unionization inside the company, it can well end up becoming a union studio that pays contribution hours into your pension and health plan. (It's happened many times before. See: IDT-Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Hyperion Studios, etc.)

You can't self-pay MPI pension and health benefits; if they don't happen through an employer, they don't happen. But you will have health benefits from the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan for a year or more after leaving Disney. If your next employer is non-signator, consider negotiating for lesser -- or no -- company health benefits in exchange for higher wages. It doesn't always hapen, but sometimes it does. And if you don't ask for them, you for sure won't get them.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXV

Ralph Hulett Christmas card art
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

This Santa also employs a musical motif. And Dad used the baby grand we had at the house as a design model for Santa's piano.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXIV

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Here's a two-fer -- a design card that's also a character card. Santy brightening Christmas.

Dad usually painted eighteen new designs per year, year in and year out. In the middle of 1956, he went on sabbatical from Disney and went to Europe for a year to paint (taking wife and children with him.) He still had his regular load of Christmas cards to do, however, and holed up on the Spanish island of Majorca for half a month, turning them out. He mailed the designs back to California Artists before publishing deadlines. Happily, all of them arrived safe and sound.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Feature Animation Year In Review

With only a few days left in the year, now seems a good time to take a look back. As we've been tracking all year, 2006 had an unprecedented number of major animated feature films released, and a particularly amazing number of CG features (12 this year, compared to five last year, four in 2004, and one in 2003). Because of this, lots of people have been speculating that this was the year CG animation would hit the wall, the way hand-drawn features did a few years ago, and we'd be awash in major animated busts. Cue the funeral dirge . . .

But stop the music, and take a look at a list of the box-office leaders for the year. What's that? Four of the top eight films in 2006 were fully animated? (And we'll note that animators had a big hand in three of the remaining four on that list.). . .

There's Cars at number two, then Ice Age: The Meltdown, Over the Hedge, and Happy Feet (the latter with a bullet) in slots six, seven, and eight, respectively. So if the public got sick of these films, they had a pretty odd way of showing it.

Below those hits, there were a surprising number of films that put up midrange numbers. Feature animation has tended to be feast or famine, with films either hitting big or flopping badly, but this year there were five films that made between $58 and $83 million. Given that the domestic box office makes up only around one eighth of the revenue stream for most animated features (foreign box office is another eighth, worldwide video/dvd is about half, and pay tv/broadcast tv/merchandising/etc. makes up the last quarter), that's not too bad.

Because I enjoy crunching numbers, I've added up the total number of films, and the total domestic box office, for the last few years:

Year -- # of Features (CG) -- total domestic box office 2006 --- 16 (12) --- $1,207 million 2005 --- 10 (5) ---- $ 659 million 2004 --- 12 (4) ---- $1,200 million 2003 --- 10 (1) ---- $ 579 million

I may have missed a minor release or two, and there's one more film to be released in '06 (Arthur and the Invisibles), so the 2006 numbers aren't final. But they do show that this year was a very good year overall for feature animation, and that the audience appetite for our work remains high.

And let's be frank, it wasn't like any of this year's films exactly hit a nerve with the public the way films like Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo and The Lion King have in the past. If you look at all this year's films on Rotten Tomatoes, you see that there wasn't a single film that scored as high as 80% "fresh." Imagine how huge the 2006 numbers would have been if at least a few films had been real crowd pleasers and instant classics?!

Looking ahead, 2007 will probably feature more variety, fewer releases, and perhaps more potential for some huge hits. It looks like it's going to be another good year. And while this year will probably always be remembered as the year of the CG glut, it won't be remembered as the year that the audiences got fed up with animation, CG or otherwise.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Joe Barbera, RIP

The last time I saw Joe Barbera, he was attending his 95th birthday party at Warner Bros. Animation in Sherman Oaks, and voice actors and artists were wishing him many happy returns. TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito remembers him:

Joe Barbera -- 1911-2006

Monday December 18th saw the death of Joe Barbera, one of the few surviving animation artists of Hollywood's Golden Age and with Bill Hanna, who died in 2001 at age 90, partners in one of the biggest cartoon studios in film history. He was 95 and he slipped away at home surrounded by family and friends.

Joe Barbera was a child of immigrants from Flatbush Brooklyn who rose up the ranks from ink and paint to become one of the best gagmen in animation history. He labored at Fleischer's, then Van Bueren and Terrytoons, before moving out to LA to get a job at MGM. There he met westerner Bill Hanna and the two formed one of the great teams in animation history. Joe would come up with the jokes and staging and Bill would time out the cartoon. MGM was struggling to find its identity when in 1940 Bill and Joe created the team of Tom & Jerry for the short Puss gets the Boot.

They put together an legendary team of artists. The Tom & Jerry series became one of the great series in film history and the first non-Disney shorts to win the Oscar.

Laid off by MGM in the studio build-down in 1957, Hanna and Barbera set up on their own above a storefront and tackled the problem of how to produce animation in large quantities for television. They created the limited animation system and their first series Ruff & Ready premiered on TV in 1959. Hanna & Barbera became the most successful studio in TV history, producing hit show after hit show - Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Top Cat, Scooby Doo, Penelope Pittstop, The Banana Splits, JabberJaws, The Smurfs and many, many, many more!

By 1979 Hanna & Barbera was up to 2,000 employees, doing 12 series, commercials and features. It was called the General Motors of Animation. Yet no matter how big it was, Bill still liked to run production and time sheets, and Joe did the sales and development of new projects. Joe was never above rolling up his sleeves and working with his development artists into the night and weekends.

Joe never lost his humanity, never forgot where he came from and who helped them make it. The original MGM guys could still call them Bill & Joe while it was Mr Hanna and Mr Barbera to the rest of us peons. One of the old animators liked to hobble up the hill from the studio to the Oak Crest Market to buy a bottle of bourbon for lunch. Joe left instructions with the market to never charge him, just keep a tab and at the end of the month Joe would pay it, no questions asked.

That was Joe. No matter how successful he got, he never lost his humanity nor his humility. As an elder statesman after the merger of Turner and WB, Joe still came to the office and was shy about his age. Joe ended his memoir My Life in Toons, with an anecdote about Mel Blanc, and I think it is appropriate. Mel Blanc said: "I've known Joe for over thirty years, and in that time I never knew one person say one bad thing about him."

So say we all. Adieu, Mister Barbera. So long, Joe.

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Chris Hayward, Adieu

Since few have mentioned Mr. Hayward's passing, I'll do it here.

Chris Hayward wrote some of the most ground-breaking television animation ever. He wrote Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Fractured Flickers and others for Jay Ward in the late fifties and early sixties, then went on to write memorable live action sitcoms.

But it's the Ward shows that I remember, and that I remember laughing hysterically at when I was eleven, twelve and thirteen. It's a long way back through misty memory, but those half-hours had a big impact on me and other boomers of the fifties and sixties. To give that much pleasure to that many adolescents isn't a half-bad legacy.

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The latest Zilchers

There was a time when young artists would eagerly await the latest editions of the monthly animation desk magazines, and talk in hushed tones of the new power features and accessories, just like ... well, just like high tech gew gaws of today...

... or so this 1934 Jack Cutting cartoon would have us believe (courtesy of the estimable James Walker)...

Jack Cutting's latest Zilchers
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXIII

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Here's the last of the jesters (always facing the same direction). Clearly they sold like hot cakes, because there were a lot of them.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Disney Changes

When new management teams come into companies, change usually happens (new managment isn't brought in, after all, to maintain the status quo.) Such is the case at Disney Feature Animation over the last weeks and months. Features in the pipeline were analyzed and reconfigured. Work in development was revamped, production schedules were changed. And all that led to something else...

Since October, feature employees have been aware that layoffs were coming, they just didn't know exactly who was being laid off or what the severance packages might be. Last week, 117 Disney Feature employees under TAG's jurisdiction finally got their end-date notices. For most, employment will continue through March 2nd, 2007. And many have received severance packages that go beyond their March employment dates.

Over the past week, I've talked to a lot of the folks who will be leaving, giving them information about how long their health insurance will last, where they are with pension vesting*, and what issues they might want to bring up with company reps in exit interviews.

*For employees with the March 2 '07 end date -- and who work and receive hours for the last week for December, those employees should have 400 contributed hours for 2007 and therefore should have a qualified pension year.(Depending on time off and end dates, some people might not qualify.)

Getting laid off is never a real pleasant experience, but Disney has softened some of the blow by giving a lengthy "heads up" to departing employees. We urge staffers who didn't make today's informational meeting to come to the next one on Wednesday at noon (first floor conference room 1302).

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXII

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

A desert scene - with what looks like Mojave flora combined with a Middle East desert (that is, if the gentlemen riding camels are in the correct geographic location.)

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XXI

Christmas card art by Ralph Hulett
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Santa on skis, and doing somewhat better than Dad did up in Mammoth.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Weekend Turnstile Competition

Happy Feet drops to #6 (and a total of $143 million after 29 days) as The pursuit of Happyness, Eragon and Charlotte's Web enter the top of the list. And the holiday box office festival gets rolling!

Apocalypto, last weekend's b.o. king, drops to #5 on Friday and runs a total of $22 million. (With six new entrants -- three in wide release and three in limited -- the weekend is crowded)...

Update: Happy Feet ends the weekend at #4, raking in $8.5 million to carry its total to $149.5 million after five weeks of release. (Not bad for a Warner Bros. presentation, no?) Feet should schuss nicely through the holiday season...

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John Sparey WRITES

Animator/director John Sparey, whose caricatures of Disney artists we ran over a period of months, wrote us a couple of days back. (John now resides contentedly at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills.) We excerpt from his letter:

...Monday...I got some quick lessons on how to say "Howdy Blog!" I got into, typed in my name and got a list of entries, including two drawings: "Allen Wade," and "Types I have known - Bea and Liz." Somehow, these led me to further lists -- more than I could inventory in one afternoon, especially when so low on the learning curve...

Back again on Tuesday, I worked my way back through "Bullpen 1954." This had been posted on May 16...You had pieced it together from previously existing color copies, but the results look quite seamless. I was quite pleased with the responses to this picture, such as: "It doesn't looked dated," "It could almost be people that the viewer knew," "It could draw the viewer in,"... A part of the descriptive paragraph for "bullpen" is missing. I would have placed Wes Herschenson up on a shelf, and Chuck Williams in the forground, not Wes in the foreground. But Floyd Norman ahd no problem identifying Chuck...

And you can assure Steve Gordon that I wasn't downed by a stroke. Catscans indicate that I have had some small strokes, what would be about a 2.0 on a Richter's scale of strokes - nothing I could feel... It was a walking difficulty that had been developing over a period of years, accelerating until one night I could not push myself up out of my recliner, but I could slide down onto the floor. And lie there. I had channel 4 to listen to as long as I was aware of my surroundings. Then I woke up in the hospital....

John also relates that the drawing we had labeled "Al Wade" is actually another Disney artist -- Gary Mooney. He writes:

Al Wade was softer and shorter than Gary. And he didn't have a giraffe neck. I am surprised that Floyd Norman didn't comment on how off character my "Al Wade" was...

Our apologies to John for the mislabelling the Wade-is-really-Mooney caricature (we obviously didn't locate the right name in John's detailed notes). We wish John -- and everyone out at the Country Home -- the merriest of holiday seasons.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XX

Hulett thumbnail
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

This New England snow scene looks to be one of his earlier cards - most likely done in the late 'forties or early 'fifties.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

A National Labor Relations Board Vote

Since the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was signed into law by FDR, workers have had the right to organize. Over the years, the act has been twisted, stomped and mutilated, but its core idea remains the same: workers can organize their place of employment under a collective bargaining agreement and be represented by a union, and they can't be fired or disciplined for exercising that right...

Well, that's the law, but the ground-zero reality is something else again. In recent years (like, say, the last thirty), plenty of workers seeking union representation have been fired for their union activities. (Just ask employees at Wal-Mart). Not a big mystery, then, why the percentage of workers repped by labor organizations has fallen during the last three or four decades.

Happily, the strength of unions in motion picture and television land is a lot better than other places. The IATSE (our parent union) covers something around 90% of movie and t.v. work, and its subset TAG comes close to the same percentage in Los Angeles County. (We're not a national union.) Because of this dense representation, animation artists have come to expect their wages to be competitive and health and pension benefits to be part of the deal.

When wages and benefits aren't up to snuff, we often get calls. This was the case with a small studio in Hollywood that's turning out a series of direct-to-video CGI features. Employees there wanted benefits, phoned us, and we sent them representation cards. When we got signed cards back, we petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. (This sounds simple, but it's pretty time-consuming.)

Long story short: Today we got to the election stage of the process. An NLRB agent came to the studio, set up a booth, and the animation employees voted. When the ballots were counted, what to our wondering eyes did appear but 100% of the vote in favor of the Animation Guild.

Now. That's an unusually high figure, but it doesn't mean we can immediately take a victory lap with our arms in the air. It means we are on the cusp of the negotiating stage of the proceedings, wherein the company is required to sit down and bargain with the union "in good faith" for a collective bargaining agreement.

This doesn't always lead to a new contract. Sometimes it leads to many negotiating sessions with no agreement at the end, but today we are a hell of a lot closer to a contract than we were 24 hours ago. We'll keep you posted...

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The Golden Globes Choose Their 'Toons

The Golden Globes, once upon a long time ago (they started in 1944), were an industry joke. Foreign reporters in Tinseltown (stringers included) got together and picked the best actor, actress, movie, (etc.) as they saw fit. Nobody paid the Globes much attention until (as Wikipedia relates)... the 1958 Golden Globes which was the first year of local telecast, in an impromptu action, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. collectively known as the Rat Pack took flight to the stage, allegedly taking over the presenting with whiskey and cigarettes on hand. The action was met with great delight of the audience. The next year the association asked them to present the awards.

A pity Frank, Dean and Sam didn't do the honors every year.

But my how times have changed. Now the Globes are treated as a really big deal. Now every nominee shows up at the televised bash and makes a nice, graceful speech when she (or he) wins, burbles how happy and grateful she (or he) is. Now everybody pays attention, the animation community included:

Despite having a whopping 16 animated features to choose from, the foreign press whittled the selection down to three films, shutting out a fair number of major studio and independent productions. DreamWorks, which leads in Annie Award nominations for Flushed Away and Over the Hedge, is surprisingly absent in the list. Clearly, box-office performance was not a factor since the moderately successful Monster House got the nod over the better atended Open Season from Sony Pictures Animation and the blockbuster Ice Age: The Meltdown from Fox Animation. And while foreign animated films have received more love from the group in the past, both Satoshi Kon’s 2D Paprika (Sony) and Christian Volckman’s black-and-white Renaissance (Miramax) were left out in the cold. Similarly, Luc Besson’s Arthur and the Invisibles (The Weinstein Co.), which opens this Friday, is nowhere in sight.

Could it be that Monster House got a nomination because of the last names of two of the producers? ("Zemeckis," "Spielberg.") Nah. That couldn't possibly be it...

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XIX

Hulett thumbnail
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Another of the patented friars/butlers, working on some calligraphy.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Variety on Animation

Today's Daily Variety has a slew of articles on animation, including a pretty good one on hand-drawn features. . .

Additional articles are on the resurgence of big studio interest in shorts, the economics of lower budget features, the interplay between Sony Imageworks and SPA, a concise piece on Mo-Cap logistics, some notes on the Happy Feet production, a short bit on Pixar's story process, techniques for creating CG hair and eyes, why you won't see Studio Ghibli's Earthsea soon, and a new Nick series.

I haven't read all the pieces yet, but most seem better written than the usual mainstream reporting on animation (though I'm a little skeptical of some of the conclusions in the article on "Budget toons") and seem worth checking out.

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The Growing Inequality

Since we are, from time to time, an actual labor blog (not just an art/animation history blog), we want to lay upon you economist Paul Krugman's new Rolling Stone article. Dr. Krugman discusses some of the economic realities of America today, and he puts it in visual terms:

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly wage of the average American non-supervisory worker is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1970. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared -- from less than thirty times the average wage to almost 300 times the typical worker's pay.

The widening gulf between workers and executives is part of a stunning increase in inequality throughout the U.S. economy during the past thirty years. To get a sense of just how dramatic that shift has been, imagine a line of 1,000 people who represent the entire population of America. They are standing in ascending order of income, with the poorest person on the left and the richest person on the right. And their height is proportional to their income -- the richer they are, the taller they are.

Start with 1973. If you assume that a height of six feet represents the average income in that year, the person on the far left side of the line -- representing those Americans living in extreme poverty -- is only sixteen inches tall. By the time you get to the guy at the extreme right, he towers over the line at more than 113 feet.

Now take 2005. The average height has grown from six feet to eight feet, reflecting the modest growth in average incomes over the past generation. And the poorest people on the left side of the line have grown at about the same rate as those near the middle -- the gap between the middle class and the poor, in other words, hasn't changed. But people to the right must have been taking some kind of extreme steroids: The guy at the end of the line is now 560 feet tall, almost five times taller than his 1973 counterpart.

I grew up an Eisenhower Republican. My parents liked Ike, I liked Ike. When I was in high school, I supported Goldwater. And when I was in the U.S. Navy, I voted for Richard Nixon -- just one more military man voting Republican. (How many people will confess to that on a labor blog?)

So here we are in 2006, and I still think of myself as a middle-of-the-roader. Problem is, the road has swerved way east from where it was when I was growing up. Televisions, cars, radios, and most appliances were built here in the U.S. Movies were produced here. America was the largest industrial power, a major creditor nation, the country with the largest military and the biggest, most efficient factories. The nation with the largest, most prosperous middle class. My background artist father made thirty thousand dollars a year and we lived in a custom-built house, had three cars, and Mom stayed home and looked after the kids.

But hey, just look at us now. And for some reason I don't vote Republican anymore.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day XVIII

Hulett thumbnail
(c) by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

A standard-issue Santa, probably painted around the time Dad produced a Christmas film called "Portrait of Santa," which would have placed it in the early sixties.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Concentration of Talent

Monday at Universal, a couple of battle-hardened animation veterans and I sat in the 25th floor conference room and commiserated about all the talent 'round about the industry...and in particular the amazing group that worked in the Disney Animation department between '78 and...oh, '83. It was quite a staff....

Firstly, there was Don Bluth (who directed and produced more independent animated features than anybody in the history of 'toons.)

There was Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Incredibes, Ratatoullie, Family Dog)

...Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Willy Wonka, etc.)...

...John Musker and Ron Clements (Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules and on and on)...

John Lasseter....

Joe Ranft...(Pixar's dynamo story head)

Henry Sellick...

Bill Kroyer...

And directors/story artists/animators like Glen Keane, Andy Deja, Eric Goldberg, Tom Sito, Mike Gabriel, Ed Gombert, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers...

I know I'm leaving important names out but my collar's getting tight and you get the general idea. There was just a whole big raft of people who came to movie prominence in the eighties, nineties and beyond. They showed up at Disney within about six or seven years, and some stayed, some moved on, but holy crap there were a lot of folks who became motion picture tyros or animation icons. Or both...

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Ollie sends his regards

The last of the Nine Old Men couldn't make it to our holiday party last Friday, but he sent along a card that we handed out on his behalf. . .

We're glad to pass on the greeting from Ollie Johnston, former Screen Cartoonist Guild executive board member and Disney animator (and where else but here would his credits be listed in that order?)

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