Friday, May 05, 2006

A Universal Friday

Universal has had a looonng history with cartoons.... From Walter Lantz to Steven Spielberg to the new "Curious George" franchise. Today I was up on the 25th floor of the Universal-NBC-GE black tower, doing my rounds through the Universal Animation Studio. The place isn't as busy as it was a year ago when "Curious George" was cranking along, but there are still some projects popping. "Land Before Time 13" is well into work, headed up by animation veteran Charles Grovesnor. (This is the franchise that just keeps on giving. Did Don Bluth and Steven Spielberg have any idea the legs this beast was going to have?) There are also 26 1/2 hours of "Land Before Time, the tv series. And 30 1/2 hour episodes of the "Curious George" t.v. series wrapping up, with the possibility of 20 more in the near future. I was told that Universal is pretty happy with how the "Curious George" feature fared at the box office. It took in $60 million, which was $10 million above the studio's expectations. The DVD will be coming out in the Fall, and will most likely pull good numbers. And help set up the series. Last thought: the television animation industry is probably at a relative high point right now. I've had several directors -- including one at Universal -- tell me that they're turning down multiple job offers. Warner Bros. has fewer shows and projects, but other studios -- IDTFilm Roman, Disney TVA, Universal, have a plethora of series and direct-to-video work. At the same time, another director -- one who's been in the biz a long time -- has prognosticated that the tv toon business is in danger because he sees a declining work ethic, that the booming nineties ruined a lot of artists' professionalism. He thinks more and more work will be shiped overseas. I told him I think the artistic backbone of the L.A. animation business is a lot stronger than he believes. (He's only seeing one small part of it.) I've encountered a lot of good work out there, and the depth of talent makes Los Angeles a production hub with heavy gravitational pull. Besides, with the geniuses now guiding us in Washington, the U.S. dollar keeps declining -- making us cost competitive with all those Asian countires with stronger currencies! So take heart, dour director! We'll hang in there!


Anonymous said...

Boy, I couldn't disagree more with the dour director.

I started my career in the almost-90s, and of course so did a lot of my peers; the subsequent overall animation BOOM ushered in hundreds of new faces from CalArts, Sheridan, Ringling--and from off the street, in some cases. The last time I looked around in television, the level of expertise, drawing chops and overall ability was about 1000% higher than in '89. IMHO the bar has been set mugh higher; shows look better(of course there are exceptions), a weak artist has little chance of either getting in or staying in than way back when.
As for laziness, man, I see production schedules that would be shocking to us in '88--compressed into half of the time we used to have to do a board, etc., and yet the examples I see on people's desks(in both layout and storyboarding)are across the board sharp. This is a period of very high median skills in Joe Average, whether the END product of the TV writing is up to or worthy of those skills is another matter.

Kevin Koch said...

You're right on. Ten years ago, I came into the industry with no experience and a portfolio based on a couple of union classes. At the time, I actually had a choice of which feature studio to work in. There's no way I could break into the industry now, not without working ten times harder than I did. Of course, once I got in I've worked my ass off to improve, move up, and stay in the game. And that's the same attitude I've seen from other people who have managed to keep working steadily.

Anonymous said...

I feel I was one of those guys that worked hard, a CalArts guy. I remember one company owner saying you guys over at this feature animation co. can sure draw! thanks, we work it.
I lost my benifits, I was one day short from being vested. But through the five years working, three company's hired me, but changed their minds, one I know for dome reasons, I belive that alot of people that was hired in the 1990's and after where all going to be axed anyway so the guild doesn't have to pay the benifits, sad deal, there went some of the talent.
You can only work fast for so long, remember there is always somebody faster and better, so don't let yourself get burned out.
Injoy the summer.

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