Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Toons of Culver City

Today was Sony Pictures Animation day, where I carried by magic bag of 401(k) books from room to room... A bunch of the story artists were in morning and afternoon meetings, and I was wildly successful in missing them both a.m. and p.m. Story work on "Surf's Up" is pretty much complete, although one of the artists told me there's a screening of the picture for execs next week. "But there aren't too many changes anybody can do at this point," the artist said. "Maybe do a few tweaks in act three. But the film's 30% animated already. The water in it looks great." "Surf's Up" staffers have been shifted to "Cloudy with Meatballs" now that the story part of "Surf" is wrapping up. Everybody I've talked to over the past few months thinks that both "Open Season" (out the end of the month) and "SU" (released next summer) are strong commercial contenders. But it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing at SPA. As we noted a month back and the LA TIMES detailed on Monday, there have been some rough patches. "Cloudy" has gone through a set of directors and various story artists in its ongoing quest for a strong continuity. But let's accentuate the positive here. SPA has some top-drawer talent, a strong lineup of flicks, and if one needs work? Well, they'll work on it.


Jason said...

I was wondering if you could comment on a trend I've noticed. I'm not sure if it's a valid point but here goes. It seems that there are undercover spies from studios infiltrating other studios to rip off ideas. Movies that came out at around the same time with striking similarities have been:

A Bug's Life - 1998 - Disney
Ants - 1998 - Dreamworks

Finding Nemo - 2003 - Disney
Shark Tale - 2004 - Dreamworks

Madagascar - 2005 - Dreamworks
The Wild - 2006 - Disney

Happy Feet - 2006 - Warner Bros.
Surf's Up - 2007 - Sony

I'm sure there are others, and I'm not the expert, but how does one account for it. When I asked my sister-in-law if she wanted to take her kids with us to see "The Wild", she told me she had already seen it. I showed her the movie poster online and she goes, "Oh,...I guess we saw Madagascar,.....I thought they were the same thing." I had another sister-in-law do the same thing when Antz came out along side with A Bug's Life. I can't explain it and it's happened too many times to be mere coincidence. Anyone's take on this will be of interest to me. 'Cuz I know if I tried getting away with it, I'd either be sued for intellectual thievery, or laughed off the stage for being embarrassingly unoriginal. Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do think there is ahm, "cross-polination." (It would be difficult for there not to be, since story artists bounce from studio to studio, and companies -- so far -- don't insist on frontal lobotomies or other memory wipes when they depart.)

Regarding "The Wild," my teen-aged son took one look at the trailer and said: "Oh yeah. 'Madagascar' meets 'Finding Nemo.'" Regarding all the insect pictures, John Lasseter railed against Katzenberg at the time of "Antz" release, saying Jeffrey had plagiarized "Bug's Life." Katzenberg denied it. Whatever the truth, "Bug's Life" made a lot more money than "Antz," even though "Antz" was the first out of the starting gate, release-wise.

Do I think there is pilfering? You bet. Just go back to Disney's "Silly Symphonies," which were soon followed by Warners/Schlesinger's "Merrie Melodies." (What could THAT be all about?) Penguins are now all the rage because of the documentary and the success of the commando penguins in "Madagascar." You can bank on studios jumping on whatever the hot trend is, over and over. It's only been happening since, oh, 1912.

Do I think there are going to be lawsuits about it? Sure, from time to time. But more often than not, companies are savvy enough to change elements around enough to avoid litigation.

Penguins, after all, are not under any conglomerates exclusive copyright.

Jason said...

Thanks for taking the time. I won't be so shocked next time. I appreciate your comments. Hope all is going well with you guys and all my best wishes.


Anonymous said...

There aren't any "striking similarities" between "Finding Nemo" and "Shark Tale" whatsoever, except they're both set underwater. They really couldn't be more different. It's obvious and goes without saying, but it keeps being brought up again and again, so I just have to toss that out there.
The only really straight rip-off cited imho is Madagascar/The Wild.

It's important to realize that in the first place, projects pitch lines are usually widely known all over the industry long before they go into actual animation. In the second place, what's not known and usually never shared are the things that make each film, regardless of the broad setting (the ocean, an anthill, rats, birds, the jungle, etc.etc.) unique: the thousands of minute, day-today choices made by the artists on each film. They work very hard and intensely, and even those with close friends at other studios don't debrief each other daily....there are no "spies" that I've ever heard of or believe exist in any practical sense.
Everyone in the end wants their films to be plain great, and frankly they'd love to avoid inadvertent similarities(which, believe it or don't, do happen).
A lion is just a lion until he's given a specific personality and reasons to do something in a story; then he's as unique as one man from another man, even if they both wear blue ties.

Kevin Koch said...

I tend to agree with the last poster that the cross pollination isn't (usually)a matter of intentional copying. Face it, the LAST thing you want is a film that looks like someone else's film, and if you're not absolutely positive yours is going to reach theaters first, you'd be taking a tremendous risk to steal an idea that some other studio already has a head start developing.

I think what DOES happen is good ideas will spread virally, and virtually unconsciously, with the result that down the road several different studios will be working on projects that have some similarities.

Unknown said...

I always assumed it was studios hearing hearing of what the other stuidio had in developement and trying to beat them to the punch, but I'm not so sure anymore.
Fairly recently I put together a pitch with a particular setting and group of animals that every artist and civilian that heard it thought it was a sure thing, but when I finally got the nerve to pitch it to a studio I found out that they had just purchased a similiar property and had put it into developement. Mine was better, of course...;)
I'm positive I had never heard of this other project prior to putting mine together and in no way had it influenced mine.
Maybe there was something in the water...who knows.

Now I hesitate to pitch my version to other studios because it would appear that I might be accused of pilfering.

I doubt my story is unique...

Kevin Koch said...

Steve, I had exactly the same experience about two years ago. Funny thing is, the studio I pitched to ended up not following through on the project, but then a short time later a completely different studio announced an almost identical project.

Oh, and mine was also the best version of the three... ;)

Anonymous said...

From what little I have seen, I personaly think it looks fantastic!! The humour actually works, animation is solid, the water looks real....Hope this does great in theaters. I'm sure it will.

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