Friday, May 16, 2008

Mid-May Linkorama

Another round of animation tidbits ...

Time Magazine hossanahs the new DreamWorks opus Kung Fu Panda:

KFP, from a clever screenplay by ex-King of the Hill writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, is a tribute to the literally hundreds of '70s Hong Kong martial arts dramas that flooded Saturday-morning U.S. TV in the wake of Bruce Lee's success with Enter the Dragon. The plot, of a laggard who undergoes rigorous training to become a great fighter, is familiar from many Jackie Chan films, including the one that made him a star, Drunken Master. Fans of Chang Cheh's Five Venoms movies will have no trouble spotting this movie's Furious Five: the Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Tigress (Angelina Jolie) and Monkey — voiced by Chan himself, as a way of lending his vocal blessing to the project.

Chan's confidence was well placed. Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne may have an unhealthy fondness for humiliating physical humor — there are more sight gags of fat creatures hurting themselves than in an entire run of Super Bowl commercials — but they are essentially respectful toward the conventions of martial arts films and the Zen spirituality underlining them.

(The Hollywood Reporter's take on the film is here.)

And we'll touch on a big animation company we don't think much about here, Electronic Arts:

Acquisition charges pushed video game publisher Electronic Arts to a loss for its fiscal fourth quarter, but the company's strong software sales helped the company's revenue blow past analyst expectations.

The company reported a $94 million loss for the quarter, or 34 cents per share, compared to a $25 million loss, or 8 cents per share, a year ago. Net revenue, however, was up 84 percent to $1.13 billion, with titles such as "Rock Band" and "Burnout Paradise" leading the way ...

EA’s optimistic forecast reflects widespread optimism in the video game industry. Year-to-date, game software is on pace for record sales, and EA still has several major titles in the wings.

Leading that pack is "Spore," the long-in-production title from Will Wright, the creator of "The Sims" franchise. Due Sept. 7, the game will let players create unique creatures and guide their evolution from the embryonic stage to the space age. The company is also working on "The Sims 3".

EA Sports will launch "Facebreaker," its first new franchise since 2002. Expansions for the "Battlefield" and "Command & Conquer" franchise are also due soon. And the company will debut more of its fall and winter lineup at the E3 Media Summit in July. All totaled, the company has more than 15 games scheduled for release this year—and expects to make between 63 and 68 percent of its revenue in the second half of the year.

"I believe it’s the best and most exciting lineup in EA’s history," said Riccitiello.

It appears that EA and the industry have not yet crash and burned because of on-line gaming ...

The Wall Street Journal reviews "The Pixar Touch" (a tome we touched on here earlier):

The conventional wisdom – not discouraged by the company itself – is that Pixar's genius flows from Steve Jobs, who started the studio from a computer-animation division he bought from Lucasfilm for $10 million after he left Apple Computer Inc. in 1985. The truth is much more complex and far more interesting, as David A. Price reports in "The Pixar Touch." Mr. Price, in addition to offering unprecedented detail about the notoriously press-shy company's workings, tells a story that abounds with lessons for business people and creative artists alike. Chief among the lessons is that no one invents anything in isolation and that getting fired can turn out to be a promotion.

The Pixar story begins at a time and place that few of the company's many admirers would guess: the University of Utah in the 1960s. The school's computer-science department, founded by a Mormon elder, attracted some of the era's brightest minds – students included software-programming guru Alan Kay, John Warnock (who would go on to co-found Adobe Systems Inc.) and Jim Clark (Netscape). Another of the star students, Edwin Catmull, was recruited by the New York Institute of Technology to direct its computer-graphics lab. There he met a collection of like-minded graphics programmers, including a long-haired Californian named Alvy Ray Smith, now revered as a computer-graphics pioneer ...

The Fox Network will be rolling out a couple of new animated series for prime time -- not exactly unknown news, but detailed by the Montreal Gazette here:

Two animated comedies are set for midseason, where they will join Fox's animation duo of The Simpsons and Family Guy.

The Cleveland Show is a spinoff from Family Guy, and focuses on the Griffins' neighbour, Cleveland. And Sit Down, Shut Up, about the faculty at a dysfunctional high school, reunites Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz with Arrested stars Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Henry Winkler. It's based on the live-action comedy Sit Down, Shut Up which originated in Australia.

King of the Hill and American Dad will return in the fall, but will go on hiatus in midseason to make room for Sit Down, Shut Up and The Cleveland Show.

While on the subject of Fox and animated fare, the Rupe conglomerate is keen on developing more 'toon talent:

News Corp. is drawing up big small-screen animation plans. 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Broadcasting Co. have teamed to launch Fox Inkubation, a joint venture designed to discover new animation talent and develop animated projects outside of the traditional model.

Additionally, 20th TV has formed a new animation department focused on more conventional development of cartoon series and has tapped Jennifer Howell, executive vice president of "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Important Films, to run it.

"So much of our success has been driven by animated shows, and we have been contemplating how to step up our efforts in the area," 20th TV chairman Gary Newman said. "We believe it is critical to our future success." ...

This short piece in the NY Times is eleven days old, but it caught my attention: the various possessions and domains of Andrew Stanton:

Favorite item in house: My ergonomic office chair. It is based on the tension you put on it. I swear by it. I love it. It brings down my blood pressure ...

There seems to be new production centers springing up across the globe. India, Shanghai, Taiwan, Korea. Name a location, there seems to be a production house there. But here's one I hadn't seen before (maybe I lead too sheltered a life):

Movie production company Fable Works has unveiled plans to produce Cereal Heroes, an animated 3D feature film that is expected to launch in 2010.

The movie will be produced at Sparx Animation Studios in Paris, France and Ho-chi-min, Vietnam ...

Add on: Andrew (Shrek, Shrek II) Adamson talks about his current live action gig, those Narnia flicks. But now he's taking a break:

"I'm passing the directorial reins on for the next instalment, though I will keep my hand in as a producer. It's been a real labour of love, and I do find it hard to let go. I always worry they'll find out I'm still a 13-year-old at heart."

We wish you a productive and life-enhancing weekend.


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