Saturday, October 31, 2009

Meatball Stroganoff

Cloudy with Meatballs has apparently struck a responsive chord in Mother Russia.

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" grossed $3.68 million in its first weekend in Russia, the highest-ever opening for Sony Pictures in Russia ... [T]he Sony toon’s 438-print release reps an $8,401 per-screen average ...

Give the comrades a meal picture they can enjoy, and they will come.

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Three Dee Rolls On

My. It isn't 1953, is it? When Cinemascope rode in and stole the "hot new format" crown from the View Master contingent. No wonder the congloms like stereo viewing.

There is a huge advantage to 3D screens, which can outperform a regular screen 3:1. For example, the 3D screen count for "Monsters vs. Aliens" repped only 20% of the total, yet accounted for 43% of the total gross. Similarly, Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" earned $240 million of its massive $682 million global B.O. from 3D screens, which repped only a fraction of the screen count.

Kind of makes me think that Christmas Carol and Avatar are going to do a little bit of all right at the upcoming derbies.

Also makes me think that DreamWorks Animation is going to have some major winners on its hands next year, when there are going to be a lot more 3-D screens than there are now.

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Halloween Derby

Now with oven-baked Add On.

The Nikkster handicaps the movie b.o. that will see grosses shrink due to Saturday Treatings and Tricks:

1. This Is It (Sony) New $7.5M Fri [3,481 runs] $20M Wkd 5 1/2-day $31.5M

2. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) Week 6 $6M Fri [2,404] $16M Wkd

3. Couples Retreat (Universal) Week 5 $2.4M Fri [3,026] $6.8M Wkd

4. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture) Week 4 $2.4M Fri [2,764] $6.6M Wkd

5. Where The Wild Things Are (WB) Week 3 $1.9M Fri [3,645] $7.0M

6. Saw VI (Lionsgate) $1.9M Fri (-73%) [3,036] $5M Wkd

7. The Stepfather (Sony) $1.1M Fri (-47%) $3.5M Wkd

8. Astro Boy (Imagi/Summit) $1.0M Fri (-42%) [3,020] $4M Wkd

9. The Vampire's Assistant (Uni) $1.0M Fri (-55%) [2,754] $3M Wkd

10. Amelia (Fox Searchlight) $900K Fri (-36%) [1,070] $2.7M Wkd

Astro Boy hangs onto a run of the Top Ten ladder, but isn't setting any turnstiles on fire ....

Add On: At the finish line, Michael Jackson's swan song comes in 2nd on a per-screen basis, but #1 in weekend totals.

As regards animation, Astro Boy falls 55% weekened to weekend, ending up with a $10.9 million total ... and $3 million for the frame. In the meantime, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs does almost as well at #11, accumulating a box office total of $118.5 million.

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Turning to Cartoons

There might be more visual effects in movies than ever, but that doesn't mean there's any money in it.

In an ever-competitive vfx market, Buf is one of the rare companies in France to be regularly tapped by Hollywood studios to create high-end work for tentpoles, such as "The Matrix" trilogy, "Spider-Man" franchise and "The Dark Night." ...

It's [Pierre] Buffin's quest for originality and independence that has set Buf apart and drawn the attention of his international clientele. Some of the tools he pioneered are camera mapping, stereo modeling and the "bullet time" effect ... "He's the big signature of visual effects in France."

Buffin now is stepping up his activities in the toon arena. He created the animation on Luc Besson's blockbuster "Arthur and the Minimoys" and its two sequels ... "It's essential for me at this stage to initiate projects and feed the pipeline," he says. "I can't sit on my chair and wait for projects to come my way." ...

What Pierre is saying here is that jobbing visual effects for big budget tent-poles doesn't cut it anymore, not if you want to stay in business. The only way a viz effx house, even one that's high profile and renowned, can survive in the market today is making its own animated product.

The problem is, creating content audiences want to see isn't as easy as it looks. Just ask Imagi or Sony Imageworks or any number of visual effects shops who've attempted to make the jump to "animation studio." If they're honest, they'll tell you that breaking into the charmed circle of Pixar, Blue Sky Animation and DreamWorks Animation is hard.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Tee Vee Greenlights

Diz Channel gives the go ahead to a new animated series instead of a new live-action half-hour loaded down with 'tweens.

Disney Channel has greenlighted "Fish Hooks," its first animated series in three years.

The cable channel has ordered 21 episodes of the high school comedy, which mixes 2D digital animation and photo collage.

"Fish" revolves around party guy Milo (voiced by Kyle Massey); his neurotic brother, Oscar (Justin Roiland); and an overly dramatic goldfish, Bea (Chelsea Staub). They attend Freshwater High, a school submerged in a giant fish tank in the center of a local pet store. The series chronicles their daily lives ...

As we've mentioned before, a lot of the Chowder crew from Cartoon Network is now at work on the Disney project. (Since Disney TV Animation is a shadow of what it was in the Glory Days of the mid-90s, this is a good thing.)

And American Dad gets a pickup for one more circuit on the merry-go-round.

Fox has given a sixth-season order to "American Dad," keeping the animated skein on the air through at least the 2010-11 TV season.

Pickup also ensures that Seth MacFarlane's Sunday night "animation domination" continues next year on Fox; network also recently ordered a full second season of "The Cleveland Show." MacFarlane's mother ship, "Family Guy," is also on the network pretty much in perpetuity.

T.V. animation isn't the roaring center for long-term jobs that it was ... oh ... fourteen years ago when Disney TVA and Warner Bros. Animation employed hundreds and hundreds of cartoon workers. Since those halcyon days, when broadcast syndication gave us "The Disney Afternoon" and blocks of Warner Bros. cartoons were on broadcast and cable t.v., the money has shrunk and studios have chosen to minimize deficit financing. Adding misery to depression, cartoon cable networks have embraced live action shows, even though a lot of those shows flame out quickly and few have any long-term shelf life. (Never under-estimate the power of Miley Cyrus.)

I've got no functioning crystal ball telling me where television animation will be two ... or four ... or ten years from now. But I'm grateful for any shows that get put into production, because it provides work for animation artists who have had a rough time securing long gigs in the last several years.

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Over at Synchrolux

Kevin discusses Secondary Action vs. Secondary Motion:

I recently saw an animation student’s summary of the Principles of Animation from The Illusion of Life. Here’s the one for secondary action:

"Secondary actions are almost like follow through and overlapping actions."

This is a common misconception that a lot of people make. But it’s incorrect. Take a look back at The Illusion of Life. Follow Through and Overlapping Action are principle number 5, and Thomas and Johnston fittingly give five distinct types of follow through and overlapping action. It’s pretty detailed, with lots of written and drawn examples.

Secondary Action is principle number 8 ....

Click on over to and read the rest of it ....

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

J. K. Speaks

Jeffrey Katzenberg on Hollywood changes:

I think a real seismic shift is occurring. Anytime you're in the center of these shifts, it's maybe not the wisest thing to try and be predictive of where it all is going. But in the pastplus or minus—and I'm referring to the last 30 or 40 years—every time a new platform has come along, the motion picture industry as a whole has usually done a fantastic job of transitioning to it and ultimately gaining revenue. And many different platforms have come along, whether it was free TV or pay TV or VHS or DVDs. Clearly, the next major transformation is going to be from hard goods to digital. There's a lot of uncertainty and caution as to how best to get there. Moving from analog to digital has been disastrous for the music industry. Hopefully our industry has learned from the music business ...

Say what you will about Mr. Katzenberg, he's headed up and run the viable half of DreamWorks for a decade and a half, the part that hasn't been swallowed up by a conglomerate.

And face it. He's performed a high wire act that is almost impossible in the modern age: he's run a successful stand alone animation studio. Which is extraordinary, when you think about it. When he left the Disney Company beneath a dark thunderhead named Michael Eisner, most believed his glory days were behind him. (Cheeky story artists had caricatures of him in a real estate salesman's blue blazer, selling houses to reluctant couples in the forceful Katzenberg style. ("This is the greatest house in the entire neighborhood! Honestly. This is the one you want! I wouldn't steer you wrong!")

Yet here he is, fifteen years later, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, while his ex-friend Michael Eisner runs Tornante.

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A FREE screening of Coraline and Selick/Eng Q&A

Focus Features invites you and a guest to a special 3D Screening of


Immediately following the screening, please join us for a Q&A with Director Henry Selick & Supervising Sound Editor-Designer Ron Eng

Tuesday, November 3, 7:30 pm

Linwood Dunn Theatre at the Mary Pickford Center
1313 Vine Street, Hollywood
(hosted parking available off of Homewood Avenue)

RSVP to 818-777-4627

Seating is limited and is on a first-come, first-served basis. This invitation is non-transferable.

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Disney Development

I zipped around a couple of floors of the hat building today. And artists related:

"A few of us are still doing story work on Rapunzel, but the feature's really made a big jump in coming together. The screening last month was way better ..." [I've heard this before. -SH] "A couple of sequences are going into production, and they're still hiring people to work on it ..."

"..."We're retooling King of the Elves ..."

"Joe Jump is back in work ..."

I hadn't heard that Mr. Jump had returned to the boards, but it isn't surprising; what I saw of the piece when it was in development looked pretty good. (We mentioned it way back when (I think), Variety listed JJ as a project here, and Animated News has a one-sentence synopsis for the feature here.)

A while ago, Disney artists had clued me that development on Joe Jump had stopped, but nothing ever completely dies in Animationland. Peter Pan was in development thirteen years prior to its successful appearance in theaters, Beauty and the Beast was briefly considered for development in the early 1980s, and Treasure Island/Planet got pitched in 1985.

Like I say. Nothing ever dies; it just goes into a suspended half-life until bobbing back to the surface once more. (This book has been in and out of development at the House of Mouse for well over twenty years ... part of the "development graveyard" that is part of every studio's production operation.)

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Middle Links

Wednesday Linkage ... since we haven't done it in awhile.

Jonathan Demme gets animated.

... Mr. Demme (whose films include “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Rachel Getting Married”) said that he had acquired the film rights to “Zeitoun,” whose cover illustration by Rachell Sumpter had inspired him to make it into a cartoon.

“I was staring at the book,” Mr. Demme said in a telephone interview, “and there’s this wonderful line drawing on the cover, the character of Zeitoun in his canoe, paddling through a submerged neighborhood. And I suddenly imagined, What if we could do an animated film and visualize the experiences of the Zeitoun family and all of New Orleans?” ...

Disney grows its Santa Clarita ranch.

... Disney and ABC Studios announced plans Wednesday to build six pairs of soundstages and other production facilities on property it owns in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles.

Known as the Golden Oak Ranch, the 890-acre site was leased by Disney in the late 1950s and then bought up beginning in 1959. Mouse House used the land as the outdoor filming location for pics ranging from "Old Yeller" and "The Parent Trap" to two "Pirates of the Caribbean" installments ...

Not exactly a story impacting animation, but building new production facilities locally is a good thing. Means more jobs down the road.

Whoops. Microsoft bails on Seth. For some reason, Software Grande thought Mr. MacFarlane was going to be somebody other than Mr. MacFarlane.

Microsoft has yanked its sponsorship from Fox's upcoming Seth MacFarlane comedy/variety special over content concerns.

... "Almost Live Comedy Show" was set to run commercial-free, with Microsoft marketing messages built into the special instead (Daily Variety, Oct. 14) ... But that was before Microsoft execs attended the special's taping Oct. 16 ...

Movie studios stare at the decline of those little silver disks ... and search for alternatives.

... Hollywood heavyweights were loath to speak too openly about the promise of digital entertainment — the downloading and streaming of movies and television shows on computers, Internet-enabled televisions and mobile devices. Nobody wanted to anger retail partners like Wal-Mart ...

But business currents have shifted. While DVD and Blu-ray will remain a huge profit center for years to come, studio executives are finally confronting an uncomfortable reality: little silver discs — for reasons of convenience, price and consumer burnout — may never recover their sales power.

... Disney announced last week that it had developed a system to track digital ownership, so people won’t have to buy the same movie or television show multiple times for different devices ... A mother could start streaming “Toy Story” on a laptop for her kids, continue the film on an iPhone at a restaurant and finish it at home with a video-on-demand cable service ...

And Diz Co.'s Robert Iger states the obvious:

... [T]he Walt Disney chief executive, has issued a stark warning to Hollywood, saying the film business is "changing right before our eyes" after a turbulent year in which studios have been forced to re-examine their business models ...

The business model that underpins the movie business is changing," Mr Iger told the Financial Times "If we don't adapt to the change there won't be a business - that's my exhortation to my team."

Mr Iger advocates a thorough re-examination of costs associated with marketing and producing movies. The solution, he said, required "research and development, risk-taking . . . real focus on changing the "status quo".

Pixar director Pete Docter reveals (again) the nub of the whole deal:

... [E]very one of our movies is lousy at some point. It’s just that we allow ourselves time to fix it. And we have this co-op of directors who are all doing their own thing, but who together at certain times to analyze and assist with everyone. On “Up,” for example, about every four months we would show the film to John Lasseter and Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton, and then we’d go upstairs and talk about what was wrong with it.

You want as many people as possible to not only boost you up, but also poke at the soft spots: “Hey, you’ve got some dry rot over here, let’s get the wood putty.” You end up with a big heaping pile of notes, some contradictory, and as the director I’m left to decide what points I agree with and which solutions seem good.

Have a productive workweek, you're halfway home.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Astro Boy Watch

Astro Boy might be rocking in China, but in the land of his birth, there's a different and sadder story.

Imagi Entertainment's "Astro Boy" bombed in Japan ....

After opening on more than 200 screens on the weekend of Oct. 10-12, "Astro Boy" pulled in a disappointing $328,457 in its first week, an average of just over $1,500 per screen, to put it at the bottom of the week's rankings. For comparison, the same week's top film, NTV's "Kaiji," took over $4 million from just over 300 screens at an average of over $13,200.

If distributor Kadokawa was hoping for a slow burner, it was to be disappointed as "Atom," as it was titled locally, dropped out of the top 10 and out of sight the following week ... [I]t looks to have gone the way of other recent attempts such as the live-action versions of "Speed Racer" and "Dragonball Evolution," which both failed to ignite the boxoffice in the land of their origin.

I hadn't seen the box office results for AB in Japan until now, although I knew it had been out for a few weeks. Apparently the reception given the picture by the Japanese mirrors the stateside reaction, which is a shame.

This probably doesn't bode well for Imagi's future plans.

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Union Activity

Since we are not, strictly speaking, all cartoons all the time, allow me to overview some of the labor stuff now happening here in Tinsel Town.

For the first time in more than a decade, composers and lyricists working in film, TV and videogames are considering unionization.

The Society of Composers & Lyricists was scheduled to announce at its annual membership meeting Tuesday night that an "informational meeting" about the possibility of affiliating with Teamsters Local 399 will be held Nov. 16 at the Pickwick Gardens Conference Center in Burbank, Calif. ...

Composers and lyricists are among the few creatives left without a collective bargaining agreement. Services like orchestration, conducting and music performance are covered by American Federation of Musicians (AFM) agreements, but not the act of writing music or lyrics ...

The point of this is, most people working in the movie and teevee biz ultimately understand that they get more money and receive more benefits when they are unionized. And speaking of more money ....

Members of the Screen Actors Guild have rejected a tentative deal with videogame employers, prompting the guild to ask the companies to go back to the bargaining table.

The rejection, announced Wednesday, comes a week and a half after SAG’s national board approved sending out the deal to four member caucuses.

Opposition to the deal emerged at the Hollywood member caucus on Tuesday night over the “atmospheric” provisions allowing employers to use actors to perform up to 20 voices of up to 300 words at the daily base rate -- viewed by some as a reduction from the current pacts ...

The problem for SAG (also AFTRA) in their vid game contracts is they don't have a hell of a lot of leverage -- one of my core values and beliefs, as you know.

The actors' unions are among the few labor organizations with contracts covering video game work, but even so these contracts are the weak links in their chain of deals, with no residuals and skim-milk minimum rates.

But then, game companies have been quite happy to use non-union thespians and sound alikes, and game sales haven't been impacted much if at all. (Hence the so-so employment contracts.)

It's hard to be effective at the bargaining table when you have no pistol or large club to wield.

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Walt's Verbal Punching Bag

Below: Lou Debney, by T. Hee
Lou Debney, by T. Hee

This story was told to me by Keith Cheney Chaney (a veteran of the Diz Co. Projection Department) long ago. It's amusing, and I don't think I've told it before. (If I have, skip this post and move on. I won't hold it against you.) ...

KC: Back in the fifties, after I got back from Korea, I was the projectionist up in Projection Room 13 on the third floor of the animation building. Walt would look at dailies in that projection room just about every day after lunch. I'd have everything ready to go at one thirty, and we'd unspool film for forty-five minutes or an hour, however long it'd take that day, and then Walt would leave.

One of the first times I ran dailies, a weird thing happened. We finish, and Walt steps out of the sweat box, and along comes Lou Debney down the hall. Lou had been at the studio forever, used to sell papers outside the Hyperion Studio as a kid, had been an assistant director on Snow White and was now an associate producer on television stuff. And Walt sees him coming and starts yelling at him, just rips him a new one: "Lou! What the hell is going on about [blank]?! What was with [blank]!"

Lou stands there looking stricken, like somebody ran electric current through him. He says: "I'm sorry Walt! I'm sorry! I'll take care of it! I'll fix it!"

And Lou runs off down the hall. Walt goes back to his office. And I peer out the door thinking: "Wow, that poor guy. What lousy timing to be walking down the hall just as Walt comes out of the booth and get it like that ..."

But then, and this is the really weird part, the next day, the exact same thing happens. Walt walks out of the booth, here comes Lou down the hall, and Walt starts yelling at him again. It's a new set of complaints, but it's the same routine: Lou cowers, tells Walt he'll get right on the problem, and hurries away. And Walt goes back to his office.

So about the fifth time this happens, I finally catch on: Ah. This is part of Lou Debney's job description. He's supposed to walk down the hall every day when Walt's done with dailies, so that Walt can yell at him.

And that's when I stopped feeling so bad for Lou Debney*.

Keith Cheney Chaney was one of my favorite people at Disney's. He had a sardonic but jovial view of life, always had a funny tale to tell (and yeah, this story might be a tad hyperbolic, but I enjoy it anyway), and was always the life of the department Christmas party.

And yes. Keith was related to Lon Cheney Chaney.

* Lou Debney's son John is a well-regarded composer of motion picture scores.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

End of Days

I went to Universal Animation Studios (formerly Universal Cartoon Studios) today. Boxes were stacked in the hallways. Most of the offices were empty. One of the remaining staffers said to me:

"We're finishing the last episodes of Curious George. All the shows have been shipped now, and the last designer is finishing up this week or next. We'll be in post on the show until next March, but we'll be moving to a corner of the black tower's twenty-fifth floor in the next few weeks. Universal will be renting out most of the floor to somebody else."

"... I don't think Universal is making any announcements about closing Universal Animation Studio. They're just not going to have any shows, or do any productions, or have any executives. Recently they haven't had much interest in doing animation. They want to pick up produced projects, but they aren't going to be creating anything here ..."

Which is a shame, since UAS has done some pretty good work over the years.

The studio came into existence in the early nineties, a couple of years after Warner Bros. Animation sprang back to life with Tiny Tunes, and Disney TVA was moving into high gear. The last of the slower-witted congloms realized there were tidy sums to be made in television animation. Universal set up its own studio, followed by Viacom with Nick a couple of years later.

Universal, back in the day, proclaimed that it wanted to be a major television producer, and it recruited artists and directors from Warners and Disney. But outside of the perennial money spinner Land Before Time, nothing really took off. U never achieved its own Pinky and the Brain or Duck Tales, never became a major teevee animation producer.

And it's always seemed a little sad to me, because the potential was there. The place just never got running on all eight cylinders.

Adios, Universal Cartoon/Animation Studios. It was fun while it lasted.

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No Monsters V. Aliens II

Today DreamWorks Animation reported that less money was rolling in. No big surprise there, since no newer features have been released in recent months.

No big surprise there. This also wasn't a huge surprise:

... [Chief Executive Jeffrey] Katzenberg also disclosed that the studio did not plan to produce a sequel to "Monsters vs. Aliens," which generated $380 million at the box office but did not fare well in some key international markets. Asked why, he said: "I'd like to tell you there's a perfectly rational, clear and easy answer as to why not, but there isn't."

“There was enough of a consensus from our distribution and marketing folks in certain parts of the world that we would be pushing a boulder up a hill ...”

I've got an explanation: The Three Dee was first rate, but the characters, gags and story didn't gel and catch fire the way Kung Fu Panda did. Mostly, however, MvA was America-centric. How many people in Asia or Europe know what the hell Area Fifty-one is? Or care? And American troops and American Presidents aren't quite the ... uh ... crowd pleasers in other countries that they used to be. And Monsters had plenty of all those things.

(You'll note that the picture did fine in the U.S. of A. But not so fine everywhere else.)

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Astro Boy Muscular in China

Okay, so it had a lacklustre launch stateside, but the Middle Kingdom is a whole different story:

"Astro Boy" set a new opening weekend box-office record in China for a CG-animated movie, its producers Imagi International Holdings announced.

Industry estimates indicate since opening last Friday on approximately 1,100 screens across China, "Astro Boy" has recorded $5.9 million in box-office receipts, topping the weekend box office chart and setting a new mark for the opening weekend box office of a CG-animated feature film on the Mainland.

That record was previously held by "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which had an opening gross of $4.4 million ...

It's more than likely that breaking records in China isn't going to push AB into Ice Age territory worldwide, but every national market helps, does it not?

I haven't seen how the picture is doing in other Asian markets, but it will probably fly higher than its sputtering liftoff in the U.S. and Canada last weekend.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

DreamWorks Moves

DreamWorks was part of my appointment calendar today (and yes, I swing by a lot. There are a lot of buildings to hike through.) One tidbit:

"They changed the release date for Puss'N Boots, moved it up, and a whole bunch of us got moved, I think it was two hundred people. I was over on the other side of the campus, but now I'm in the Lakeside Building. I get moved so often I forget which building I'm in ..."

The constant shifting of personnel would make me crazy. I stayed in one office for years at the Mouse House. I knew old-timers there that had been in one office for flipping decades.

Different companies, different management styles ...

One story artist I came across offered the opinion that at some point, story artists won't be drawing boards anymore, even on Cintiqs. He thinks the boarding process will evolve to three-dimensional boards with the modeled characters and rudimentary, three-dimensional sets, and that boards in the Snow White and Dumbo style will cease to exist. His words: "This won't be happening soon, but in five to eight years. I think it's inevitable."

Me, I'm not too sure. I mean, live action has done three dee boards for a while now, blocking out camera angles and positioning characters, but in live-action it serves a somewhat different purpose. I think hand-drawn boards will remain the coin of the realm, at least for the first pass.

Sigh. Like so many other things, I am probably wrong.

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Most Pirated Movies

Torrent Freak tracks the most down-loaded movies ...

The top 10 most downloaded movies on BitTorrent, ‘Paranormal Activity’ tops the chart this week followed by Pixar’s ‘Up’. ‘The Tournament’ completes the top three.

And the other faves for downloaders?

4) Public Enemies

5) Surrogates

6) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

7) Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

8) Moon

9) Four Christmases

10) G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

The point here is that downloading these moving pictures is ... uh ... illegal. Because it's theft.

Now you can dress this up with any philosophical trappings you like: "It's a blow for internet freedom!" "We're taking down the evil conglomerates!" "The assholes will never miss the money, they're rich anyway!! And besides, they deserve it!" ... (etc.)

The problem is, if the practice becomes widespread enough, the movie industry will drastically change ... and not for the better. Industry employees will have to find other ways to make their livings, because the structure of the motion picture business will be different in unpretty ways. The cash flows that support pensions, residuals, and health care will be reduced to anemic trickles.

I don't know what the solutions to downloading are, but solutions will emerge. One way or the other.

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Live Action?

The New York Times details Disney's big push for the oncoming Christmas Carol:

What does it take to persuade the world it needs yet another “Christmas Carol” adaptation? Apparently, a whole lot of hard sell. ... Disney’s studio is backing the movie’s Nov. 6 release with one of the most elaborate and expensive marketing campaigns in its history, at least for a live-action film.

Uh ... live-action? Okay, if the Times says so. But the gray lady also points out another daunting barrier.

... [T]he studio is replowing perhaps the most overplowed piece of intellectual property in history. The 1843 novella about a greedy curmudgeon who is visited by three apparitions on Christmas Eve is old enough that it is public domain, and it has been adapted for stage, television and film more than 50 times in recent decades, including an all-dog version.

Plus one with Mr. Magoo. And another with Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Scrooge McDuck. But of course, those two were animation, and this entry is live-action.

And I've really got no idea how it will do when it's released next month, none. The story's a good one, but face it: the book has been done six ways to Sunday. The 3-D of this edition will be a plus, and Robert Z.s previous motion capture films have done respectable business. Polar Express, whether you like it or not, has been a solid money-maker.

So who knows? Maybe Disney's publicity department is right that CC is one big three dimensional thrill ride, and audiences will lap it up. The Mouse is certainly putting enough money behind the idea to make it viable. I suppose by the holiday season we should know, yes?.

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There Is Life After Disney!

From the time I was a little boy, I've heard tales of Disney employees who were banished from the Magic Kingdom and became embittered, angry human beings. (Vance Gerry once told me about a story artist who got his pink slip, got drunk and staggered out of the animation building to scream an angry tirade under Walt's window.)

So it's always nice when there's a story about an ex-Disneyite who goes on to make good ...

Bolstered by an investment from Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest media companies, the budding new-media mogul Michael Eisner is expanding his Web video studio.

Michael Eisner, the former chairman of Disney, controls a Web video studio called Vuguru that will become its own company.

The studio, named Vuguru, is currently held within Mr. Eisner’s media investment company, Tornante. In a deal expected to be announced on Monday, Vuguru will become its own company, and Rogers will become a minority stakeholder. The terms of the multimillion dollar investment by Rogers were not disclosed ...

In 2007, Mr. Eisner nurtured one of the medium’s first scripted successes, a murder mystery series called “Prom Queen.” Since then, he has introduced, among others, a mockumentary about a fledgling rock band and a sports-themed comedy. A new edition of “Prom Queen” and an adaptation of the young-adult book series “Pretty Tough” are scheduled to come online later this year ...

This should be a testament to the truism: "There is life after Disney. You have only to believe." (Just ask Bill Mechanic, John Lasseter, and Kurt Russell. Maybe even Jeffrey K.?)

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Warners Flexes Animation Muscles

Over the past five months, Warner Bros. has ramped up its teevee animation division, going from a couple of series and a handful of artists, to a facility on the Warner Ranch that is filled to capacity with five series and multiple dvd features.

And now, apparently, the theatrical side is stirring to life:

Warner Bros. is strutting back into animation.

The studio is in final negotiations to acquire a pitch centering on a peacock from writers Austin Winsberg and Heath Corson.

... The move marks a bolstering of animation efforts for Warners., which was once very active in the sector but had since scaled back its theatrical efforts ....

I think that theatrical animation's broad-based success -- despite this weekend's unhappy results -- has a lot to do with Warners continuing involvement in theatrical toonage, though I'm sure they're mid-90s train wreck in Glendale left a sour taste in their mouths.

But nothing seduces a studio like the prospect of Big Bucks. The 1990s was then ... and this is now.

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On December 29, 1973, my father fell down in the driveway of his La Crescenta house and knocked himself out. A few minutes later, I discovered him on the asphalt, groggy but conscious, and hauled him to the emergency room of Verdgugo Hills hospital.

Dad was drunk. Also uncooperative and belligerent. The ER staff and doctors patched him up, gave him a sheet with a box marked "possible head injuries," and sent him on his way.

I was fresh off active duty with the U.S. Navy and utterly clueless about head trauma and things like "subdural hematoma." If I had known then what I learned a little while later about blood vessels bleeding inside cranial cavities, I would have gotten him admitted to the hospital, or observed him more closely after I took him home. But I didn't, and two weeks later he went into a coma because of a massive blood clot that depressed his brain activity, and died.

I don't bring this up to instigate a Pity Party (it's all long ago and far away), but to illustrate how knowledge and the lack thereof can impact our lives.

The more stuff you know, the better you'll be able to deal with life's curve balls when they come zinging your way. And the more stuff you don't know, the more you'll get blindsided on the broad, sunlit highway of existence ...

We started this blog for a number of reasons, but high on the list was the desire to dispense information to TAG members, also people who work ... or aspire to work ... in the animation industry. Because our core belief is that the more useful factoids you have at your disposal, the higher the odds are that you'll be successful in building a career in the animation industry. (Or any other industry ... or life ... for that matter. ) Witness the following comment:

Steve, story artists can't deal with or bring up an issue [storyboard artist, production board artist] they have no idea exists! I've been working almost 20 years in this classification and while the difference in the title has been noted in passing by me, I've never-til now-had it explained as you've done. If I ( & I'll hazard also my fellow story guys) haven't "pushed" for changes in the wording etc., it's not because I'm lazy or don't care or can't be bothered, but because I have been lucky-so far-to have my rate be over scale as I understood it and because I didn't freaking know about it. Really, these "pain in the butt" issues are ones I believe it's the duty of the professionals in our union to point out to us. As you have done here.

So while I've heartily agreed with all the times you've said "I can't do anything about [insert specific union violation here] unless a member complains/reports/brings it to my attention" in all those other cases, that reasoning doesn't apply here. In any case yeah, let's get it fixed..

To answer the specific point above, I will put into the Rolodex a proposal to get Production Board elevated from footnote status during the next round of contract talks. In the meantime, artists reading this need to remember the difference: Production Board scale rates apply to television boarding, Storyboard scale rates apply to features, and Story Sketch applies to board artists working as assistants to storyboard artists.

And as long as we're on the subject of professional (and general) knowledge, remember these things:

* WAGES: They are all over the map in Animationland. But benefits and wages are mostly higher in union shops. Benefits amount to $350-$375 above base-line wages.

(Here's some useful nuggets. 1) If you work hourly, you can be docked for time missed during the workweek, but if you are salaried, you get your weekly rate whether you're in the office for five hours Monday through Friday, or one hundred hours. And employers can't shift you back and forth from "salaried" to "hourly" so they can pay you less. It's got to be one or the other. If you are working a unionized animation job, you are likely some form of hourly employee. 2) You have the right under California law to share wage information with your peers, so go do it.)

* WORK ETHIC AND ATTITUDE: You can never be too upbeat or too hardworking. As for instance ...

[Fox Animation Studio's Vanessa Morrison's] positive attitude and hard work eventually won the attention of Tom Rothman, who took over Jacobson's production chief job in the mid-1990s. Under Rothman, now co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Morrison rose through the creative executive ranks.

* SKILL SETS: If you don't have the right set of chops, you are less likely to get hired by the animation studio of your dreams. Today Maya wizards, Renderman experts, and other software professionals have bigger strike zones in the hiring ball game than folks who have skills as, say, cleanup artists. The Digital Age is hard upon us; the carbonite era, not so much. Like it or not, you have to deal with this reality. But the more arrows you have in your quiver, the more employable you will be.

* ROUTES INTO THE BUSINESS:Production Assistant, intern (see Ms. Morrison, above), Trainee, Big Shot from a related business coming in on red carpet, Mom and Pop effects house into big animation studio, the roads to Animationland are almost -- but not quite -- infinite. Use your contacts and network. Timing and perseverance are often everything.

* LUCK: If you have lots of it, you'll need less of the other items listed here. If you have less than you'd like, you're gonna have to do some kind of workaround. Most people encounter good and bad fortune in the course of a career. The folks who know how to deal with bad fortune -- and bounce back from it -- win.

Lastly, don't take things too seriously. The best times I've had in this business is when I've been light-hearted about whatever situation in which I've found myself. If you recognize that you are not going to end up with the career arc you envision fresh out of Cal Arts or Ringling at the ripe age of twenty-two, then you will be a lot happier when the down drafts happen.

Remember: Nobody gets out of this space-time continuum alive, so make it part of your purpose to enjoy yourself along the way.

And now, please turn in your hymnals to Page 333, and we'll all sing ...

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Peanuts" 60th Anniversary

Maybe you haven't given this birthday much thought, since first and foremost it belongs to a comic strip, but let's linger for a moment anyway:

Jill Schulz: Because my Dad created over 18,000 comic strips touching on so many themes and covering every season ... we decided to celebrate for a full year ...

In November, the Gaylord Opryland Resort will unveil ICE! A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a colorful, interactive ice sculpture experience ... Also in November, we’re introducing Celebrating Peanuts: 60 Years, a commemorative coffee table book

On the animation side of the "Peanuts" legacy, Bill Melendez's studio -- which produced almost all the animated product that had Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang for the past 45 years -- will not be doing future half-hours, since the Schulz family is (allegedly) unhappy with the studio's recent work.

I'm informed that another studio got the new "Peanuts" gig. And I've no idea what the future has in store for the Melendez studio (which is still doing some "Peanuts" commercials.)

Sadly, Bill M. and Charles Schulz have gone to their rewards, so what are you going to do?

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Late October Derby

Now with fresh-baked Add On.

... goes to the horror flicks, not animation (and I turn out to be delusional about Astro Boy's performance ...).

Two animated features are in the Top Ten, but Cloudy is well past its zenith and Astro Boy doesn't pull in many eyeballs.

Where the Wild Thing Are is obviously not getting rapturous word of mouth, and doesn't look to be around for very long...

The October 23-25 field:

1. Paranormal Activity (Par) Week 5 [1,945 Runs] $7.5M Fri, Est Wkd $21M

2. Saw VI (LG) NEW [3,036] $6.9M Fri, Est Wkd $18M

3. Wild Things (WB) Week 2 [3,735] $4.3M Fri (-64%), Est Wkd $13M

4. Law Abiding (Over) Week 2 [2,890] $4.1M Fri (-45%), Est Wkd $12.5M

5. Couples Retreat (Uni) Week 3 [3,074] $3.6M Fri, Est Wkd $11.5M

6. Vampire's Assistant (Relativity/Uni) NEW [2,754] $2.2M Fri, Est Wkd $6.8M

7. The Stepfather (Sony) Week 2 [2,734] $2.2M Fri, Est Wkd $6.2M

8. Astro Boy (Imagi/Summit) NEW [3,014] $1.8M Fri, Est Wkd $7M

9. Cloudy/Meatballs (Sony) Week 6 [2,741] $1.4M Fri, Est Wkd $5.5M

10. Zombieland (Sony) Week 4 [2,447] $1.3M Fri, Est Wkd $4.5M

11. Amelia (Fox Searchlight] NEW [818] $1.3M Fri, Est Wkd $4M

What this does to Imagi's longer term prospects, well, you and I will just have to wait and see ...

Add On: The Derby ends about as one would expect:

Paramount's "Paranormal Activity" expanded from 863 theaters to 1,945 this weekend and sold a studio-estimated $22 million, making it No. 1 ... "Saw VI" opened to a disappointing $14.8 million ...

Sadly, animation's newer entries didn't shine this go-round, either here or abroad:

... "Astro Boy," which animation studio Imagi Entertainment produced at a cost of $65 million, opened to a dismal $7 million ... Overseas, Fox opened "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" in author Roald Dahl's native land of Britain to a disappointing $2.5 million.

Animation has been on a roll for the past few years, but these two low-gross openings reiterate the sometimes neglected wisdom that you have to make a movie that people want to see. Just because it's a hot genre doesn't guarantee success.

Add On Too: Overseas, toonage totals continue to grow.

Walt Disney and Pixar's 3D "Up," playing on 4,500 screens in 24 territories, ranked No. 1 in 10 markets, including the U.K. and Italy. Foreign cume through Oct. 18 was $295.8 million -- quickly catching up the $309 million grossed at the foreign B.O. last year by Disney/Pixar's "Wall-E." ...

Toon's worldwide cume is a boffo $588.6 million.

Disney's rodent toon "G-Force" registered No. 1 starts in German-speaking Europe. Overall, the pic grossed $12.5 million for the frame from 3,255 playdates in 44 markets. Cume through Oct. 18 was $127.9 million for a worldwide total of $246.2 million ...

So how is Astro Boy going to fare?

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Friday, October 23, 2009

DreamWorks et Disney

I wasn't planning to go to multiple studios today, but sometimes you do more driving than you want to.

At Disney By the 134, The Princess and the Frog, I was told by a Top Dog:

"We're completely done now. We just finished the color transfer, we've finished the music. Now we wait and see how the picture does. We're sandwiched between Avatar and the Chipmunks, so it's up to the audience now for how it does ...."

I told him I thought The Princess would open with good numbers. I am a positive, optimistic person ...

Elsewhere at the hat, a still-disgruntled animator wanted to know why the company was cutting artists' salaries the way they were. My analysis:

1) Because they can.

2) Because they've made the judgement that there's a big enough talent pool to draw on if somebody quits in a snit (i.e., the recessionary market will support the cuts ... because there are qualified folks out there who will work at lower wages.)

3) Because Pixar salaries are lower (based on available evidence) and management is trying to align the labor costs of the two studios a bit more.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but those are the ones I rattled off.

At Dreamworks, wandering through the story department, I found out a new factoid. Pacific Data Images, DreamWorks' studio outpost in the Bay Area, has its own story department.

Stupid me. For the last eight years I thought all the storywork was happening in Glendale. A board artist related:

"PDI has had a story group for a long time. We used to go up there for meetings. It's not real big. I think they have maybe fifteen artists ..."

One of the features that PDI story artists are now working on is Madagascar 3. It's in the early stages, but there are roughly equal numbers of artists working on the new installment up north and down south.

Have a fun-filled weekend. Click here to read entire post

Box Office Prognostications

Forbes Magazine has the weekend grosses figured out.

Exhibitor Relations expects Saw VI will earn $27 million and top the weekend's box office ... Paranormal Activity should come in second with $22 million ... Where the Wild Things Are should rank third this weekend, ... earning $33 million at the box office ... Astro Boy ... is expected to rank fourth with $13 million ...

I'm thinking AB will do more than $13 mill, but I might be thinking wishfully.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009


Still more cartoon news in bite-size chunks.

Three European long-form animated features are up for "Best."

BERLIN -- Finnish Christmas film "Niko & The Way To The Stars," Ireland's "The Secret Of Kells" and "Mia And The Migoo" from French director Jacques-Remy Girerd are the nominees for best animated feature film for the 2009 European Film Awards ...

Blue Sky Animation is gearing up for their next feature.

Anne Hathaway, Neil Patrick Harris and Rodrigo Santoro are negotiating to lend their voices to "Rio," the next collaboration between Blue Sky Studios, Fox Animation and director Carlos Saldanha, all of whom are riding the $882 million global tsunami of "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

"Rio," which follows the adventures of a nerdy macaw who lights out from his small-town Minnesota cage for the exotic Summer Olympic city of Rio de Janeiro, is scheduled for an April 8, 2011, release. Like "Dinosaurs," it will be filmed in 3D digital animation ..

Not exactly animation related, but he catered to the same audience:

Soupy Sales, the rubber-faced, pie-in the-puss comic beloved by the Baby Boomer generation, died Thursday night. He was 83.

The funnyman's longtime friend Dave Usher said Sales succumbed to cancer at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx ...

Slash film is delighted to provide a tour of Disneyland's Club 33, the Disney Research Library and other Mousie points of interest:

... In the early 1960s as the New Orleans Square section of the park was under construction, Walt Disney decided he needed a bigger entertaining facility for various VIPs that came to the park. The apartment above the Fire Station on Main Street was too small to host elaborate events, so Walt decided to design a suite set back from the hustle and bustle of the park ...

Mouse Planet examines story development on Dumbo ... although no mention is made of the nasty little strike action that took place during production ... or the references to the strike allegedly in the finished film.

... In the original storyboard there was a psychiatrist, Dr. I. Hoot the owl. He is an owl in appearance, yet he behaves like a human being with no animal-like characteristics other than his appearance ...

Storymen Joe Grant and Dick Huemer ... wrote lyrics for a nightmare sequence for a Frank Churchill song called Pink Elephant Polka in May 1940 which may have inspired the later Oliver Wallace song that was used in the movie, Pink Elephants on Parade with lyrics by Ned Washington.

Nickelodeon slurps turtle soup.

... Nickelodeon has struck a $60 million deal with The Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment to acquire the rights to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which was one of the biggest kids shows of the 1980s and even spawned a successful movie franchise. Nickeloden will produce a new cartoon series that it hopes to premier in 2012 and sister studio Paramount Pictures will release a new feature based on the series as well ...

The rosy-cheeked children of the British Isles get to make themselves a cartoon feature:

... [T]he Tate Movie Project appears to be one of those impeccably 21st century creations, designed to keep arts-funding bureaucrats, if no one else, on the edge of their seats. It's connected at one end to the 2012 Olympics – for whose benefit the Legacy Trust is funding the project – and at the other to "every child in Britain" who, if Tate director Nicholas Serota is to believed, will be contributing directly to the film ...

... [W]hatever the outcome, Aardman is the beneficiary of a chunk of money from the public purse. Can it really make a feature-length animated film for £4m? Sounds like credit-crunch economics are really kicking in ...

Just so long as they pay the kids more than 25 cents an hour.

And finally, over at SynchroLux Kevin takes on the question, What can animators learn from the music business?:

It sounds sooo seductive — shun the big blood-sucking corporations, create your own stuff, market and sell it yourself, keep all the rights, play your music locally, play for free until you build up a following, give your work away until you can sell your CDs, sell ‘em out of your car or on the web or at your free concerts. Soon you might be getting good live paydays, and you’ll keep all the money from your CDs, and your t-shirts yourself.

Have a glorious, end-of-week work experience.

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Today I walked into one of our fine, major animation studios. On the way out I found myself in the midst of a farewell party for an upper bracket manager who happens to be departing ...

I went up to a Wise Old Animation Artist who's been around as long as I have, and asked what was up with Mr. Whoosis (not his real name).

"He's leaving," came the reply.

"To where?"

"He's leaving."

"Ah. Pushed overboard?"


Now, Mr. Whoosis is somebody I know only a little. A while back, I had a semi-uncomfortable meeting with him where he was being testy with an employee who was leaving for another job. (I was there to observe ... and support the employee. I mostly kept my mouth shut.)

So now the exec is leaving, handed his pink slip by a management team that has decided to downsize him out of a job. As I digested this information, my reaction surprised me:

"Somebody else losing their job? Bum. I only wish the guy could keep his gig. This is a terrible time to be unemployed ..."

When I was young, I was delighted when someone about whom I wasn't crazy got it in the shorts. But not today. I am older now, and the idea of having somebody eat it for the sheer joy of seeing a person suffer just doesn't jazz me the way it used to back when I was thirty. I've been laid off, and I remember how painful it was. And I'm not keen to see pain visited on others, no matter who that other is.

Schadenfreude is sometimes sweet, but usually for about thirty seconds. After that, the bitter aftertaste sets in.

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A celebration of Derdad Aghmalian: Sunday, October 25

Derdad Aghamalian passed away on September 10th, 2009. He worked in the animation industry for over 20 years as a color stylist for DIC, MGM, Universal, and Marvel. Outside of animation, Derdad was a world-renowned painter, illustrator, and stained-glass artist. He had many dear friends in animation, and will be remembered for his sense of humor, his creative vision, and his transcendent character.
-- Leonard Drorian

Please join us for an evening in remembrance of Derdad Aghamalian’s life and art.

This will take place on Sunday, October 25 from 5:30 pm to 8 pm, at the Brand Library Recital Hall, 1601 West Mountain St. in Glendale.

For more information, please call Tamara at (818) 209-0030.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October Studio Roundabout

Today was Sony Pictures Animation day on the Hulett studio tour, where I was told:

"We're working on Hotel Transylvania as the next theatrical feature. We've also got Open Season 3 going, and some other projects in early development. Sony was happy with the money that OS2 has brought in, and they've okayed scripting and boarding on another one ..."

..."We've got six months to get Open Season 3 up on boards and ready. We're working with the writer, who's good about working with the board artists, real collaborative. But we're moving fast ..." "... They are animating the Open Seasons in Texas, and theyre making money because they've kept the costs down on them."

I got to see some of the character development for Hotel Transylvniai going on upstairs; the characters look edgy and fun (whether they stay in the picture when story beats are worked out is another story.) ...

Yesterday at Disney Television Animation Sonora, I was happy to see that crew for the new season of Inspector Oso is trickling back to work. And the new show they haven't yet officially announced? Designers and story artists are coming aboard, and Story Booking is proceeding at a high rate of speed.

So while DTVA Sonora has lots of square footage that is empty, at least a few productions are rumbling to life. (There's a lot more artists working upstairs at Disney Toons.)

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Shrek the Musical Departing Broadway

Mmm. Shrek on the Great White Way doesn't seem to have the staying power of some of the other musicals based on animated features.

"Shrek the Musical," the first legit outing from DreamWorks Theatricals, will shutter Jan. 3 after a little more than a year on the boards.

With the production long prone to significantly fluctuating weekly grosses, many legiters suspected a closing date soon after New Year's (and after holding on for the traditional holiday sales boom). In recent weeks "Shrek" has regularly played to auds at about 60% of capacity or less ...

I'm sure that the boys and girls at DWA were hoping for run along the lines of ... oh ... Lion King?

This blockbuster stage musical thing isn't as easy as it looks. It's not enough, apparently, to have a blockbuster cartoon as your launching pad. You must also have tunes, choreography and a book that people want to see.

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Season of Awards

Pixar/Disney's John L. picks up an award that has never gone to an animation person before.

The Producers Guild of America will honor Disney/Pixar animation whiz John Lasseter with its 2010 David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Motion Pictures at the 21st annual PGA Awards ceremony on Jan. 24 at the Hollywood Palladium.

Lasseter, who holds the title of chief creative officer at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, is the first producer of animated films to be awarded the Selznick, which is given in recognition of a body of work ...

Congrats to John. (I'm so old I can remember when Mr. Lasseter was the young wipper-snapper at Disney, running around with a super-eight movie camera acting as animator-board artist Randy Cartwright's camera operator when Randy took his walking tours of the studio, back in the early eighties.

My, how time flies.)

Disney in the early eighties. A volleyball tournament between the animation crew and front office staffers -- headed by then Chairman of the Board Ron Miller. Randy Cartwright is the director of photography, animation director John Musker performs the play by play. I have no idea where John Lasseter is ... but he's around somewhere.

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The Endless Tink

The L.A. Times interviews the directors of Disney's next c.g. feature -- Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. (Okay, it's a dvd release, but it's still the next long-form cartoon, out at a retailer near your on October 27th.)

Klay Hall: It started when John Lasseter took over as the chief creative officer for [Walt Disney Feature Animation]. He sat down with myself and the rest of the directors and producers, and we talked about what this whole [Disney Fairies] world could bring to film. We landed on the idea to go with four stories based on the seasons.

Hall: [Tinkerbell's] original inspiration was the Blue Fairy. She went through several forms all the way up through Marc Davis' designs in the early ‘50s for the "Peter Pan" release in 1953. We started there, with the Marc Davis design, the classic Tink. Everyone’s familiar with the iconic figure from the theme parks. She’s on so many products in her little green skirt and pompoms on her shoes and a little bun in her hair. We felt it was important to not only embrace the classic Tink, but to give her a fresh look in these new films ...

The new flick was playing on one of the plasma screens when I strolled through a few days back. There's a couple of big, comical trolls in the movie. When I squinted at them and said "Trolls?", a staffer said.

"They don't want this just to be a little girls' movie, because that's the way the first one skewed. This time their broadening the franchise's appeal to boys with these non-fairy characters."

So here's hoping the trolls do the trick, and eight-year-old boys will put down their game devices and flock to this new installment. Word around Disney Toons is that the series could end up doing way more than five Tinkerbells.

All depends, I guess, on how the dvd sales hold up.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Even Monkeys Shun the Uncanny Valley

Kevin points out an interesting study that might have something to say to animation producers.

Apparently, monkey's don't like the Uncanny Valley, either. As the study summary states,

In the experiments, the monkeys, which normally coo and smack their lips to engage each other, quickly avert their glances and are frightened when confronted by the close-to-real images. When asked to peer at the less close-to-real faces and real faces, however, they viewed them more often and for longer periods ...

The summary goes on:

Movie-goers may not be familiar with the term, but they understand that it is far easier to love the out-of-proportion cartoon figures in the “The Incredibles,” for example, than it is to embrace the more realistic-looking characters in “The Polar Express.”

Ah. Now I know why Snow White's Prince and the Fleischer's Gulliver make my skin crawl.

You can check out Kevin's full post on the study here.

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Brave Thinkers!

Animation impresarios (and South Park masterminds) Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been named Brave Thinkers (in a large and diverse field of movers and shakers) by The Atlantic:

... [T]he pair has produced one of the best satires on television, while achieving new standards of vulgarity and political incorrectness. Parker and Stone have risked alienating advertisers and audiences alike with an ambitious, comprehensive offensiveness that lampoons the tired culture war and the cycle of moralizing protest and hypocritical hyperventilating it sets in motion. In the process, they’ve shown that there’s an audience for smart political satire ...

Trey and Matt have disdained the union thing, but I admire them anyway. They've been sinking harpoons into sacred cows of the Right and Left for a dozen years. How could I not like them, since my teenaged son thinks Team America: World Police is one o the finest pieces of film-making ever created by the mind of Man.

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A History of The Yellow Family

The New York Times' Lisa Tozzi questions John Ortved about his new, fat book about all things Simpson:

The most telling anecdote I have is that one of the people I sat down to interview was Rupert Murdoch, and I asked him, “Rupert, how much money has ‘The Simpsons’ made for you?” And he just sat back, smiled and was like, “Let’s just say it’s a lot.”

Which is, pretty much, the nub of the matter.

Rupe's a conservative. But his first love is raking in the long green. This explains why Lefties like the Simpsons crew and the horrid Seth McFarlane are allowed to romp free in the bowels of News Corp.

They are robust profit centers.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Handicapping Astro Boy

The end of the week, Imagi's Astro Boy hits 1200 3000 American movie screens, and the big question is, how will it do? The answer to that question will help determine the viability of Imagi as a force in the AnimationLand.

"Astro Boy" was completed in June. Many fans of animation around the world are eagerly waiting to see the film -- a proof that Imagi US$40 million outlay to promote the movie has not been in vain.

But some observers are wary of the company itself as it has had to climb stiff hurdles to be where it is today. In January, it conducted intense negotiations to secure a bridge loan facility of up to US$16.6 million ... [And] sources in the industry point out that the profit-sharing deal between Imagi and Warner Brothers -- the distributor of "Astro Boy" -- does not favor the Hong Kong company ...

Imagi, as indicated above, hit a rough patch early this year, but it's hung onto the large office space it leases at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. As a studio rep told me: "The company intends to press on with Gochomon whether Astro Boy turns into a mega blockbuster or not ...." (We'll see how that turns out.)

My guess is that the film will perform well domestically. Reviews have been encouraging, and high-end animated features have been on a roll of late. Plus the people I've talked to who have seen it maintain Astro Boy delivers the goods.

However, there is my definition of "performing well," and the definition that Hollywood's slide rule brigade carries around in its head. Is $120 million enough? $140 million? I have no earthly idea.

My guesstimate is that Astro Boy will collect between $60 and $85 million from the citizens of the U.S. and Canada, and another $100 to $150 million in the rest of the world. Is this enough to have the owners turning handsprings back in Hong Kong? Your guess is as good as mine. Probably better.

Come the weekend, we'll apply the Koch Box Office Calculator to AB's initial grosses, and decide if my prognostications are realistic or delusional. Up until now, its been mostly American animation studios that have raked in big bucks across the globe, but that could always change.

Nothing, after all, is forever.

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Disney TVA at Frank Wells, the Building

I whiled away a fragment of the afternoon on the third floor of the fabled Frank Wells Building, on Disney's Burbank lot. Part of Disney Television Animation resides there. (And the rest? It's over in Glendale on Sonora Street.)

Phineas and Ferb is the main production happening at FWB right now, but there is also Kid Buttowski (formerly Kid Knievel ... but the rights to the Knievel name ... so I'm told ... couldn't get cleared, so it's that other title.) And Inspector Oso is back in work, with the bulk of its crew returning mid-November.

But I got some happy infoformation from an artist on Buttowski:

"You know, they've made a real effort around here to put people on other shows when their assignments are over. When artists came off Phineas a while ago, they tried to get them work on other series, to tide them over until a new order got started ...".

I told the artist this was good news, (See? It isn't just gloom and "week to week" in teevee animation.) But it would still be nice to see more cubicles occupied up there on FWB's third floor.

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Motion Comix!

The L.A. Times (and You Tube) get a bit breathless as they tell us of the Next. New. Thing.

The future is now for motion comics

...[W]hat is that, a moving comic book? Yep! But isn't that ... animation?

Actually NO. Animation, as it is defined today, is hundreds of thousands of animation cells drawn by a studio of animation artists who adapt ONE creator's work to a simplified version -- a version that has as few actual lines as possible. Done well, it can be brilliant -- BUT, it can never be the original artist's work ...

On [October 28] the first "true" motion comic, the first issue of Marvel's "Astonishing X-Men," will be presented in a world premiere at 14th Street-Union Square as part of MarvelFest NYC 2009. It will be outdoors and projected -- yes, I did just say "projected" -- on the side of the massively large, now closed, Virgin Megastore ....

Actually, YEAH. It is animation. Slightly different animation than we've been used to, but animation.

See, there was this other cartoonist/ comics artist, big in his day, who invented the whole genre. He did stuff like this:

All hand-drawn by one artist, just like "moving comic books." And if you can find people who think this isn't animation, you send them to me and I'll help them get their heads screwed on right.

Motion Comics. That art-form the old comics artist Winsor McCay was practicing a century ago ... back when he invented it.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009


One click down, Arlo says:

What doesn't go together(to me) is stating that we live and suffer the consequences in a corporatist state and it is wholly unfair, as Steven has (correct me if I'm wrong here Steve), and then mention that we should be completely beholden to that state of affairs.

Allow me to correct the wrongness ...

I don't believe in, and have never said, that corporatism is unfair.

It is simply our present reality. And I point out what I think is wrong about it -- but nowhere do I state it's not fair. What I think corporatism has given us is ...

1) A great concentration of wealth. (And which I think is unhealthy for the majority of the country).

2) Socialism for mega-corporations (i.e., Those lucky duckies which are "too big to fail" as defined by the corporate media and the government and therefore get billions in tax payer dollars.)

3) Free enterprise and "creative destruction" for the middle class and poor (i.e., those without the power of K street and million-dollar political donations.)

Do I think any of this "unfair"? No, I simply think it's the country as it exists today.

For the record, I don't believe in "fair" or "unfair" because I don't know how you define those words. One individual's idea of "fair" is most likely not another's. What I believe in is leverage, defined herein as "the power to achieve your perceived goal."

If you have leverage, you can make your own "fair" reality. And if not, not.

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A Fine Example of "Unfair"

Since we're talking about bad and unfair things ....

[The American Family Association] is slamming 7-Eleven for choosing to stock the November issue of Playboy, which will feature cartoon character Marge Simpson on the cover.

"Most American dads know the dangers that porn represents to young males," AFA Special Projects Director Randy Sharp said in a press release. "It’s irresponsible of 7-Eleven to display porn in front of boys who pop into 7-11s for a hot dog or a Slurpee."

Marge Simpson? Porn? I think not.

Besides, I believe it to be a good thing that "This is the closest [little Alex and young Johnny] will ever get to finding out if the carpet really does match the blue drapes." Don't you?

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Piracy Thing

Though we've talked about internet pirates before, the IATSE is focussing on it as never before, as are the talent guilds. And it isn't just them:

Piracy is the entertainment industry's biggest headache, according to two of its most prominent players -- WME topper Ari Emanuel and Walt Disney chairman Robert Iger.

"It's really important for us to get into a discussion about piracy because if we don't get a handle on it, the industry will go away," Emanuel declared ...

"In South Korea, it obliterated the secondary market so much so that we closed our home video operations," Iger added ...

There is a tendency among the world's population to take a "who cares?" attitude toward the piracy thing. IA officers, attending conferences overseas, report that lots of foreign officials maintain a "If big American conglomerates get ripped off by piracy, that's a good development, yes?"

In point of fact, the development sucks, because the final outcome will be that the movie and television businesses end up going the way of the record industry, watching their business models get shredded, witnessing entertainment profits shrink to non-existence.

For citizens not in the movie and teevee business, this negative outcome would be an inconvenience. For those working in features and television, it would mean full-blown disaster. The wage and residual structures that have existed for half a century would slowly dissolve, the studios would restructure, and the pension and health plans that entertainment employees have relied on for five and a half decades would weaken and shrink, perhaps irreversibly.

So yeah. Internet piracy could end up being a major deal.

The problem is, none of the conglomerates really know how to effectively combat this big, ugly vulture. As internet broadband increases around the globe, more and more people dip into the deep trough of content and help themselves without paying a centavo or pfennig. It's just Rupert, Bob Iger, and Sumner Redstone after all, and they're already rich. So who cares?

Welll, anybody who works in the entertainment business, that's who. Because if there's no enforcement of copyright law, if internet pirates remain beyond the reach of law enforcement or significant penalties (Big fines? Long jail sentences?) employees in the movie/t.v. biz are going to be in deeper trouble than they already are.

And anybody who is paying attention knows they're not in the catbird seat now.

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Weekend Turnstiles

Where the Wild Things Are lumbers to the top of Friday's box office with a robust $12 million, while Law Abiding Citizen finishes a distant second with $7.7 million ...

On the lower rungs of the Top Ten ladder, Cloudy with Meatballs earns $2.2 million while the Toy Stories squirrel away $825,000 ....

Add On: Where the Wild Things gallops to a strong weekend finish:

The Spike Jonze-helmed "Wild Things," based on Maurice Sendak's children's classic book ... gross[ed] an estimated $32.5 million from 3,735 theaters. Overture Films saw its biggest opening yet with Jamie Foxx-Gerard Butler starrer "Law Abiding Citizen," which took an estimated $21.3 million from 2,890 to place No. 2. ...

Sony's 3D toon "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" dropped 30% in its fifth frame with $8.1 million at 3,037 playdates ...

"Cloudy" has cumed $108.3 million, becoming Sony Animation's first title to surpass $100 million.

Disney's 3D double bill "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" grossed $3 million at 1,489, pushing cume to $28.6 million. The Mouse extended the toons' slated two-week run until the launch of Robert Zemeckis' 3D title "A Christmas Carol" on Nov. 2 ...

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New pictures of our art gallery, etc.: 3 of 3

Last month our art gallery had a "soft opening" of Ralph Hulett Christmas card art. (Click the thumbnails for higher-def versions of these photos.)

And below, our board room.

Thanks again (and ©) to Jeffrey M. Kalban and Associates for permission to use these great photos. Stop by sometime and we'll show you around.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Derby Races Near and Far

Animated features appear to be doing well in domestic and foreign venues:

Disney/Pixar's "Up" continues to live up to its name, as the toon remains the dominant title of the fall overseas. For the second time in three sessions, "Up" easily won, this time with $21.8 million for the Oct. 9-11 frame at 3,500 playdates in 25 markets, led by a $10.2 million British debut and a $2.3 million Benelux launch.

"Up" is now the fifth best international performer of the year ... Foreign cume ,,, has reached $258.5 [ok, not weekend] million as of Oct. 13, or $35 million short of the domestic total. It has now joined 92 other films that have cleared the quarter-billion-dollar mark in overseas grosses this year and looks likely to wind up its run in the more exclusive club of 37 pics with at least $400 million in international grosses ....

"G-Force" also showed some pull for family audiences with $8.4 million at 2,575, led by a $3.8 million Spanish launch, to lift the foreign cume past $112 million ...

Domestically, cartoons are also holding their own, with Cloudy Mit Meatballs and Toy Stories both in the Top Five.

As of Thursday, Cloudy had hit the century mark, and the Toy Story reboots had collected $25.5 million. The chart (as of yesterday):

Couples Retreat -- $45.4 million

Zombieland -- $54 million

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs -- $100.2 million

Paranormal Activity -- $13.5 million

Toy Stories 3-D -- $25.5 million

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Topics of Concern

Yesterday I was at one of the major animation studios when an industry veteran comes up to me. He says:

"Steve, end of the week I'm out of here. I've got a job offer from Blank, and I'm taking it. They want to do animated features and they're looking to hire people with experience.

"I just haven't fit in around here. I'm working for the same money I was making fifteen years ago. I'm back to doing support work. But I'm getting my hours, and I've been working the last ten months, so I can't complain. A lot of people haven't been had jobs ..."

Overall, the mood of the cartoon biz is ... tense. People who are employed hunker down and hang on to what they've got. People who aren't pick up freelance, cash their unemployment checks, and keep looking. I've been working with a group that's been pushing a non-union place to organize. One of these folks e-mailed me complaining that they'd heard I had d mentioned their name in public, and "Please keep your mouth shut. I don't want anybody knowing I'm collecting rep cards ..."

At yet another studio, the old chestnut: "We're cutting staff, everyone has to work more efficiently, and by the way, we have no money in the budget for overtime" has circulated far and wide.

As I told several artists over lunch, "Studios are cutting costs in every direction. There's work out there, but nobody gets retained when it's done. The last scene or storyboard is turned in, they are out the door."

And I ran across a DreamWorks Animation employee who said:

"I'm getting laid off at the end of this picture. The rest of the guys in the department got picked up for new shows, but I didn't get slotted ..."

So even DreamWorks has the occasional layoff, even as new hires arrive in other departments.

Like I say. I've seen happier days.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Linkages de Animation

Photo: Cesar Rubio (Walt Disney Family Foundation)

An amusement park of animation links, starting with ...

China's plans for creating major toonage:

Beijing is going to raise 50 billion yuan to build up Chinese Animation and Game City as China's "animation Hollywood and Disneyland".

Besides, Beijing will provide 100 million yuan each year as financial suport for the Animation city which is located in the former site of Shougang Group, China's eighth largest steel maker.

In the 83-hectare area, the Animation city will include six major function areas such as theme park, trade management center, research and production center, business service platform, office building, hotel and living area ...

Speaking of expansions, Fox looks to extend its cartoon empire.

Fox has picked up a new animated series developed by Jonah Hill as the network continues to expand its “Animation Domination” line up.

Hill – who is perhaps best known for his roles in “Superbad” and “Knocked Up” – will be a featured voiceover actor on the show in addition to developing the script with writers Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul. Hill, Mogel and Paul will also be onboard as executive producers. The series revolves around a 7-year-old socialite who behaves like an adult but is forced to attend a public school ...

And TIME magazine overviews the king of Fox's Animation Domination (Is that a cartoon rabbit in leather? Snapping a whip?)

... "Family Guy" is "The Simpsons" on Red Bull, with a dysfunctional family--the Griffins of Quahog, R.I.--but twice the outrageousness and thrice the pace. Its signature move is to cut away from a story line for a non sequitur gag (a pop-culture parody, a celebrity spoof, a Star Wars reference). The Simpsons is a satire, but it's rooted in its family. Family Guy is less a half-hour narrative about characters than a delivery system for unconnected jokes the writers can't bear to part with ...

Reviews for Astroboy -- launching October 23rd here in the U.S. -- begin to come in.

The anxiety of influence is a palpable force in "Astro Boy," although it owes just as much to "Wall-E," "The Iron Giant" and "Pinocchio" as it does to its source -- Tezuka Osamu's 1952 manga that spawned multiple cartoon series and bequeathed contemporary anime with a hefty chunk of its DNA.

... [T]he film easily should draw sizable family crowds and hold their attention well; whether it sticks in their memory is another question.

Oh. My. God. After all the breathless projections that there would be five contenders for Best Animated Feature this year, turns out there could be only three.

... This Oscar race will only have three nominees, as usual. Today we hear from a spokesperson for Funimation that "Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone" ... is not a contender. It is ineligible because it opened in Japan in September 2007 ...

This brings the list of entries that we know about to 15. According to academy rules, if there are eight to 15 entries, there can only be three nominees in the race,

Story artist Ed Gombert posts more story art -- this time from The Hunchback of Notre Dame -- from Disney veteran Vance Gerry. (Go look at all of it.)

Lastly, Meon posts photos of the opening of the Walt Disney Museum up at the Presidio in San Francisco, and the Wall Street Journal details some of the exhibits within it.

... The last galleries of the museum cover the rebuilding of the studio and the success of Disney's nature documentaries, such as "Seal Island" (1948); the animated features "Cinderella" (1950) and "Lady and the Tramp" (1955); and hit movies such as "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954) and "Mary Poppins" (1964).

On display are more family photos and personal artifacts, such as replicas of cans of Walt's two favorite kinds of chili and the miniatures he loved to craft in his spare time. A ramp leads downward to a 12-foot-diameter model of Disneyland ...

Enjoy your weekend.

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