Monday, November 30, 2009

'Toons' Foreign Progress

Here in Britain's former colonies, Disney's A Christmas Carol continues to roll right along. As of yesterday, CC was an eye lash short of $105 million. And the picture is doing fine overseas:

"Disney's A Christmas Carol" ... opened in seven markets, grossing $22.1 million from 5,328 sites overall in 48 territories. "Christmas Carol's" foreign cume stands at $94 million ... Holdover markets proved strong, providing $15.3 million of the weekend total, down a mild-mannered 28 percent from the previous frame. ...

So with CCearning serious coin overseas, what kind of accumulation of dollars will it have? After theater runs, dvd sales, and TV broadcasts, will it go into the black? I'm thinking yes, sooner or later. There are a lot of Christmases yet to come.

Meanwhile, there are other animated features unspooling in foreign lands.

... [A]nimation adventure "Planet 51," [had] solid openings in Spain, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil [and] produced $6.4 million on the weekend. The biggest contributor was Spain, where the title from Handmade Films and Ilion Animation grabbed a No. 2 spot with $4.3 million from 442 locations.

Spain, of course, was where Planet 51 was made. Jerry Bruckheimer also had toonage in play.

"G-Force" opened in China ($1.5 million from 300 screens), and drew $2.3 million overall during the weekend. The overseas gross for the animation title from producer Jerry Bruckheimer is $161.8 million.

So let's see. G-Force's foreign take, combined with its $119.4 million domestic gross, now runs the guinea pigs to a grand, worldwide total of $281.2 million.

Not too bad.

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DreamWorks Animation Walking Tour

Though you wouldn't know it from recent posts, I've been bopping through studios at a steady rate, just not writing about it.

How many times can you say: "The crew at [Studio X] continues to work on [blank]."? Bo-ring.

Today was a hectic sprint through multiple studios, starting with Nick's Kung Fu Panda satellite unit* where the first season of KFP the TeeVee version is under way, and the wish of the crew is that there will be a second season.

Next up was the nosebleed section of Cartoon Network, followed by DreamWorks Animation in the afternoon. The story team on The Croods is driving toward a screening for the head guy in January, when they will roll out the revised storyline.

"I think it's the first time the whole feature will be up on reel. We've made some changes ..."

Meantime, the Associated Press reports that DreamWorks Animation's stock, after a pullback, is again on the rise:

... Caris & Co. analyst David Miller said investors bought up DreamWorks shares after Walt Disney Co. announced its $4 billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment Inc. in August, fueling speculation that DreamWorks might be purchased as well.

But when the buyout possibility dimmed over the past months, DreamWorks shares fell 15 percent from a "frothy" 52-week high, the analyst said.

As such, Miller upgraded the stock to "Average" ... "The market is now resigned to the notion that a take-out of DreamWorks Animation will not happen anytime soon," he said in a research note.

I've thought for a long time that DWA was a ripe take-over target, but there doesn't seem to be any big-money takers out there at present. (Could the September 2008 meltdown put a damper on Dreamworks' acquisition prospects? Naah ...)

DWA crews have told me they think How to Train Your Dragon is a winner, and Shrek IV is almost sure to be a box office behemoth. I have no idea how Oobermind, launching in the Fall, will perform. But that's three animated features out in the marketplace in 2010, so DreamWorks' cash flow should be strong.

All in all, DWA seems poised to continue thriving as an animation stand-alone, and Jeffrey's athletic high-wire act continues.

* The Nick unit is located in a secret location in the magical highlands of Burbank. Please keep this to yourselves.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Fox Animation

Apparently the House of Rupert won the bidding war for this 'toon.

Fox has partnered with Matthew McConaughey to develop an animated TV comedy based on his brother's life.

"My brother's life is so unbelievable, we had to animate it," McConaughey said.

My questions are: Where will it be done, when will it be done, and can we get the series under a contract?

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AAI "mini-semester" starts January 4

Artist: Nicole Duet

The American Animation Institute, TAG's education program, has announced a "mini-semester" of classes starting in early January.

Registration is now open, and we encourage you to sign up as soon as you can since many of these classes will fill up. To register, call (818) 845-7000 during office hours, Monday-Friday 8:30 am to 5 pm. After registering by phone, make out checks to the American Animation Institute and send to: 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505. You place in class is not guaranteed unless you have registered and paid. Payment is due by December 30, 2009. No refunds will be given after the first day of class.

Classes are listed in full below the fold. A PDF version of the flyer is available here. (Misteaks in the version attached to the earlier e-mail have been corrected.)

American Animation Institute Winter 2010 "Mini-Semester January-February 2010

Day classes

Head and Figure Painting - Instructor: Karl Gnass - Fee: $150.00 - 6 Mondays, January 4-February 8, 9:30 am to 4 pm

This course deals with the fundamentals and development of head and figure painting. Attention will be given to anatomy, structure and form followed with emphasis on character, mood and action. We will examine and explore different theories of color, the value scale, direct and indirect light and procedures used by various artists throughout history. There will be a running dialogue about composition and its importance. A one-day lecture tour of a Los Angeles museum is included. Finally, a look at personal approach, inviting the student to challenge established norms and limitations.

artist: Glenn Vilppu

Basic Figure Drawing and Anatomy - Instructor: Glenn Vilppu - Fee: $210.00 - 9 Tuesdays, January 5-March 2, 10:30 am to 4 pm

Classical figure drawing, with discussions of the application of anatomy to drawing.

Painting The Still Life - Instructor: Nicole Duet - Fee: $100.00 - 5 Thursdays, January 14-February 11, 10 am to 2:30 pm

Painting from the still life is one of the most quietly rewarding ways for students of all levels to develop the skills of a painter. This class covers fundamentals of paint handling and color mixing, and how to create the illusion of light, form and atmosphere. This class can provide either an in depth introduction to oil painting or a deepening of the student's understanding as a painter. Demonstrations and individual attention will be given. Call for supply list.

artist: Karl Gnass

Morphing Life Drawings Into Character Drawings - Instructor: Karl Gnass - Fee: $125.00 - 5 Fridays, January 8-February 5, 9:30 am to 4 pm

We will utilize life-drawing concepts, reviewing and clarifying them, to transform figures into characters for storytelling and animation. We will also work on character development and expression for portfolios.

2D (Traditional) Animation Workshop - Instructors: Alex Topete and Michael Polvani - Fee: $70.00 - 3 Saturdays, January 16-January 30, 9 am to noon

This intensive workshop in traditional animation basics will offer students practice in thumbnailing poses, staging, refining attitudes, acting and character expressions, dialogue, timing for animation, inbetweening, creating exposure sheets, and continued emphasis on drawing fundamentals. Students can expand their 2D reel in class working on an individual project or collaborating on a short team exercise. Students may work in Flash (on theirown laptops) or with pencil and paper (using classroom pencil-test equipment).

Evening Classes

Life Drawing - Instructor: Karl Gnass - Fee: $90.00 - 6 Mondays, January 4-February 8, 7 pm to 10 pm

A basic foundation figure drawing class. Emphasis on fundamentals of observing, interpreting and describing form. Procedures used inquick sketch, construction and fundamentals of volume and structure. The goal is to develop the ability to draw with skill and imagination.

Draped Figure and Costume - Instructor: Karl Gnass - Fee: $180.00 - 12 Wednesdays and Thursdays, January 7-February 12, 7 to 10 pm

We will take the confusion out of drapery by covering the important basic folds and how they relate to non-active folds and wrinkles. We will also explore the expressive qualities of drapery, drapery as costume, and costume as character.

Color and Composition - Instructor: Nicole Duet - Fee: $75.00 - 5 Wednesdays, January 13-February 10, 7 to 10 pm

A workshop focusing on the basic visual and aesthetic interactions of color. Topics include developing sensitivity in color perception and intensive practice in mixing color. Special focus on color harmony, dynamic color as an aspect of composition, and learning to use color to create effects of luminosity, depth and atmosphere in a painting. Students also develop a basic understanding of color as it relates to composition and form, including discussion of historical examples of color use in painting. Call for supply list.

To register, call (818) 845-7000. After registering by phone, make out checks to the American Animation Institute and send to: 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505. Payment is due by December 30, 2009. No refunds will be given after the first day of class.

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City Tree, by Ralph Hulett

City Tree
The spirit of Christmas radiates from the lighted tree amid the grime and snow of the city streets.
© 1955 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Last?

The final curtain, we're informed, is near ....

Even fairy tales must come to an end.

The once-upon-a-time spoofing that began with 2001's Shrek will conclude when Shrek Forever After, the fourth computer-animated comic adventure starring the hygiene-challenged ogre — and the first in 3-D — arrives May 21

Sorry, but I don't buy this "conclusion" thing.

Did Sinatra ever really retire? Did Cher actually give her last "farewell" concert?

Of course not. The end only comes with death, and even that won't stop Shrek. The franchise pulls down too much money.

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Career Trajectories

Sitting at El Capitan the other night watching Waking Sleeping Beauty, I was struck by how career paths often turn on a dime.

Up on the screen was the tale of Disney Feature Animation, struggling in the early eighties, triumphant in the early nineties, and starting to unravel even as it released its biggest hit, The Lion King, in 1994.

Down in the theater seats, a couple of thousand artists who had ridden the rocket sat watching their younger selves, remembering how they'd hit the heights ... only to get laid off half a dozen years later.

Most of the faces I saw, the crew members who made Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King and the others happen, aren't at Disney anymore. Rob Minkoff is doing live action and projects at DreamWorks Animation. Tom Sito is teaching college and working at Warner Bros. Don Hahn and Peter Schneider are most of the way out of the cartoon business, working on independent projects.

And others who once stood on various rungs of the Disney Feature ladder are now at television cartoon studios, visual effects houses, merchandising art, or looking for their next gig. A few work in the grocery business. (One artist I've known for decades came up and thanked me for helping her get dismissal pay from a foot-dragging studio, then admitted that jobs have recently been few and far between.)

Who could have guessed in 1994 that all those high-stepping careers would have been down-sized out of existence by 2002? As one artist said to me:

"We did everything they asked, and they still stopped making hand-drawn features ..."

After a couple of decades of observation, I've concluded the race goes to the talented and hard-working, but mainly the resilient and lucky. Because no matter how carefully you plan, no matter how many hours of labor you put in, at some point the career highway will ramp off in a direction you didn't expect, and you'll have to hang onto the steering wheel because a blowout is imminent.

(In other words: You could have been the most productive employee the Fleischers had at their Miami studio, and you still would have moved to California or New York looking for work 4 1/2 years later when the place closed down.)

That reality was on vivid display at the El Capitan last Monday night, both on the screen and in the audience, and has happened to almost everyone who's worked in animation in the last thirty years. Close to nobody finishes a career where they start it. Close to nobody ends up where they think they will. Like for instance this artist:

Born in Ecuador and raised in Albuquerque, NM, Mike Judge got a degree in physics at U.C. San Diego. Relocating to Texas, Judge worked as an engineer and also tried to forge a career as a musician, but found that animation was his preferred calling. After a Dallas animation festival, Judge's 1991 short Office Space was picked up by Comedy Central. His 1992 short Frog Baseball, featuring two sadistic teen cretins voiced by Judge, subsequently led to a 1993 MTV animated series revolving around the heavy metal-loving adolescents Beavis and Butthead ...

Or this gent ...

... [Simon Tofield's] five short films -- "Cat Man Do," "Let Me In," "TV Dinner," "Hot Spot" and "Fly Guy" -- depicting the misadventures of a demanding cat and his befuddled owner have scored more than 36 million hits [on the internet.] The first film, "Cat Man Do," in which the cat resorts to somewhat unorthodox methods to wake his master and get his breakfast, won best comedy in the British Animation Awards in 2008. Tofield wasn't planning on making a series or even releasing "Cat Man Do" when he made the cartoon. It was just an exercise to teach himself Flash, an animation program widely used in commercials ...

Like it? A career in animation by accident.

As always, there are a zillion different foot-paths into Animationland, and a whole lot fewer that zig-zag through it to the tippy top. I wish to God I knew what the ideal roadmap was, but I don't think it exists.

And if it does, I've never seen it.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Global II

Illusion Studios seems to be cooking down Argentine way. First Gaturro, now this.

Argentina’s Juan Jose Campanella, director of runaway hit “El secreto de sus ojos” (The Secret in Their Eyes), is preparing to helm his first animated film, with a E6 million ($8.94 million) budget. “Metegol” (Foosball) is about the plight of a foosball team trying to reunite after their table is dismantled and scrapped.

... Illusion Studios, a local production outfit behind this year’s hard-boiled hoodlum satire “Boogie, el aceitoso,” has arranged co-production deals with Canada, India, Mexico, Spain and other countries for the toon pics ...

There are, apparently, other continents producing multiple animated pics. Who would have thought?

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Holiday Animation Derby

Now with tinsel-covered Add Ons.

As we move through the four-day Turkey holiday, animation has a lot of competitors in the race.

"Disney’s A Christmas Carol" charted sixth with $3.8 million off 3,013, a near three fold surge over last Thursday’s take, with a running domestic cume of $89.4 million.

Sony’s animated feature "Planet 51" followed in seventh with $1.6 million from 3,035 and a first week take of $18.3 million.

Fox’s expansion of Wes Anderson’s "Fantastic Mr. Fox" from four locales to 2,027 catapulted the stop-motion film into eighth with $1.35 million yesterday. Pic took in $1.1 million during its first day of going wide on Wednesday. Heading into its third frame, "Mr. Fox" counts a domestic B.O. of $3 million ....

... Disney’s exclusive run of its hand-drawn animated "The Princess and the Frog" at the Ziegfeld in New York and the Walt Disney Studios main theater totaled $430,770 since its Wednesday bow.

So how often does VARIETY report four animated features as significant box office contenders at one time? Like not too often.


6) A Christmas Carol -- $3,770,000

7) Planet 51 -- $1,595,000

8) The Fantastic Mr. Fox -- $1,360,000

13) The Princess and the Frog -- $167,000

... Like not ever, if you think about it. (And yeah, not all of the above animations are going to end up as chart busters, more's the pity ...)

Add On: Going into the far turn, animated entrants remain in the middle of the pack:

A Christmas Carol" taking $6.64 million from 3,013. ... [T]he domestic cume for "Christmas Carol" should cross $100 million this weekend; its B.O. currently standing at $96 million ...

Sony’s feature toon "Planet 51" counted $4.1 million in seventh from 3,035, up 29% from a week ago with an eight-day take of $22.4 million.

20th Century Fox’s "Fantastic Mr. Fox" doubled its domestic cume from Thursday, drawing $3 million from 2,029 in eighth yesterday for a new domestic total of $6 million.

... Disney’s exclusive run of its new hand-drawn animated feature "The Princess and the Frog," set to go wide on Dec. 11, drew an estimated $277,000 from two sites for a running three-day domestic take of $707,630 ...

Add On Too: Down to the wire, a lot of movies do well.

1) The Twilight Saga -- $65,999,682

2) The Blind Side -- $57,530,347

3) 2012 -- $25,549,508

4) Old Dogs -- $24,085,000

5) A Christmas Carol (2009) -- $22,557,631

6) Ninja Assassin -- $21,010,000

7) Planet 51 -- $13,899,974

8) The Fantastic Mr. Fox -- $9,499,685

* The Princess and the Frog -- $1,142,000

Praise be for long holiday weekends.

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Brotherly Love, by Ralph Hulett

Brotherly Love
Our jolly friar, who firmly believes it is more blessed to give than to receive, cheerfully dispatches his Christmas packages.
© 1955 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
Click here to read entire post

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Global Animation

Now with Add On.

Gee, I'm so old I can remember when only artists working in the East San Fernando Valley cared about toonage at all. But now there's this:

Research and Markets ... has announced the addition of Screen Digest's new report "The Global Animation Industry" to their offering.

... Many countries, in particular France and Canada, are reaping the benefits of an ecosystem of financial support programmes, tax breaks and broadcast quotas that serves to bolster their animation sectors. Even these industries are not immune to a weak international market, relying on co-production, pre-sales and licence fee revenue for a significant part of their funding ...

Glancing over the report's subject matter, it appears to lay out the obvious: There's lots of sub-contracting going on; license fees aren't what they once were, and there are some big American conblomerates which dominate the cartoon industry.

There's a surprise.

On a side note: There are currently several new "independent" animation studios cropping up in the San Fernando Valley. They are independent the way Charlie McCarthy was independent of Edgar Bergen, the way that Jeff Dunham's universe of dummies is independent of him.

Almost all of the indie companies out there, from Film Roman to Bento Box to Rough Draft to Wild Brain, are dependent on the Big Boys for their continued existence. They are job shops, and as I once said to a storyboard artist who proclaimed how much he loved working for a small, non-union studio free of the hammy hand of conglomerates:

"You kidding me? Everybody works for the big entertainment congloms. They either work for them directly ... and get paid union benefits ... or they work for them indirectly, and don't. But they all work for the same Goliaths ..."

It was true when I said it a few years back; it's more true now.

Add On: Speaking of global toons, here's one example of animation beyond American shores ... animation that Americans will likely never see.

Mexico's Anima Estudios has inked to co-produce animated feature "Gaturro," which is lead produced by Argentina's Illusion Studios and Toonz Animation India. Anima will take minority equity in "Gaturro," about a cat TV star, and carry out post-production.

Anima's boarding of "Gaturro" advances a three CGI pic co-production alliance between Illusion and Anima, Latin America's foremost film/TV toon producers.

In production, "Gaturro" will bow theatrically in Argentina and India second half 2010. Pic will also have a digital 3-D version ...

Lots of animated product is created in different parts of the world that the citizens of the U.S. never know exists (it ain't all Up and Kung Fu Panda), yet there are numerous animation gypsies flying around the globe to work on it.

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Expanding Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox goes wide ....

Wes Anderson's animated feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox" -- which 20th Century Fox expanded to a wide release Wednesday after a couple of weeks of bicoastal bookings -- ranked eighth for the day, with $1.1 million from 2,027 playdates.

... and it appears that Mr. Anderson's latest may not be a barn burner at the turnstiles. I expect Alvin and his chipmunk companions will be stronger competitors at the box office, as will The Princess and her frog.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Someone asks about the age breakdown of working members of The Animation Guild, and I'm delighted to throw light on the subject.

Employed Active Members -- 87.1% (2,566 of 2,945)

Employed Active Members over fifty -- 29.5% (757 of 2,566)

Now, a few words about the above.

The employed percentage of active members appears quite high, but the statistic is usually higher still .... above 90%. So we look for total active membership to fall in coming months.

We have fifty more people working now than back in January. Then it was 2,506.

Going back further, in January 2008, employment was 2,271. (Click here for graphs about employment breakdown and trends in 2007-2008.)

What were the employment breakdowns five years ago? Ten years? We'll have to dig out old data, but my best estimates:

The industry has skewed young and male for a long time. If you use the handy search engine up in the left-hand corner, I'm sure you can dig up various posts that cover these subjects.

(I've harped on the maleness of the business previously; I won't bother doing it again here. But as to the youthfulness of the biz, I have several observations):

1) There's been a technological revolution in animation over the past fifteen years, and it's digital. Paper, pencils and paintbrushes don't cut it anymore. So the folks who were experts with those things are unemployable if they don't know the software programs that employers now require for animated production, and it's been tough for many to retrain.

2) Most artists and technicians who come into the business in their early twenties build a support network of fellow employees, most of whom are five to ten years older than they are. By the time these people reach their middle fifties, the long-standing support network they've relied on has retired ... and jobs (surprise!) become harder to come by.

3) Now as always, the business is ferociously competitive; younger and more energetic candidates pour into the field year after year. By the time you are in your forties ... or especially fifties ... you are competing against people who are decades younger than you are.

Animation might be youth oriented, but its a virtual haven for gray hairs compared to live-action work. In that sphere, you will find very few older workers.

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Moonlight Madonna, by Ralph Hulett

Moonlight Madonna
Illuminated by silver stars, the heavenly Mother embraces her Child.
© 1955 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
Click here to read entire post

Turkey Links

With Thanksgiving upon us, time for an early Holiday linkfest, starting with Samarai Jack traveling to the Big Screen:

STAR TREK director J.J. Abrams will be joining former Hanna-Barbera president Fred Seibert to produce a feature film version of the hit Cartoon Network animated series SAMURAI JACK. The $20 million film will use a combination of traditional cell animation and stereoscopic 3-D ...

Creative Talent Network's Animation Expo, held this past weekend at the Marriot across from the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, was a well-attended success. Tina Price put in a lot of hard work to make the expo happen, and the event, based on eye-witness reports, came off wonderfully well:

The first Creative Talent Network Animation Expo kicked off Friday at the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Burbank, drawing hundreds of students and professionals for an exhibition in a region that is widely acknowledged as the animation capital of the world.

The event featured seminars from innovators like “Hellboy” comic book creator Mike Mignola and entrepreneurial animator Don Bluth, who split off from major studios to create “The Secret of NIMH.”

The event was an opportunity for animators to learn from industry pioneers, while also promoting their own work, said Tina Price, who founded the Creative Talent Network.

TIME Magazine thinks highly of TP and TF.

Big Fun on the Bayou -- ...Musker and Clements, the New Old Men, have bucked the odds and made a cartoon feature that is true to vintage Disney traditions (like wishing upon a star) yet moves with a contemporary verve and bounce. In an amazing year for animation, The Princess and the Frog is up at the top. Go on, give it a big kiss.

Jeffrey K. explains his studio and ambitions:

"I say our movies always have to have five Wow Wees, " says Katzenberg, in something of a Botticelli moment. "What's a Wow Wee? You see it and you go, Wow. Wee." He explains how Chris Sanders, director of the upcoming How to Train Your Dragon, wanted a beast that could breathe fire under water. "I mean, what kind of particle physics would it require for that to happen? Fire in water?" asks Katzenberg. "Our tech team goes, 'Okay, we'll figure it out.' " He grins. "Did anyone here tell you Jeffrey's Law? More is never enough." ...

"I saw Rupert Murdoch the other day and said, Would you like to be Rupert Murdoch? And I went, No, I don't think so. Would I like to be Steve Jobs? No. I admire him like crazy, but I don't envy him. I don't want Mark Hurd's job at HP. I couldn't do Mark Hurd's job -- I don't have the talent or ability. ... Do I want to be Bob Iger? Bob is doing an outstanding job running Disney. I'm happy for him. ... But actually, I wouldn't want that job. No. I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing." ...

You think that hand-drawn animation has been neglected? What about the Ray Harryhausen school of movement?

From Prince Achmed to The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Great moments in stop motion animation: ... Stop motion was the domain of European animators in the 30s and 40s, and it wasn't until Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy (see above), released in 1954 by RKO, that American animators gave a go at a stop motion feature. However, the characters in the film, called "kineman", were very advanced, containing realistic attributes and magnetic feet - and they took fifteen years to develop ...

The powerhouse Disney Channel, which was born back when Rom Miller was Chairman of Diz Co. in the early eighties, names a new President.

Walt Disney Co. named Carolina Lightcap as the new president of Disney Channel Worldwide.

The new post puts Ms. Lightcap, 42 years old, in charge of a unit that has become increasingly essential to Disney's broader business. The Disney Channel has generated some of the company's most successful recent properties, including the "High School Musical" series and its offshoots, and has served as the launching pad for pop-music stars Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.

Artist Todd McFarlane discusses an animated Spawn:

What's the status on the Spawn animation?

McFarlane: The animation, we've put about a year and a half of work into it; ...then we got into a bit of a legal tussle. So it got boxed up and put into a corner. But at the end of this year, all that work and all those rights come back to me. So I'll have them in my hand on December 31st, and I'll walk into Hollywood probably the next month and start going, "Hey! Here's what we got!" And if anyone wants to bring the animation back, we're a year and a half into it. So we could literally hit the ground running. We don't have to develop it; it's done. We've got 90 minutes of it scripted, voiced, backgrounds, characters -- everything is done other than finding the studio to actually do the frame-by-frame ...

Enjoy your Fri ... oops ... Wednesday.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Sonora Experience

Part of the day was spent at Disney TVA Sonora, the home of half of Walt Disney Television Animation (the other fragment being on the Disney Burbank lot) and Disney Toons Studio (the home of numerous Tinkerbell features, many now in the process of becoming.)

The Big Player at Disney TVA, is Phineas and Ferb, but it's being created in the Frank Wells Building across the city line (and was recently profiled by Variety here) ...

But Disney Sonora, a month ago semi-empty, is filling up a little.

Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Disney TVA's newest entry, is at last in production with board artists now in their cubicles turning out early episodes.

Jake is being done on Cintiqs, and as one of the veteran board artists said:

"The last series we worked on here, Mickey's Clubhouse was done on paper, so this is taking a little getting used to. But after you get past the buttons and the levels, it's just another way of drawing ..."

I mentioned that Mick's Clubhouse was one of the last shows I saw around town created with actual pencils. Disney's Inspector Oso, launching into a new season of half-hours, is the only show of which I'm aware being done the good old fashioned way (paper), but only partially.

I'm informed that half of Oso's boarding is digital ... and half paper and drawing pencils.

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Tuesday Union Stats

We haven't done this for awhile, so here's a thumb-nail breakdown of your friendly Animation Guild membership:

Total Active TAG Membership: 2,945

Storyboard/Production board Artists: 475 (16.1%)

Writers: 199 (6.8%)

Tech Directors: 587 (19.9%)

Animators/ Assistant Animators: 484 (16.4%)

TAG is at or near its historical membership highs. In the late 1980s, we had about 700 active members. Disney was a small employer then. TV Animation was the other big job source.

During the reign of TAG President Tom Sito in the mid-1990s, we had roughly the same total membership as now. Hand-drawn feature animation was in robust production at Turner Feature Animation, Warner Feature Animation, DreamWorks Animation, not to mention Disney (although I just did, din't I?).

Now it's mostly Computer Generated Imaging, along with TeeVee.

The numbers above reflect dues-paying members, both newbies and members who have re-activated as they have re-entered the union workforce.

Other stats: We have 2,193 participants in the TAG 401(k) Plan, and $109 million in assets, spread over 20+ mutual funds.

Given the interesting times in which we live, these numbers change constantly.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Wake Up Call

Got an invitation to the El Cap tonight, for to see Waking Sleeping Beauty.

If you want to know what it was like to work at Disney Feature Animation in the eighties or early nineties, this film will show you the reality of that time...

[Waking Sleeping Beauty] covers a world that seems like we know it, but really don’t. It moves beyond the celebrity-driven coverage of million-dollar catfights between Michael Eisner [and] Jeffrey Katzenberg. ... It focuses on and captures the heat and the hilarity of an office where dancing in the halls was normal, every meeting seems to have been made into a home movie, and work took place ’round the clock, with meetings called regularly at 8 a.m.—on a Sunday ...

The film covers fifteen years of Walt Disney Feature Animation -- 1980 to 1994 -- with the sharpest focus on the last half of the eighties, first half of the nineties. (And I had no idea that Super Eight would translate to a large theater screen so damn well.)

The points of Disney Feature Animation's low, low morale are shown with wry humor, along with the moments of triumph and the point at which it all unraveled. (You'll have to see the doc to discover the magical moment.) What's amazing is that the glory years arrived, flashed by, and vanished so quickly. At the time, they seemed as though they would go on forever.

I must say I liked WSL, but viewing the film caused those old Roger Miller lyrics to echo in my head:

... But everything changes a little and it should.

Good ain't forever and Bad ain't for Good.

(The L.A. Times' Ben Fritz predicts massive grosses for the two theaters showing The Princess and the Frog during its early rollout here.)

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Today was my hat building day, and up on the third floor, a story artist remarked how Princess and the Frog knick knacks are selling really, really well.

"I was told that Target released its P and F stuff early, and that it sold out! And Target has now reordered!

"And the picture isn't even out yet..."

I wasn't sure how accurate this anecdotal evidence was, so when I returned to the office I consulted The Google, who told me ...

The Princess and the Frog Products in High Demand

Pre-film awareness boosts products in the U.S. ...

Since its launch just a few weeks ago, retailers have reported that the range has already begun out-selling other Disney Princess items by double digit percentages.

More than 45,000 dolls have sold in less than a month with 17,000 selling last week alone. At one major retailer, The Princess and the Frog bedding has sold nearly triple the amount of regular Disney Princess bedding ...

So whattayaknow? Apparently the dolls and comforters and wind-up action figures are flying off the shelves.

I said to a couple of other Disney story guys I felt this bodes well for the picture. I told them I thought that the Froggie and Princess would have a solid opening and go on to make money for Diz Co.

(Go ahead, call me a starry-eyed Pollyanna. I'll hate you for it, but you'll be posting anonymously, so what do you care?)

Elsewhere in the animation division, more people informed me that Joe Jump is back on the front burner development-wise, and King of the Elves is being "retooled."

Have a joyous Thanksgiving ... and if you're already on vacation, please know that I'm jealous. (And in case you haven't seen it, the LA Times big piece on Disney Pictures restructuring is here.)

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Royal Journey, by Ralph Hulett

Royal Journey
In this dramatic design of simple grandeur, the Three Kings ride majestically through a forest of stately palms.
© 1961 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Burton Art

Not Richard's, but Tim's ...

... [F]rom now until April, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is doing just that, with a major career retrospective of Burton’s art and movies.

On display are more than 700 pieces — paintings, sketches and sculptures, including rare concept art — from Burton’s films and abandoned projects ....

Disney hired Burton in 1979, at a time when the animation department was trying to create a dark movie to win back the kinds of teenage audiences who had flocked to “Star Wars.” Burton’s gothic sensibility seemed a natural fit for Disney’s first PG-rated animated feature “The Black Cauldron.”

“Clearly, ‘Black Cauldron’ was a project that was a real Tim Burtonproject. It was about this cauldron that produces armies of evil,” Magliozzi said. “It really inspired Tim. I think he produced 350 pieces of concept [art], not a single one of which was used in the film. ...

Just about every cartoon newbie at the House of Mouse was frustrated by Cauldron, not just Burton.

Musker, Clements, and most other young up-and-comers in the Disney animation department got bounced off the film. Tim, after hearing raves for his designs in different meetings ... and then seeing them go exactly nowhere, ended up getting a toe-hold in live-action by doing lower budget live-action featurettes for the Disney Channel.

He moved on from there, going from Frankenweenie to Pee Wee Herman and beyond.

His development art for different animated projects was edgy and brilliant. And it freaked out a lot of the old guard. They had no idea what to do with it ...

Joe Ranft and Tim Burton ... in simpler times before vampires were truly appreciated.

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Ron and John

... talk about the evolution of story for Princess and the Frog ...

Ron Clements: Disney has actually been interested in the "Frog Prince" all the way back to "Beauty and the Beast." They never got a version they were totally happy with. Weirdly enough, Pixar had been developing versions and they never got quite a version they were happy with. Their version actually started in Chicago and then moved to New Orleans partly because that is John Lasseter's favorite city in the world.

Even more recently, Disney bought the rights to a book called 'The Frog Princess' by an author called E.D. Baker and that was a twist on the fairy tale. In that book, when the princess kissed the frog she became a frog.

I bumped into R & J at a fine Burbank eatery a couple of nights ago. They were on their way to unspool the film at a USC film class, then answer questions afterward.

The usual promotional tour will be happening for them over the next few weeks and months. The picture isn't going out day and date around the globe, so they will be winging to Europe as P and F is sequentially released country by country.

The guys will be globe-trotting into the new year. Lots of hotels, lots of media. (I would say they have better release windows in other countries than they do here, but what can you do? The other conglomerates don't plan their own release calendars for your benefit ...)

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Re the Disney Anti-Black Thing ...


The main evidence for Walt's racial insensitivity ... is "Song of the South," his 1946 combination of live action and animation based on the Southern folk tales of Joel Chandler Harris, known as Uncle Remus, which, though set in the Reconstruction era, makes the black former slaves seem dependent upon and excessively grateful to their former owners. From any modern racial perspective, the film is cringe-inducing

The constant harping on South and its racism gives me a stomach ache. Is it "cringe inducing" by today's standards? Probably. But compare it to the perennial favorite Gone With the Wind (now in Blu-ray!), and it come across as ninety minutes of enlightened sensitivity.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Walt Disney is a national and corporate icon, while David O. Selznick is a long-dead Hollywood producer. Then there is the other minor detail:


In its time, Song of the South was a tidy little money spinner. But Wind? Factoring for inflation, it's the highest grossing film of all time, and in Freedom's Land, big bucks trump everything else.

So if you think that Time Warner is going to ban GWTW from the public marketplace because some of the supporting players are a tad ... uh ... stereotypical, you don't know how conglomerates work. Nothing stands in the way of a smooth, crisp (and ever shrinking) dollar bill.

So let us heap praise on Gone With the Wind's swell Technicolor, and Vivien Leigh's riveting performance, and remember that cash flow is the reason that the 1939 epic is available in the latest digital technology, while Song of the South has vanished.

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Caroling in Foreign Lands

Christmas Carol took more of a hit at the start of its third domestic weekend, but overseas it hangs in there:

Robert Zemeckis' 3D holiday title "Disney's A Christmas Carol" came in No. 2 in its second frame, grossing $16.2 million from 3,339 playdates in 21 territories, a solid showing. Cume is $33 million. Despite a lackluster opening -- both internationally and domestically -- the film is showing signs of having legs.

International grosses for "Christmas Carol" are running 47% ahead of Zemeckis' worldwide hit "The Polar Express," which scored a foreign cume of $124 million.

In Japan, November 14-19, Christmas Carol cmaein at #1, collecting $3.1 million.

I ran across two veteran Disney artists the other night, who asked what I thought of the feature. As I've said here, I told them I liked it, got swept up in the Three Deeness of the thing, but thought one hindrance was the familiarity of the story. Good as Dickens's tale is (and it is), you walk into your neighborhood multiplex knowing all the twists and turns ... and how it comes out.

That takes a little of the edge off, no?

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Pre-Holiday Derby

Now with double Add Ons.

Daughter of Twilight (the Mom of which helped to take down White Doggie a couple of years a year ago) tears up the box office, earning $72.7 million on Friday ....

The animated contingent -- Planet 51 and Christmas Carol -- hang back in the middle of the pack, earning three million apiece. CC has now crossed the $70 million mark ...

Add On: Fantastic Mr. Fox, not yet a meaningful entry in the horse race, nevertheless had a robust Friday on a per-theater basis:

Fox Searchlight’s "Fantastic Mr. Fox" also minted a hearty per site of $13,103 in its second Friday for $52,000 off four Gotham and Los Angeles playdates. Through eight days, "Mr. Fox" counts a total domestic take of $410,536. Searchlight is scheduled to up the film’s theater count on Wednesday ...

Add On Too: At the finish line, DoT collects $140.7 million, a dandy chunk of change (I'm expecting a sizable drop as it moves along ...)

Back in mid-field, Planet 51 picks up $12.6 million at #4, while 5th place Christmas Carol adds $21.2 million as it moves toward the $80 million marker.

Meanwhilte, CGI effx extravaganza 2012 drops almost 60% during its second go-round, yet still picks up $26.5 million in box office receipts.

It's always useful to remember that the movies with a high "must see" quotient, that get released in a jillion theaters on Day One, usually drop like anvils during their second and third weekends. The people who burned with a red-hot desire to feast their eyes, show up with cash in hand the first weekend, and then move on.

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Snow Stream, by Ralph Hulett

Snow Stream
The rush of the icy waters cascading through the crisp white snowbanks across the peaceful countryside.
© 1955 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image. See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm. Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Linkage

Your Friday linkfest ... now with salty Add On.

Years in the making and still not done?

Less than a month before the scheduled release of James Cameron's new movie, "Avatar," some scenes from the costly special-effects extravaganza remain unfinished.

Pressure to complete the project by the Dec. 18 release date has risen to the point where crews are working "24-8"—that is, eight days a week—said producer Jon Landau during a break from supervising the work in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Mr. Landau said that around 30 minutes of the movie remain incomplete, with issues ranging from sound mixing to more serious aspects like visual effects ...

... The eleventh-hour fixes are driving up costs on a project already on track to be one of the most expensive movies ever made. Several factors make the final price tag difficult to estimate, though people with knowledge of the movie's financing say the tally could exceed $300 million.

Wait a minute. Isn't that the standard package with James C.? Big, expensive movies? Gut crushing schedules? ...

They got your Oscar hopefuls right here.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced the ten animated short films that have advanced in the voting process for the 82nd Academy Awards ...

Happy Birthday to the Mouse ... and sorry about the non-flat ears never catching on.

The cartoon character's "look" has grown with technology, and the celebrity mouse has morphed from a hand-drawn, black-and-white figurine, to a sleeker, colorful, computerized cartoon ...

Character designer and Lucas alumnus Roel Banzon Robles talks about his early inspirations and working at I.M. Digital:

...Ray Harryhausen was a huge inspiration for me when I was growing up. He created all the effects for movies like “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” and “Clash of the Titans.” He inspired me to want to work in the film industry. Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston and Nilo Rodis-Jamero, the artists from “Star Wars,” were also a great inspiration, especially Nilo, since he’s Filipino. It helped me realize that I could also thrive in the same profession.

When I was in my teens, I discovered the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta, as well. There have been many more, but those five were the key inspirations. I’m lucky to say that I’m friends with Ray Harryhausen and Ralph McQuarrie. I was so excited when I received a Christmas card from Harryhausen. I totally geeked out!

... I was involved in helping design the characters of “A Christmas Carol.” Doug Chiang, the production designer, would give us his thoughts on the characters, and we would go off and do our take on a particular character. I worked on every character, except for Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Jeffrey K., his mission having been accomplished with stereo movies, is moving on ...

... Katzenberg ... told Intel Capital's CEO Summit in Huntington Beach, California that he is even more excited about the creative potential of this "scalable multi-core processing".

"Ten years from now I think this will be a tipping point for how we view entertainment and how entertainment views the world," he said of the chips ... He ... screened eye-popping sports footage on 3-D-enabled television that he predicted would be in 30 percent of US households by 2013, with early adoption spurred by sports and video games ....

I''ve been hearing about threatened American animation for years. Now I come to understand that cartoons in the U.S. of A. aren't the only threatened species.

England's animation industry could be "extinct" within five years unless it is afforded tax breaks that the wider film industry already enjoys, leaders in the field have warned

Animation in the country "is at a tipping point: it either survives or dies", industry leaders wrote in a joint letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Shows such as Wallace & Gromit, Bob the Builder and Noddy have made England "a recognised centre for animation", they said.

But they forecast: "Within a matter of years, we will not be producing any such fantastic properties as a result of tax breaks and government incentives in other countries."

And we end on a sad note. Some fans of Tintin are apparently miffed.

French Tintin fans are threatening to boycott a forthcoming Steven Spielberg film after the British husband of Hergé's widow sued a fan for printing pamphlets on the comic hero.

Add On: The LA Times maintains that Oscar "favorites" in the animated shorts department might not be favorites after all:

The Best Animated Short category has been historically a bit of a wild card, due partly to the fact that there are no advance awards to help in the decision-making (there is no corresponding category with the Golden Globes or an award show of equal magnitude), and partly to the fact that because academy voters must view all of the nominees, their decisions in the past have been based as much on their hearts as critical acclaim and box office returns.

It's the weekend, so go someplace tranquil and refresh your spirits.

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A Mo Cap Tussle?

Of course, motion capture has been around since the days of Out of the Ink Well, Snow White and Gulliver's Travels. Then it was called "rotoscope." Now it's digitized and goes by the handle "Mo Cap."

Whatever the name, SAG looks to be discussing the procedure with movie producers in 2011.

... [T]he Screen Actors Guild is investigating how thesps perform the work -- a signal the issue may emerge as a factor in next year's contract negotiations. In an announcement this week, SAG invited members and non-members who do the work to a Dec. 3 session at the guild's Hollywood headquarters to discuss the impact of performance capture. The contract department staff and members of the TV/Theatrical Standing Committee will attend. It's the first such meeting SAG has held on the issue ...

...[SAG] members have expressed the desire for language spelling out motion capture work during the "wages and working conditions" process to formulate contract proposals. But the companies have responded during negotiations by asserting that mocap -- the emerging lingo for the work -- is a "non-mandatory" subject of bargaining and not open to negotiation.

Looks to me like their might be some teensy collision coming up here.

I really have no idea what terms and conditions SAG has for Mo Cap, but if they're sniffing around, I imagine they want to make the terms better, because ...

... thesps have expressed concerns in recent years over the dearth of specific language in the master contract over how motion capture performances are covered ...

TAG and the IA cover computer work on some Mo Cap features, but the actors in the wired suits are SAG's department. Guess we'll see how this shakes out.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fragments of Positiveness

Lets face it. TV animation has been a weak link in the cartoon business for a while now. Disney TVA has, of late, been a shadow of its mid-nineties self. Universal Animation Studio has dwindled away to nothing. Nick is doing fewer hand-drawn shows and shifting to three-dimensional computer graphics. Even non-signator Mike Young has cut lots of people loose.

In the midst of all this, it's nice to receive at least a little good news ...

For instance, yesterday at Disney TVA, a veteran director told me:

"This place is going to fill up in the next six months. We're going to have a lot bigger staff working and more shows being made ..."

I didn't ask him how he knew this. I also didn't ask him for specifics, but I know that Jake and the Nverland Pirates is ramping up, as is Inspector Oso, and of course Phineas and Ferb soldiers on.

And then there is this snippet about Cartoon Network:

Cartoon Network’s weekly prime time performance earned solid ratings and delivery gains among all kids demos compared to the same time period last year. Across the third week of November, average kids 2-11 delivery (845,000) climbed by 9% and ratings (2.1) by 11%; average kids 6-11 delivery (566,000) climbed by 4% and ratings (2.3) by 5%; and average kids 9-14 delivery (453,000) climbed by 1% and ratings (1.9) by 6% ...

Animated originals BEN 10: ALIEN FORCE (Friday, 8:30 p.m.) and BATMAN: THE BRAVE & THE BOLD (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) both charted double-digit growth among their key audiences. Compared to the same time period last year, BEN 10: ALIEN FORCE advanced kids 2-11 delivery (1,013,000) by 26% and ratings (2.5) by 25%, while boys 2-11 delivery (769,000) and ratings (3.7) both rose by 16%. BATMAN: THE BRAVE & THE BOLD advanced kids 9-14 delivery (501,000) by 33% and ratings (2.1) by 40%, while boys 9-14 delivery (379,000) jumped by 17% and ratings (3.0) by 15%.

My take on TV animated product is, it's a highly cyclical creature. For as long as I can remember, the television cartoon has been a rollercoaster, with huge surges of production (and employment) followed by big declines. This pattern goes all the way back to the Bronze Age of TV animation, when a big leap in production (1959-1961) was followed by a depression (1962).

Small screen cartoons have followed this pattern ever since. But despite declining license fees and corporate determination to do things as cheaply as possible, animated TV shows are sturdy performers in the market segment, playing to sizable audiences decade after decade.

That's something you can't say about live action specimens such as Have Gun, Will Travel or Bat Masterson. Those pieces of entertainment ... and many others like them will never make anybody any kind of cash flow. They are as dead as the proverbial dodo.

But cartoons like The Flintstones, Scooby Doo and Yogi Bear? Those shows are anything but extinct. Which is why animation keeps getting produced.

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Tooners' Health Costs

Down below a commenter asks:

What does it cost per/individual for our 'cadillac' healthcare plans?

The Caddy Plan of which this person speaks is the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan. I phoned the Plan this very day, and here are the basic stats ...

Motion Picture Health Plan

Plan Participants -- 120,000 (100,000 Actives; 20,000 Retirees)

Annual Costs: $700+ million

Active Participant cost (per participant) -- $11,000

Retiree Participant cost (per participant) -- $8,000

COBRA costs (participant + 2 -- family of 3) -- $18,000

Okay, those are the broad-brush numbers. (Blogging rule: Never get into boring detail with a post.) If you're wondering why the Retirees' costs are lower than the Actives', it's because many Retirees (those 65 years and up) have Medicare as their primary insurer, and the Industry Health Plan is the secondary insurer. A few other basic realities:

MPIPHP's costs increase 9%-10% yearly. (Sometimes it's a bit higher, sometimes a bit lower. Health Plan actuaries assume costs will double every 10 years.)

Health care costs in the wider U.S.A. have increased 1 1/2% to 2% faster than the Motion Picture Industry's Health Plan, which has bargaining leverage because of its size. However, because or rising costs, Health Care benefits have been trimmed .... and trimmed again. (Anybody who's been under this Industry Health coverage for some time know that costs have gone up and benefits down.)

The long and short of it is: The present track we are on means that everybody will be doing with less over time. The United States has the most fractured and expensive health care delivery system in the world. The next most expensive country is Switzerland, which has universal coverage, 40% lower costs, and no "public option." The Swiss government simply mandates that every private health insurer offer an "at cost" Health Plan, with mandated benefits. (Swiss health insurance companies are free to sell for-profit "add-ons" to their hearts content.)

Give me the Swiss system and I'm fine. I'll forgo the dreaded Public Option.

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Home For Christmas, by Ralph Hulett

Home For Christmas
"Over the river and through the woods
To grandfather's house we'll go
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh,
Through white and drifted snow"

— L. M. Child
© 1961 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We've Officially Moved Past Penguins

Now it's all about owls.

The big-budget fantasy film [The Guardians of Ga'hoole], is in production in Sydney and directed by Zack Snyder .... The film follows Soren, a young owl enthralled by his father's epic stories of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors

Stands to reason that Animal Logic is staying with the bird thing. Their penguin epic made big bucks.

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An Industry Health Care Story

Today the Congressional Budget Office gave a reasonably good score to pending health care legislation:

A U.S. Senate healthcare reform plan ... meets President Barack Obama's goals on costs and deficit reduction, budget analysts said ...

... Democratic leader Harry Reid will release legislation the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said would cost $849 billion over 10 years ... A Senate aide said the CBO also estimated the Senate plan will reduce the deficit by $127 billion over 10 years and $650 billion in the second decade, while cutting the number of uninsured by 31 million ...

So maybe this thing will pass, and maybe it won't. I have my view of the matter, which I won't share here because A) You can guess what it is, and B) It's tangential to the story I'm about to unspool ...

I have a close friend, an artist, who has worked in the cartoon industry longer than I have, but has only twenty-eight years in the industry pension and health plan because, at the start of his career, he couldn't get a job at a union shop.

Happily, after a few years he landed that coveted union gig and his career took off.

Unhappily, after working for twenty-eight years at three different union studios, he hit the proverbial brick wall common to a lot of people in this business. His support network of fellow professionals died and/or retired and he was eased out to pasture by thirty-somethings at the ripe age of fifty-seven.

An old story, all too often told.

My friend is now fifty-nine. Life being what it is, after failing to land any jobs in his long-time profession he took early retirement, which means he got a lot less in his monthly pension check than he would have if he'd held on.

But he couldn't hold on. He kept looking for work, going on job interviews, not getting anything. The Motion Picture Industry Health Insurance ran out, COBRA ran out, and he steadily burned through savings.

Then three months ago his luck changed: "A job just dropped in my lap, and I took it." The job paid $14 per hour, working in a storage facility, no benefits. But it allowed him to earn enough money to buy the thousand dollar a month health care policy he needs to survive, since he's one of those lucky duckies with "a pre-existing condition," and so can't buy lower cost coverage.

As he said to me recently: "What I can get doesn't cover all the prescription drugs I take, but at least I've got a job now and can afford to pay for a stripped-down health plan, even if it is super expensive..."

Such a deal. A super-expensive medical plan. For a man too old for work in his long-time occupation, yet too young for a full pension or Medicare or Social Security. And his retirement accounts, accumulated over a lifetime of work, steadily melt away.

I watch the health care debate, and the hand-wringing about socialism and "subsidized abortions," and then I think of the $700 billion that Hank Paulson gave Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Bank of America, and the large bonuses those fine companies -- saved from bankruptcy by your tax dollars and mine -- now hand out to their oh-so-deserving executives. And I say to myself:

"There are politicians worried about socialism? Where the fuck were these people fourteen months ago, when they couldn't create socialism fast enough when it came to Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Who the fuck are these people kidding?"

And then I think of my friend, slowly descending into poverty because he can't get a job that pays much of anything and can't get health insurance that costs less than an arm and a leg. And I get all warm and tingly knowing that although he might be eating it, at least Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup have been saved by federal socialism so that they can rape and pillage another day.

God bless America.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Linkage in Mid-November

Linked bits of Animationland, just for you.

Mr. Newman admits it's just not the same.

[Princess and the Frog] composer Randy Newman ... said writing for traditional animation was a little different from writing for Pixar's GC toons. "The music has a diifferent movement. You can't really play too long because the mood will change ..."

("GC toons". It is the french "Graphique de Computer," in case you're wondering.)

The Globes catch up to the Oscars:

The Golden Globes' animated feature category has been expanded from three to five after a vote last week by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, an actor's paradise?

... The voice performances rank among the most richly nuanced ever captured for an animated feature, with Clooney (speaking slightly below his usual register, as if everything were a self-conscious aside) and Streep (resplendent as a former wildcat turned nurturing Earth mother) doing some of the best work of their illustrious careers. Among the movie's many virtues, they render an unusually convincing portrait of a marriage, a reminder that the most unexpected thing about Anderson's film is — underneath all the carefully affixed, wind-sensitive whiskers and fur — how deeply human it is.

And here's a story that makes me tingle. Mass Animation, the wonderful folks you brought you this ... are now inviting animators to join them for this:

Now Mass Animation is involved in another Facebook project with Sony Online Entertainment and DC Comics. This week the DC Universe Online Animation Contest was announced. This is being called version 2.0 of the Mass Animation FB app and will give DC fans, gamers, and animators a chance to animate characters from the DC Universe online game that Sony is developing. This is another example of Mass Animation allowing fans to collaborate on a big product. The contest will launch on December 7.

Exciting, no? It's the brave new world of indentured servitude.

And Sean Connery's come-back to film-making has been ricocheting around the intertubes, to wit:

Connery is making a semi-return as he’s voicing the lead character in the animated film, Sir Billi. Connery is a producer on the project and has been heavily involved with its production.

Lastly, Mr. Ross continues his winter house-cleaning at the Disney Co.

... Walt Disney Studios chief Rich Ross has pulled the plug on a planned $150-million production of "Captain Nemo: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" -- the last project approved by his predecessor Dick Cook.

The family adventure movie -- a high priority for Disney that the studio had envisioned as a potential franchise along the lines of "Pirates of the Caribbean" -- was scheduled to begin shooting in February in Mexico. Disney had already spent about $10 million hiring crews, who were prepping the movie and planning to build elaborate sets in Rosarito Beach. Artwork and construction of models were underway. ...

It appears that mny of the projects beloved by Dick Cook now have the stink of death about them. Ah well. That's Hollywood.

Have a fine time plowing through the middle of your week.

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TV Animation's Beginnings

A couple of years after I morphed out of my fetal stage, I remember watching a cartoon rabbit with a big. slow-witted sidekick on the family's small, black-and-white set.

The cartoon characters' names were Crusader Rabbit and Rags the Tiger.

I didn't realize that I was watching teevee animation's pioneer show ...

"[Jay Ward] and a childhood friend from pre-kindergarten, Alex Anderson, who was an artist, got together and created Crusader Rabbit," says Tiffany Ward, Jay’s daughter, who has run the family business for the past 20 years. "Crusader Rabbit was the first cartoon ever created for television. They did the show for a couple of years and then they lost the rights in a lawsuit.

"Alex went back into an advertising career, and my dad, who had a real-estate office in Berkeley, Calif., tried many different things, like marketing gourmet coffees from around the world. But he still loved the idea of cartoons and animation."

... "If you look at Crusader Rabbit, who was a plucky little hero, and at Rags the Tiger, who was the big, dumb sidekick, you can sort of see Rocky and Bullwinkle, the same kind of duo, just as different animals," Tiffany Ward says. "They put the show together, went on the air with it, and they had a big hit." ...

Consider the above. A Harvard MBA [Mr. Ward] jumps into the cartoon business, sets up shop in the San Francisco Bay area, and pretty much invents the template for television animation. (Eight years later, the unemployed cartoonists Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera jump in and get the lion's share of credit for inventing television animation, but Jay Ward is there first.)

As a kid in the late fifties and early sixties, I kicked around the edges of the industry. As I look back I'm amazed at how small, casual and interconnected it all was.

Almost everybody knew everybody, either personally or by reputation. Artists jumped around from studio to studio, going from Disney to Snowball to Hanna-Barbera. Gate-keepers and administrators were few and far between. (Disney Animation had a production-support staff of three in the 1970s.)

So the fact that Jay Ward could drift in and out of the t.v. animation business and make for himself two cartoon hits -- Crusader Rabbit, then Rocky and Bullwinkle -- isn't particulalry amazing, given the times. Fifty years back the stakes were low. Cartoons were a sleepy little sub-set of the motion picture industry to which only elementary school kids paid attention. Outside of their peers, nobody had heard of Chuck Jones or Tex Avery or Jay Ward.

Today, of course, the stakes (and grosses) are huge, and Hollywood pays close attention to Animationland. Cartoon studio bureaucracies are bloated, artists need to navigate batteries of tests and have their digitized portfolios and demo reels at the ready. The world has changed, and Jay Ward would probably find it a bit more complicated to gain entrance to the kingdom.

But his Harvard MBA would come in handy.

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Guiding Star, by Ralph Hulett

Guiding Star
Guided by the Christmas Star, the Three Kings seek the Christ Child.
© 1955 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Home-Grown Toons Across the Seas

The reality of which we often lose sight is that the U.S. of A. is not the Alpha and Omega of the animated feature. There are any number of countries that create toonage for their home markets, work that seldom sees the light of a projection lamp on other continents.

France, Germany, India and others create local animation; the list is long. India, with a huge domestic film industry, is now working to break its product out of a regional straitjacket and expand it onto world markets:

... With changing global trends, Indian animation motion pictures are ready for a makeover. Taking cue from Hollywood’s animation movies on superheroes, Indian production companies are now growing out of mythological subjects to make films on larger-than-life superheroes of Indian cinema.

... “Animation films in India do not have a good market at present. They mainly rely on mythological characters, a niche market limiting the films largely to an Indian audience. In Hollywood, over 60 animated films have been made in 10 years and more are on the anvil” said the Vijay Paranjpe, Chief Financial Officer of Crest Animation Studios.

The revenue out of animation feature films, DVD licensing and TV licensing for movies is huge, which makes Hollywood the best destination for any animation film. For instance, US filmmaker gets, on an average, $ 300 million for an animated movie, as they are instant hit among the audience, he says.

Mr. Paranjpe -- whose studio long ago purchased Rich Animation in Burbank, California -- is just a tad optimistic regarding the financial power or American animated features. But he's on the money about foreign cartoons peforming weakly in the world film market.

Since World War I, American films have been major crowd-pleasers around the globe. I've never been entirely sure why this is, since there are certainly excellent foreign films that get made on a regular basis. Maybe it's our mongrel American culture, maybe it's economic muscle, or maybe it's plain old good luck. Whatever the reason, the long tentacles of Hollywood product reach everywhere, and the animated sub-set is no exception.

There's DreamWorks, there's Pixar, and the American cartoonist name Disney is known everywhere. Most foreign animation artists' fame -- with the possible exception of Miyazaki -- stops at their home-country's border.

Maybe this will change as we grope our way into the 21st century, or maybe not. Me, I think that India has major challenges in becoming a big-time player in the animation marketplace, but I'm not one to never say never.

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Heinz 57 Wage Minimums

Back in the Good Old Days (1995?), TAG had one contract, and one set of wage minimum scales that were all tucked into our handy dandy contract in a few pages at the back of our little book.

But times have changed ...

We now have different wage minimums for various studios we represent. Some minimums are increasing at 3.5% per year ... some at 3% ... and others at 2%. (Why is this? Different demands, different negotiations for different agreements.)

Here are the various wage minimums at employers we represent. Some (such as the recently ratified TSL/TTL and IM Digital contracts) have been agreed to in writing and ratified, but the actual dollars and cents tables haven't been set in stone; we'll post the new numbers for these contracts as soon as we have them from the IATSE which negotiated them.*

And then there's the standard bargaining-unit contract that TAG negotiates. Although it was ratified in September, we're still awaiting the final word from the employers on the wage minimum calculations we sent them over two months ago. We're confident that the "version 1.0" numbers we've posted are entirely correct, but we want to qualify that although the Powers That Be have long since agreed in writing to the increases that the membership ratified, they haven't put their Official Stamp Of Approval on our calculations.

With more and more people working at these minimum rates (and remember, they are minimums), we think it's important to keep you informed about what you should be making.

(When you have the dollars-and-cents numbers, you have more knowledge to negotiate your individual deal, correct?)

* Lacking the "official numbers", you can always just add two percent to the third-year rates from the previous IM Digital and TSL/TTL agreements.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's All About the C.G. Images

Computer generated cinema is where it's at this weekend.

Sony's Roland Emmerich disaster pic "2012" crushed the worldwide box office, grossing an estimated $160 million at the foreign box office and an estimated $65 million domestically for a total haul of $225 million. If those numbers hold, "2012" will have scored the 9th best global debut of all time. ...

I doubt I'l be seeing it, because I hold dear Charlton Heston's stirring performance in Earthquake, and don't want to sully the memory of that fine disaster flick.

Meantime, toonage is holding up okay around the globe.

Weekend brought some much-needed solace for the Mouse House as Robert Zemeckis' "Disney's A Christmas Carol" fell just 26% in its second frame to an estimated $22.3 million for a cume of $63.3 million ...

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Winter Wonderland, by Ralph Hulett

Winter Wonderland
Winter's Wonderland of thick-coated deer, pungent pine and white spaces of snowy fields.
© 1955 by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

See Ralph Hulett Christmas card designs at TAG's art gallery, open weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.
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The Next Big Thing

So here comes the Game Changer.

... To observe Cameron directing "Avatar" is to witness filmmaking as it's never been done before. Whereas most movies add all of their visual effects in post-production, Cameron was able to see fully composited shots in real time: The actors he was directing may have been performing in front of a blank green screen, but Cameron's camera eyepiece -- not to mention giant 3-D television monitors -- immediately displayed lush, synthetic backgrounds ...

"The revolution, the change that Jim has brought about is that for the first time the CGI-created characters have a reality and an emotionality that completely conveys the actors' performances," said Tom Rothman, co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment. "That was the big leap -- that you would care about a CGI-created character."

Uh ... I guess these folks have never seen any other CGI-created characters before.

Maybe Avatar will be the greatest piece of movie-making since The Wizard of Oz, but when I saw the trailer in glorious Big Screen Three Dee, I thought:

"Gee. It's J. J. Abrams' Star Trek meets Bill Kroyer's Fern Gully."

Which, I donno, might catapult us to new new heights in feature-length entertainment, but swear to God, I just don't see it.

Somebody please educate me, quick. Because when I see moving foregrounds, moving backgrounds, and lots of tumbling actors all wrapped inside three dimensions, I get a headache.

OTOH, it will undoubtedly have a stupendous opening weekend, it might be totally enchanting despite the trailer, and it has put a hell of a lot of animators and technical directors to work.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Mid-Month Derby

Now with hot, buttered Add On.

The Nikkster informs us that animation continues to shine brightly.

... Disney's A Christmas Carol showed an excellent hold for No. 2, down just -38% from a week ago with $5.6 million Friday from 3,653 plays for what could be around $20M for the weekend ...

... Wes Anderson's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" from, of course, Fox, got off to a good start in 2 theaters in NY and 2 in LA for $70K today and a location average of $17,500 per screen. This should put the animated pic comfortably over $200K for the weekend.

There are plenty of animated features rolling out in the near future, from The Princess and the Frog to the hybrid Avatar to the Spanish-made Planet 51. And the train keeps rolling ...

Add On: And the derby finishes with the two big C.G.I movies on top, with Christmas Carol declining a mere 25.7%:

1) 2012 -- $65 million

2) Christmas Carol -- $22.3 million

3) Men Who Stare at Goats -- $6.2 million

4) Precious -- $6.1 million

5) This Is It -- $5.1 million

There are no doubt cheerful faces in Burbank and Novato tonight.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Why Animation Keeps Expanding -- Part 13

Rentrak announces the reasons animation keeps booming.

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

2) Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

3) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

4) Tinker Bell And The Lost Treasure

5) The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

6) The Proposal

7) Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

8) Aliens in the Attic

9) Twilight

10) Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Complete Season One

So do the counting. Pure toonage occupies the 2nd, 4th, 7th and 10th positions. The semi-animated Transformers sits at #3, and there's dollops of animation sprinkled atop a couple of the others.

If you have the right skill sets, the odds are relatively high that you won't lack gainful employment.

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The Mouse in Foreign Lands

Disney is having its Ups and downs in various parts of the globe.

... “Kniga Masterov,” or “The Book of Masters” — is Disney’s first attempt at a film specifically for a Russian-speaking audience. With a Russian cast and Russian writers, directors and producers, the film reflects a new reality at Disney and in Hollywood generally that dubbed American blockbusters are no longer enough to maintain a foothold in lucrative foreign markets. Some local flavor is now required.

In Russia, India, China, Latin America and elsewhere, Disney has been battling a host of Hollywood studios and local production companies for the hearts — and cash — of viewers, with an increasing array of entertainment produced in those markets ...

The formula, so far, appears to have worked. Ticket sales for “The Book of Masters” topped $10 million at the end of its second week, comparable to American-made Disney films here, Disney officials said. The film ranked No. 1 at Russian box offices in its first two weekends ... “It is nice that Disney took part in this because it shows that they are not simply interested in their culture across the ocean, but are branching into other regions,” Maxim Minyaichev, 22, said after watching the film ...

Diz Co. gets that it needs to change its business business models to go with the times, and if that means going native, the House of Mouse is prepared to do that.

But then there is Disney's home-grown product. Some of it is getting embraced in foreign lands, and some of it only lightly kissed ...

Robert Zemeckis’ family 3D entry “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” didn’t find much holiday spirit at the foreign box office over the Nov. 11-13 weekend, easily bested by holdover “Michael Jackson’s This Is It.” "Christmas Carol," bowing in 18 territories, grossed $12 million from 2,750 screens in 18 international territories.

Sony's "This Is It" grossed $29.5 million ...

... Opening foreign gross for "Christmas Carol" was led by the U.K., where it grossed a somewhat disappointing $2.9 million from 645 screens. ..."Carol" has the 3D market to itself in terms of new releases until 20th Century Fox opens "Avatar" day and date on Dec. 18. Of the film's total foreign opening, 62% came from 3D screens.

"Up" grossed almost as much as "Christmas Carol" in the U.K., earning $2.1 million from 762 for a cume of $51.6 million. Pic opens in Japan on Dec. 5.

Part of Carol's problem is there are zero story surprises in the feature. Zemeckis's script is a faithful rendition of Charles Dickens's novel, which means that most of humanity already knows all the story beats.

I mean, who's going to rush out to see a film that's a known quantity? Avatar, whatever its faults, has the aura of newness and originality about it, qualities not shared by a property that's been done on stage and in lots of different film versions. animated and otherwise.

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