Friday, December 31, 2010

Lucrative Formats of Animation

Director-animator-story artist Tom Sito and I whiled away the afternoon reflecting on the ups and down of animation over the past few decades. Tom related:

"My first animation job was working on Raggedy Ann and Andy back in the seventies. At most, there were two animated features released each year: something from Disney, maybe some independent feature from Bakshi, and once in a while a movie from Hanna-Barbera. That was it.

"Last year there were fifteen or twenty animated features released, fourteen the year before that, and fifteen this year. The amount of animation being done has gone to a whole different level."

I responded that there was a good reason for that. Animation was making a lot more money. This trend hasn't escaped the notice of The Hollywood Reporter:

'Despicable Me,' 'Inception' Top Home Video Sales Charts ...

Universal Studios Home Entertainment's Despicable Me finished atop the VideoScan First Alert sales chart for the week ending Dec. 26, its second consecutive week in the top spot. ... Rounding out the top five on the sales chart [was] Disney's Toy Story 3 at No. 5. ... Fox's Return of the Jedi spoof Family Guy: It's a Trap placed at No. 9 ...

When two high-grossing theatrical features land in the top 5 of the DVD charts (one of them repeating in the #1 position), and a television cartoon clings to #9, you don't need the brains of Einstein to figure out why there's more animation in today's marketplace.

The flow of dollars is too big to ignore.

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A Ralph Hulett New Year's Eve, part 19

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

Most household vermin won't polish the star atop your Christmas tree, but ones in hats and shirts will.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Steady Runner

... that isn't fading.

Tangled Top $150 Million at Domestic Box Office

Disney's Thanksgiving film "Tangled" has transformed into the gift that won't stop giving, jumping the $150 million mark this week at the domestic box office and keeping up with newer Christmas family offerings.

"Tangled" grossed $3.6 million on Tuesday from 2,582 theaters for a cume of $150.6 million in its fifth week. ... It's probably no coincidence that "Tangled" is the only film of the year to receive a glowing A+ from CinemaScore.

And on Wednesday the big T grossed more than Tuesday, and is now up to $154.3 million.

Lustrous box office returns, are they not?

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Voting Your Interest at Awards Time

The LA Times reminds us it's being done this awards season, as it is every awards season.

... [T]he Writers Guild of America has once again eliminated some of the year's best films for consideration for its awards because the films are not signatories to the guild's Minimum Basic Guarantee. Among this year's omissions are "The King's Speech," "Winter's Bone" ... "Toy Story 3" [and "How to Train Your Dragon."] ...

There are those who have big problems with organizations that hand out awards to "their films" and not the best films.

But I'm not one of them. This is because I don't look at awards ceremonies for best movie, television show, or cumguat as anything more than political (or commercial) enterprises anyway.

I mean, How Green Was My Valley? Best picture winner (1941) over Citizen Kane? Really? And of it wouldn't have had anything to do with 20th Century Fox (Valley's producer) being a corporate powerhouse, and RKO (Kane's studio) being a midget. Or that William Randolph Hearst -- who loathed Citizen Kane for obvious reasons -- ran a full-throated campaign against Orson Welles' flick, and Hollywood didn't want to cross him.

That couldn't have anything to do with Citizen Kane ending up an also-ran. It was all about quality.

So when the Writers Guild of America says they're removing certain theatrical features from consideration for one of its glittery awards, I think "Sure, why the hell not? If the picture doesn't forward your agenda, why give it a platform?"

And if you think this is philosophically wrong-headed, I'll share with you what Niven Busch, a writer-producer from Tinsel Town's Golden Age, said to me years ago.

"Back in the 'thirties, the studios expected you to attend the premieres of their pictures, and vote for those pictures at Academy Awards time.

"If you didn't, you weren't considered a good company employee." ...

But of course. Any more than you'd be considered a good member of the Writers Guild or Directors Guild, voting for a non-Guild theatrical feature. On one level, it's adhering to the idea of a meritocracy divorced from politics and the real world. But on another level, it's giving aid and comfort to "the enemy."

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Cinematographer President Speaks to VFX Artists

One of my most frequented sources for quotes or news references in my blog posts is FXGuide. I've been following their sites and listening to their podcasts as long as I knew what a podcast was. The level of talent they have access to and ability to pool and share techniques and knowledge sets them apart among the websites dedicated for visual effects artists today.

Jeff Heusser, for the last FXGuide podcast of the year, interviewed IATSE Local 600 and former American Society of Cinematographer President Steven Poster.

While it was a treat to hear President Poster speak about his life and the current technology, what struck me as poignant was his answer to Mr. Heusser's question "What would you say to visual effects people on what it has meant to you being a member of IATSE". President Poster gave an impassioned explanation of how his forty years as a union member has been of a benefit to him. His opinion of why its important for visual effects artists and workers is a must for everyone to hear.

We encourage you to visit the FXGuide podcast page, download and listen to the interview at your earliest convenience. It is easy for me as an organizer to expound on the importance of organization. Hearing the message from someone with as much experience as President Poster carries much more weight.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's the Physics, Amigo

As the New York Times says:

... [I]f you want computer-generated hair (or fur) to look convincingly real when it is twisted, clumped, matted, coiled, soaked, dusty, wind swept, singed — or just about anything else a film director could possibly think to do to it — then Eitan Grinspun, the director of Columbia University’s Computer Graphics Group, is the man to consult. ...

Mr. Grinspun and his team of graduate students have helped scientists from Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, Weta Digital and Adobe Systems solve their toughest C.G.I. problems ... “There’s not a huge number of people who can do this,” said Alasdair Coull, head of Weta Digital’s software development team. “We’re essentially looking for the best in the world.” ...

And why are various CG studios looking for the best? Because the bar for CGI features keeps getting higher as time goes on. Sure, you can farm the work out to a Mumbai job shop, but having Jimmy Neutron-quality graphics and animation for, say, Avatar or Tangled won't really make for a wondrous, enveloping movie-going experience.

It hasn't escaped the notice of corporate chieftans that higher-end CGI work tends to put more fannies in theatre seats. Tinkerbell IV on Blu-ray is one thing, but when you're blowing a digital image up to billboard-sized proportions at the local AMC, you want the hair and fur believable, the animation convincing and nuanced. Department store mannequins clanking around just won't cut it.

Given that, it makes sense for Weta Digital to engage high-powered academics. Just like it makes sense to hire production teams that can deliver compelling images and screen-time on the back end of all the research.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 18

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

This time the Siamese cats are front and center ... for a bit of kitty love.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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The Tim Walker Chat -- Part II

We continue with our interview of Mr. Walker ...

TAG Interview with Tim Walker

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

A few years ago, Tim was diagnosed with MS, which affected his right side ... and drawing/writing hand.

Tim has trained himself to draw and write with his left hand, and continues working. The picture above is the product of his retrained left hand.

Copyright © 2010, Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Whose Side Are You On?

Several years back, I caught a little hell for revealing to a Bloomberg reporter that Walt Disney Animation Studios was going to lay off crew. I did it inadvertently (we were setting up a lunch date), but the reporter took my passing comment about upcoming layoffs, contacted the corporate Mouse and pried a confirmation of the layoffs from clenched company fingers.

Disney Corporate told the reporter 140 animation staffers were being slipped the axe.

Problem was, WDAS management had been soft-soaping the crew, telling them that lay-offs would be "small." When staffers read the number reported by Bloomberg on their work computers, the atmosphere got a little ... ahm ... thick. ...

Shortly thereafter, a manager in the upper reaches of the Hat Building sent around an apologetic e-mail, and I got some testy phone calls from Disney Labor Relations. A Disney animation supervisor told me over lunch:

"Some people in management wanted you banned from the property. Human Resources told them that really wasn't possible, but they don't like you much ..."

At the time, I felt bad about that. And I felt even worse when word came down from On High that I had been banned from Disney's new IM Digital/ Robert Zemeckis unit in San Rafael. I'd been deemed "a troublemaker."

Corporations are good at conjuring self-righteous anger when they're working to keep labor reps in line. However, the above is rich when you read the Department of Justice's "Competitive Impact Statement," telling what was going on at the same time I was being a Bad Union Boy:

Beginning no later than January 2005, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed to a three-part protocol that restricted recruiting of each other's employees. First, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed they would not cold call each other's employees. Cold calling involves communicating directly in any manner (including orally, in writing, telephonically, or electronically) with another firm's employee who has not otherwise applied for a job opening.

Second, they agreed to notify each other when making an offer to an employee of the other firm. Third, they agreed that, when offering a position to the other company's employee, neither would counteroffer above the initial offer. The protocol covered all digital animators and other employees of both firms and was not limited by geography, job function, product group, or time period.

Senior executives at the two firms agreed on the protocol through direct and explicit communications. In furtherance of this agreement, Pixar drafted the terms of the agreement with Lucasfilm and communicated those written terms to Lucasfilm. Both firms communicated the agreement to management and select employees with hiring or recruiting responsibilities. Twice in 2007, Pixar complained to Lucasfilm about recruiting efforts Lucasfilm had made.

Complaints about breaches of the agreement led the two firms to alter their conduct going forward to conform to the agreement.Lucasfilm's and Pixar's agreed-upon protocol disrupted the competitive market forces for employee talent. It eliminated a significant form of competition to attract digital animation employees and other employees covered by the agreement. Overall, it substantially diminished competition to the detriment of the affected employees who likely were deprived of information and access to better job opportunities. The agreement was a naked restraint of trade that was per se unlawful under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. ...

The irony? At the time, I felt a wee bit guilty about revealing the layoffs to Bloomberg. The normal rule is to "nurture good relations" with the companies with whom you've signed contracts, and I had violated the rule of treating employees like mushrooms*. So I had to pay for my transgression.

Friends and neighbors, it really comes down to this: You might dislike unions. They can be craven, greedy, short-sighted, incompetent, and all the rest. But they are nowhere near as venal as many large corporations, where breaking laws and regulations is normal operating procedure and "just business."

Laws are for the little people. Corporations are above things like that.

(You can find more think pieces on this subject here and here. Probably other places, too.)

* "Cover them with bullshit and keep them in the dark."

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Chatting With Tim Walker

In the course of a career spanning four decades, Tim Walker has worked on more animated features and television shows than anybody in the history of the medium.

(And if he hasn't, then he's running a close second.) ...

TAG Interview with Tim Walker

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Currently a supervisor and director at Warner Bros. Animation, Tim started in the cartoon business in the late sixties, starting as in-betweener and assistant, slowly working his way to full-fledged animator.

I was born in Hollywood, California; the cradle of animated film. To this day I have a vivid memory of being five years old and watching cartoons at my Grandmother’s house.

That was it, I was hooked on animation. ...

Copyright © 2010, Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE. All rights reserved.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Mouse Wants "Best Picture" Baaad ...

Or so it seems.

But I'll be surprised if the studio gets that particular little gold man.

(Adding, if you don't catch the reference, Silence of the Lambs beat Beauty and the Beast for Best Picture two decades ago.)

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And the Two Top-Grossing Films Are ...

From Disney; with CG animation; from the studio regime of the deposed Richard Cook.

"Toy Story 3" tops the list with $1.06 billion at the box office ...mak[ing] "Toy Story 3" the highest-grossing film of the year [and] the highest-grossing animated film of all time (on an unadjusted basis). ...

With "Alice In Wonderland" pulling in $1.02 billion, No. 2 on our list, Disney is the first studio ever to have two films in a year cross the $1 billion mark. ...

Interesting that the two biggest movies are an animated sequel and a remake of an animated feature by a former Disney animation employee.

However you add it up on the big tote board, this is good news for the House of Mouse. And we can all be grateful that the unemployed Mr. Cook will have extended federal benefits to see him through some of the jobless months stretching out into the misty future.

God bless us, every one.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 17

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

A wintry forest scene on a silvered card. Once again, it doesn't totally translate, but you get the idea.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mad as Hell pt. 2 - How You Can Help

As was mentioned in a previous post, Visual Effects artists should be incredibly pissed off. We now have documented proof that that Industrial Light and Magic and Pixar colluded to hold down wages of visual effects artists between their two studios.

It's hard to imagine a better reason to initiate change than what we've been shown by these two vfx studio giants. I've written many times in this blog of my disdain for the attempts at widening profit margins over the backs of the visual effects artists. Now, we have proof that this practice exists.

And with it, we have a chance for our voices to be heard ..

If practices like this are a standard part of the industry, I'm honored to be a part of an organization that is dedicated to bringing about equitable and artist-favored change. All visual effects artists should be mad enough to support the changes that will bring contractual protection and employer funded health and pension benefits into their lives.

VFX Soldier sent this DOJ press release to us that announces the settlement in the collusion case. It also gives the public an opportunity to comment and effect a change in their verdict:

The proposed settlement, along with the department's competitive impact statement, will be published in The Federal Register, as required by the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act. Any person may submit written comments concerning the proposed settlement within 60 days of its publication to:

James J. Tierney
Chief, Networks & Technology Enforcement Section
Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice
450 Fifth Street N.W.
Suite 7100
Washington D.C. 20530

At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the court may enter the final judgment upon a finding that it serves the public interest.

We invite everyone to write to Section Chief Tierney and explain their feelings on the current sanctions on Pixar and ILM. Use this opportunity to let your voice be heard. You now have a chance to express your opinion and effect a positive change in your industry.

A frequent commenter to our blog writes:

Should'nt we expect more from the Department of Justice?!?


Yes, Rufus. We believe you should expect more. Here is your chance to let them know what you think.

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Animations in Foreign Lands

El Reporter gives us the breakdown:

... Warner Bros.' "Yogi Bear" ... got off to an inauspicious start on the foreign circuit, opening at 800 screens in five territories for $1.2 million. ...

DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind in 3D" ... passed the $100 million gross mark overseas ($109 million) thanks to an estimated $11.6 million weekend ... Disney Animation's Tangled ... drew $9.5 million in its fifth weekend overseas ...pushing its foreign gross total to $118 million and its worldwide tally to $261.8 million.

Other international cumes: ... DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's "Shrek Forever After in 3D", $503.5 million; ... "Despicable Me," $290 million ...

The international marketplace continues to be exceedingly kind to animated features. For this we give thanks.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Links

Now with a Kaplan-grade Add On

Here on Christmas day, we link to a wee bit of commentary and news.

Richard Corliss regards The Illusionist.

Last week, Sylvain Chomet got an early — and Jacques Tati a very late — Christmas present. The New York Film Critics Circle, the nation's oldest organization of movie reviewers, chose "The Illusionist" as the best animated film of 2010. Every other critics' group had named "Toy Story 3" as the winner in that category, and the very notion of ignoring what many people consider the year's finest film, of any kind, seemed piquant at best, perverse at worst. I, for one, thought the New Yorkers who chose The Illusionist were nuts; and I'm not only a critic, I'm also a member. ...

Slash Film profiles Rango.

Paramount Pictures has released a new behind the scenes featurette for Pirates of the Caribbean helmer Gore Verbinski’s computer animated feature film Rango. The new featurette, titled “Behind the Scenes: Natural Acting Experience”, takes a look at the techniques employed to (as Verbinski has explained) “capture and translate every aspect of Johnny Depp’s performance ...

Older news, but we link anyway:

Disney will be going forward with a bunch of Toy Story cartoon shorts. ...Darla K. Anderson, producer, confirmed that there are no plans for a Toy Story 4 at this point.

"(At this point." And what might that mean? That, say, a billion dollars in theater grosses could possibly make Pixar/Disney management rethink earlier positions that this is the last in the series?)

When it comes to the new, Jack Black "Gulliver," many critics seem to yearn for the Fleischers' version.

The one bright moment happens before the feature even starts, with a Blue Sky Studios cartoon entitled “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up,” in which the rascally acorn-chasing character from the “Ice Age” films follows his ever-unobtainable meal to the earth’s core. ...

(As one effects artist who worked on it told me: "It's not good.")

And in news from the Middle Kingdom:

Details of China's first stereoscopic 3-D animation were announced today in Beijing. Budgeted at RMB120 million ($18 million), "Legend of a Rabbit" will be released on 3000 screens in July 2011. ...

Add On: For those who haven't yet noticed, we've added a feature to our beloved Blog. At the behest of Mark Mayerson, we've started to utilize Labels in some of our posts.

New posts with a label associated with it will be indicated by the addition of "Labels:" after the share buttons. There is also a side-bar widget under our links that list some of our more popular labels. Clicking a label will list all posts that have that label associated with it.

It was a bit of a chore to add this functionality and couldn't have been achieved without the kindness and expertise of Aratina Cage.

Hope you're having a fine Christmas holiday.

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A Merry Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 16

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

Children from the Middle Ages worship the Christ Child -- The blending of millenia.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Yuletide Derby

Now with low-cal Add On.

Late to the blog with this, but for some reason was away from the computer. The Nikkster tells us:

1. Little Fockers (Universal) NEW [3,536 Theaters] -- Wednesday $7.2M, Thursday $7.1M, Cume $14.3M

2. Tron 3D (Disney) Week 1 [3,451 Theaters] -- Wednesday $5.6M, Thursday $6.1M, Cume $68.1M

3. True Grit (Paramount) NEW [3,047 Theaters] -- Wednesday $5.5M, Thursday $5.6M, Cume $11.2M

4. Yogi Bear 3D (Warner Bros) Week 1 [3,515 Theaters] -- Wednesday $2.9M, Thursday $3.2M, Cume $27.9M

5. Narnia 3D/Dawn Treader (Walden/Fox) Week 2 [3,532 Theaters] -- Wednesday $2.5M, Thursday $2.9M, Cume $53.1M

6. Tangled 3D (Disney) Week 4 [2,582 Theaters] -- Wednesday $2.2M, Thursday $2.6M, Cume $137.2M

7. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 [1,456 Theaters] -- Wednesday $1.7M, Thursday $1.7M, Cume $22.4M

8. The Fighter (Relativity/Paramount) Week 2 [2,503 Theaters] -- Wednesday $1.3M, Thursday $1.5M, Cume $19M

9. The Tourist (GK Films/Sony) Week 2 [2,756 Theaters] -- Wednesday $1M, Thursday $1.1M, Cume $35.4M

10. Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Pt 1 (Warner Bros) Week 5 [1,840 Theaters] -- Wednesday $900K, Thursday $1M, Cume $269.8M

It seems as though the Fockers are running out of petrol. And high time.

Yogi is not robust on a per-screen average, but Tangled is holding up, and looks as though it will pass Megamind in domestic gross over the next several days.

Add On: The Reporter summarizes the weekend:

Universal's Little Fockers may have topped the Christmas box office with an estimated $48.3 million five-day debut, but it was Paramount's True Grit that saw the grittiest grosses, earning an estimated $36.8 million to come in No. 2. ... Opening on Christmas Day was 20th Century Fox's Gulliver's Travels, which placed only No. 7 for the weekend, grossing an estimated $7.2 million from 2,546 theaters ...

Grit Bridges beat Tron Bridges. Let's hear it for the 19th century!

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas Eve, part 15

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

Another character card, with an elf putting up a wall-poster touting Santa. "One Night Only."

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mad As Hell ..

There is a good reason for you to be pissed if you're a visual effects artist. Its not bad enough that you have to worry about runaway productions, or if you'll be paid for the extra time you're putting in. Now, you have to wonder if your current employer is making an extra effort to keep you from a better wage or job at another company.

VFX Soldier commented on the recent discovery on the agreement between Pixar and ILM. He broke down the agreement as such:

According to the investigation, Pixar was the company that actually drafted the agreement and presented it to Lucasfilm no later than 2005.

They illegally agreed to 3 things:

  1. No cold calling of each other’s employees.
  2. Notification when making an offer to an employee of the other firm.
  3. No counteroffer above the initial offer when offering a position to the other company’s employee.
Both companies made management and select employees with hiring or recruiting responsibilities aware to follow this agreement.

Steve Hulett also posted on the matter in our little forum. In the comments, I posted that there's been little to no reaction to this from the press or community. While I was corrected there by a friendly anonymous commenter, I still feel less than satisfied by the community reaction.

To be clear, these companies agreed to not attempt to poach each others artist pools in order to keep operating costs down. They understood that if they were to try to take each others talent, the leverage would be in the hands of the artist. A savvy person would be able to use ILMs offer against Pixar and get more money. In their best interest, they COLLUDED to keep that leverage to themselves.

As Soldier points out, both companies got off with a relative slap on the wrist. While it was nice to see a couple of comments on Steve's post that seemed to mirror my strong feelings, I expected a bit more of an outcry from those whose collective bottoms have just been intruded upon so blatantly. Maybe my posts on Fear and Complacency have been right on target.

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Farewell CafeFX: A Sign of the Times

John Montgomery echos in FXGuide's Quick Take section what we've all been reading in the twitter and blog space today. Another venerable visual effects establishment has cashed in their chips.

CafeFX, formerly of Santa Maria and Santa Monica, California, announced in a one page letter on their website today that they've officially called it quits. In the letter, Jeff Barnes and David Ebner state:

The current economic climate and global marketplace have made it unrealistic for us to continue [...] at a competitive price and a sustaining profit.

I see it a tad differently ...

I have no first-hand experience of CafeFX, other than the reception area in Santa Monica which saw quite a few of my demo reels. I do have friends who spent time within their halls and reported nothing but good things. Perusing their list of film credits shows the kind of experience and work the studio was capable of.

As Steve Hulett noted in a previous post, turnover among visual effects studios can be high. Profits can be scarce and competition is strong.

What's also important to note is that as the industry continues to evolve, the need to come up with new business models does too. Not knowing how The Computercafe Group operated, I can't say with certainty what was the major cause of their demise. I can say that change, while a thing most fear, is an inevitability.

Its refreshing to see new ideas proposed. It shows that change is in the air. I remember a time when the big places for a Lightwave Artist to go were Foundation Imaging or Netter Digital. I also remember hearing that a few people from FI broke away and were working on this weird SciFi project out of a garage somewhere. The project had a peaceful, Serene name. They also had some funny name for their studio. I think it started with a Z. Click here to read entire post

The TAG 401(k) Plan

Last week the trustees of the Animation Guild 401(k) Plan met to review finances and assets of the Plan. Here's a thumbnail of where the TAG Plan is:

Total Plan Participants -- 2,225

Average Number of Investments (21 funds) -- 6.5

Total Assets (among 21 funds) -- $128,316,234 ...

A word about 401(k) Plans in general: Since the Great Meltdown of 2008, corporate 401(k) Plans have become far less generous with matching employees' contributions. According to the Associated Press, 15% of companies that had some kind of match eliminated it. (The AP says a majority will have restored their matches within the next six months. Praise be. We're not sure if that includes Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios, which charges its corporate participants a fee to come aboard.)

Since TAG's 401(k) Plan was set up in 1995, lots of artists and technicians have squirreled away anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000. Added to the Industry Account Plan -- paid for by the employers -- some inviduals are up well over four hundred grand.

Even so, I encounter animators who don't want to jump into the program shown above because there's no employer match with the TAG Plan. I think these folks are missing a major opportunity. If you have the cash, you're short-sighted if you don't tuck some of it away in a tax sheltered account. Not only will it provide a nice cushion of moolah when you careen into your seasoned years, you also reduce your current tax bite.

Ah well. Some people just refuse to be led to (or drink from) the clear-flowing mountain stream.

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Setting the Table

The Reporter -- as do other media outlets -- reports:

The WGA signaled Wednesday that its 2011 studio contract negotiations, still unscheduled, might not be easy, releasing a proposed "Pattern of Demands" of ambitious scope. The document was sent to members today, with a return date of Jan. 24.

If approved as expected, the document becomes the guild's outline of negotiating priorities. It does not contain specific proposals, dollars or percentages -- nor angry rhetoric -- but the list alone is likely to elicit concern among studio executives because it seeks many different monetary increases plus significant changes in the script development process.

Of course, creating that anxiety is a first step in the posturing and positioning that marks most labor negotiations. ...

It's important to know that the WGA, along with SAG, is on the militant side of the canyon dividing the four large entertainment unions. The performers' and writers' guilds usually take negotiations up to the deadline, pushing the negotiation envelope. They're not shy about using the strike option

The Directors Guild of America and International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employes (of which TAG is a part) generally negotiate early and seldom strike. (The DGA has hit the bricks once over contract issues; the job action last five to fifteen minutes, depending on who you talk to.)

Having watched this process up close for some little while, I've come to my own conclusions about why the DGA and IA are less militant than their sister guilds. It comes down to the Directors and the International Alliance being populated with members who are far more dependent on the industry chugging along without work stoppages. If the labor organization to which they belong goes on a long strike, they are without rent and food money.

Conversely, the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild have higher percentages of people who freelance, have long stretches of unemployment, and live on residual money. Many also earn income from non-entertainment jobs. For them, a long strike isn't the same gut-clenching issue that it is for a grip, sound editor, or production manager who's principle means of employment is ongoing feature, television and commercial work.

So will the Writers Guild of America strike again this year? If John Wells hadn't been elected President of the WGA, I would have said "Probably." But since a Guild moderate is up in the wheel house, I think the odds of a strike are lower. But as an industry lawyer related:

"The WGA obviously believes that they have the most leverage at the wire," said Alan Brunswick, a labor attorney with Los Angeles-based Manatt Phelps Phillips. "Obviously, the WGA has some issues that are unique, but they also have to do deal with the companies having already negotiated deals with SAG, AFTRA and the DGA. So the concrete is hardening fast." ...

Hard concrete vs. steely resolve. Rather soon we'll see which of those two prevail.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Organizer's Notes: Learned Complacency

In the past few weeks, discussions of how and why Visual Effects should organize have permeated our fine internet. While the topic is certainly not new, its good for everyone when new perspectives and voices enter the arena.

What does remain constant (and is growing stale), are the arguments against organization. What I continue to find interesting are the reasons for such vehement stands against the bettering of one's life. Why would someone take such an active stance against what could be a huge positive change?

Earlier, I subscribed this reticence to fear. This fear also manifests itself in a much angrier and self righteous way. One commenter in VFX Soldier's blog called it Learned Complacency.

This argument is generally evoked from those who have accepted the short comings of the industry. They state that since they've done the leg work of finding ways to live with those detractions, everyone else can as well. They also generally call unions "mother hens" and say they don't need to be "coddled" in the workplace.

Learned Complacency is born from the notion that there is nothing that can be done about the state of the industry. Since the artist elected to join in the workforce, there is an implied contractual acceptance of the pitfalls that come with it. The broken labor laws, the collusion, the misrepresentation as an Independent Contractor, the exorbitant costs of unionizing, all of these are in the fine print and should just be considered par for the vfx course.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Organizing Visual Effects and the artists and laborers who make up its ranks would do more than just provide a seamless cloak of health and pension benefits. It would provide a voice against such blatant attempts at cutting costs across the backs of those who make it happen. It would give the artist leverage by balancing the decision making power in the workplace. That's why the fight is so strong and so important.

What needs to be done is elegant in its simplicity. Sign and return a Representation Card. When the time comes, vote to have the IA represent you as your bargaining agent. Its a small step to take in the pursuit of improving your life and securing your future.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 14

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

Mr. Hulett is going for mood, lighting and composition here: "Cathedral by moonlight."

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Dan Haskett - pt. 2

We now continue with the second half of Mr. Haskett's interview.

TAG Interview with Dan Hasket

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Dan Haskett:

“I’ve been able to influence a lot of young talent. A lot of people like what I do and they like how I do it and they want to learn. And it’s very important to me to create characters that have a life of their own—and apparently I’ve been successful at that.”...

Copyright © 2010, Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Now with crisp, green Add On.

We're not talking about building the controls on c.g. characters, but something else.

Justice Department Reaches Settlement With Lucasfilm In Hiring Probe

Lucasfilm Ltd. agreed Tuesday to settle civil charges that it and Pixar Animation agreed to limit competition for each other's digital-animation workers, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

The settlement is the latest development in the department's ongoing probe of hiring practices in the technology sector. Pixar, a unit of Walt Disney Co. (DIS), was not named in Tuesday's legal complaint because it was one of six companies that settled similar charges in September, the department said.

The department's antitrust regulators alleged that Lucasfilm and Pixar, rival animation studios, had agreed not to cold-call each other's employees, and further agreed to notify each other when making an offer to an employee of the other company. The department also said the companies had agreed, when offering a job to a rival's employee, not to counteroffer with compensation above the initial offer ...

Hard to fathom, isn't it? Entertainment companies trying to keep wages down by gaming the system. Almost makes you suspect that our benevolent corporate masters might not be looking out for employees' best interests after all.

But I won't focus on these things now. I'll think about this sad turn of events tomorrow, after I've cried myself to sleep.

Add On: VFX Soldier has his own take on the collusion deal.

The settlement was laughable as the punishment for the crime wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. The companies basically had to agree not to break the law for the next 5 years!

For VFX artists the settlement provides more questions than answers.

What happens after 5 years?

Can they just go back to colluding again?

What about those up north that have been screwed out of opportunity costs for better wages?

What about other companies like Sony, Digital Domain, R+H, DreamWorks, Disney etc?

How do we find out if they have secret agreements like ILM and Pixar? ...

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A Discussion with Dan Haskett - pt. 1

Dan Haskett has worked in the field of animation for over thirty years. An Easterner by birth, he was attracted to the field early on, and says of his teenaged foray into cartoons:

... My first attempt at animation was on 8x10 sheets of paper folded into 16 squares with 16 little pictures—one was a Christmas story with mice, another was a Looney Tunes-type dog chasing rabbits. The dog was named Spotty and the rabbits were Pierre and Horace Hare ....

TAG Interview with Dan Haskett

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mr. Haskett has worked for most of the major animation studios and a good number of the smaller ones (some of which he has run.) Currently working at Warner Bros. Animation where he designs for a variety of projects, we spoke in his sunny office.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Live-Action Crossover

The road between animation and live-action continues to be a two-way street.

– Two and a Half Men exec producer Jeff Abugov is to show-run the Canadian animated comedy Fugget About It from 9 Story Entertainment for Teletoon.

Canadian cartoon cable channel Teletoon ordered 13 half-hours of the comedy about the 16 year-old son of a former New York mob boss whose family now lives in a Canada as part of witness protection program ...

I'm so old, I can remember when animation was a low-rent ghetto for talent that was on its way up ... or down. Not the high flyers you see today.

(Then, of course, there was that small, hardy band of misfits working in the animation business because they were just crazy about cartoons, and wanted to make the bright, zazzy medium their life's work.)

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A Few Words on the Oral Histories

How did these get started?

Back when I was running for re-election, it dawned on my that one of the things I (we) should be doing was sitting down with as many of the pillars of the animation industry as I (we) could and collecting their recollections. And sharing them, since they're no freaking good to anybody if they are recordings gathering dust on a closet shelf ...

I figured there was an inexpensive way to do the work, and I was right.

Me and a hundred-buck digital recorder.

So here we are, recording and recording and recording. The interviews have been a kick and a half to do, although I'm still feeling my way about mic placement and ambient noise. (You charge into oral histories with the talent and equipment you have ... etc., etc.)

How long will they continue?

Until I'm carried out of here on my shield, or leave voluntarily. Or everybody who I ask to do an interview starts turning me down. (No turn-downs yet, thank God.)

You going to interview John Lasseter? Jeffrey Katzenberg?

We've no plans to do that. (Of course, they call up and ask real nice, who knows?)

On the serious side, our purpose here isn't to interview Animation Big Shots, although that might happen from time to time. The main reason we're doing this is to get a perspective on the industry from the people who are down in the trenches, actually performing the work. There are animators ... and assistant animators ... and directors, board artists and designers who have a wealth of knowledge about how the business has been over the last twenty or fifty years. But because their names aren't Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston or Chuck Jones we haven't heard from them.

We're making it our job to give these folks a small megaphone.

And we'll put their interviews up here, mostly unedited, so that you can listen to the stories, and hopefully go away with insights and knowledge you didn't have before.

That's the goal, anyway.

You've been putting up one interview a week. You going to keep doing that?

Not necessarily. They'll go up soon after we do them, whenever we do them. (Might be one a week, might be one a month. Who knows?) Since we don't believe in a lot of tweaks, you'll hear them the way they went down: with the swear words, my high-pitched hyena laughter, and the unvarnished opinions.

Okay, no fixed routine. But when does the next interview go up?

Tomorrow. And there's one scheduled for the week after that. Beyond those two, I have no idea what the calendar might hold.

So don't anybody hold their breath.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 13

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

More New England; more artful composition.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Simpsons Movie?

James L. Brooks says:

THR: Are you doing another [Simpsons feature]?

Brooks: We always say, television first. We love the season we are having right now — we really feel good about it. But we’re open to it, and we sort of have half a notion.

THR: Does that mean you’re developing a script?

Brooks: No. When we say we’ll do it, we commit. We go all the way, and that’s why it took two years the last time. We have not decided to do it, but we keep on looking at each other and talking about it a little bit. ...

My bet is, they'll do another. And in less than three or four years.

Currently, Mr. Brooks seems to be having more success with animation than live-action. So he might have an incentive to move back to his strong suit sooner rather than later.

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The Wintertime Foreign Derby

The Reporter keeps us up-to-date.

... No. 4 was DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind" ... generating $15 million overall from 4,725 venues in 50 territories, hiking its foreign gross total to $87 million ...

Disney Animation's "Tangled" ... grossed $14 million in its fourth round overseas in 17 territories. Offshore cume stands at $97.8 million ... worldwide gross total weighs in at $225.6 million ...

DreamWorks "Shrek Forever After" ... zipped past the half million total gross mark in overseas box office ($501 million) thanks to a No. 8 opening in Japan with $1.2 million drawn from 256 locations ...

For those with scorecards at the ready, worldwide totals for the latest animated features are:

Despicable Me -- $538,988,000

Megamind -- $228,619,000

Shrek Forever After -- $739,441,993

Tangled -- $225.6 million

Toy Story 3 -- $1,063,134,492

You will note that the Mojo (linked to the titles above) has somewhat different totals for some of the features. I attribute this to a lag-time in toting up the reported moolah.

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Winter Links

We haven't done a linkfest in a while, so it's time to get cracking. Here is, I think, what the world has been waiting for:

... "Corpse Bride" co-director Mike Johnson will make the CG/stop-motion "Oz Wars" ...

And there's a new feature from Japan.

Studio Ghibli announces new animated feature

... Called Kokuriko-Zaka Kara, the movie will be overseen by Goro Miyazaki, the son of Hayao. ... [T]he film is set in 1963, and relates the story of a schoolgirl living in Yokohama. ...

The Mouse's theme parks have become a franchise.

Shanghai plans to build China's first Disneyland

... The Shanghai government has sent out word that its Disneyland will be the biggest in the world at 4 square kilometers ...

The French climb on board the dimensional animated feature locomotive:

3D fuels French animation boom

... The box office success of stereoscopic 3D has had the unexpected side effect of causing a boom in animation in Gaul.

With 3D boosting toon grosses, not only are more animated features being made -- at wildly varying budgets -- but more companies, including post houses, digital labs and vfx and TV animation vendors, are becoming producers to get into the toon game. ...

Tron Legacy happened this weekend, but there is also the "motion comics" version.

... A flick of the finger on the screen of an iPhone or iPad moves the comic panels from left to right, guiding the viewer through the stark lighting and harsh blacks that are synonymous with the “Tron” universe.

... Jeff Krelitz, chief executive of Double Barrel Motion Labs, explained: ... “What you see will be an animated, younger version of the film with the actual voice track that goes into the animation,” ....

TZ interviews Chris Meledandri:

... [With Despicable Me] we were creating a networked approach to building the film as opposed to starting from the outset with a complete studio. The initial part of the process was really casting each individual who we felt would be right for the film, starting obviously with writers and directors, but also designers -- like character designer Carter Goodrich -- and environment designers and storyboard artists. All of the previous films had been made with a studio first with virtually all the artistic talent drawn from that studio. ...

No cute, furry bunnies in this animated feature:

Stay warm and dry.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 12

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

And here are the two patented jesters, who made an appearance in Hulett's cards each and every year.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Down at the SPA

I visited Sony Pictures Animation yesterday morning on a secret mission* for the IA. I gave a 401(k) enrollment meeting and visited a lot of artists' offices ...

I had been under the impression that Hotel Transylvania was, as they say in the Old Country, kaput. But a storyboarder informed me this wasn't so, that the movie is being retooled and will start up again in earnest.

It's been a long time in development, so what's another few months of down time between friends?

* The mission wasn't supposed to be secret. That's just the way it turned out. (I'll talk about the mission in more detail at a later date.)

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Christmas Vacation Derby

Now with licorice-flavored Add On.

Via the Nikkster, some new animated moving pictures have come into the mix. Steve Lizberger must be proud.

1. Tron: Legacy 3D (Disney) NEW [3,451 Theaters] -- Friday $18M, Estimated Weekend $47M

2. Yogi Bear 3D (Warner Bros) NEW [3,515 Theaters] -- Friday $4.7M, Estimated Weekend $17M

3. The Fighter (Relativity/Paramount) Week 2 [2,503 Theaters] -- Friday $3.8M, Estimated Weekend $11.8M.

4. Narnia/Dawn Treader 3D (Walden/Fox) Week 2 [3,555 Theaters] -- Friday $3.7M (-55%), Estimated Weekend $12.8M, Estimated Cume $43M

5. How Do You Know (Sony) NEW [2,483 Theaters] -- Friday $2.9M, Estimated Weekend $8.7M

6. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 [959 Theaters] -- Friday $2.7M, Estimated Weekend $9M

7. The Tourist (GK Films/Sony) Week 2 [2,756 Theaters] -- Friday $2.6M (-56%), Estimated Weekend $8.5M, Estimated Cume $30.6M

8. Tangled (Disney) Week 4 [3,201 Theaters] -- Friday $2.5M, Estimated Weekend $10M, Estimated Cume $129.7M

The Christmas movie-going frenzy now begins in earnest. And Tron and Yogi have knocked the older animated features out of a lot of 3-D movie screens. Yeowch.

Add On: The Reporter summarizes the weekend box office.

'Yogi Bear' debuts at No. 2 as awards frontrunners 'Fighter' and 'Swan' also impress, but all-star 'How Do You Know' falters at No. 8. Disney's 3D Tron: Legacy sped to the top of the domestic box office in opening to $43.6 million from 3,451 theaters, but the weekend was soft overall ...

Box Office Mojo informs us that Tangled dropped the least of any Top Ten holdover (-39.5%) and now has $127.8 million in the till.

Meantime, Megamind lost a majority of its theatres and dropped -73.6%. It now stands at $141.6 million.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Dreamworks Animation On The Move

No moss growing under DWA's corporate wheels.

... DreamWorks Animation has picked up the movie rights to Maintenance, an Oni Press comic book, nabbing it out of turnaround from Warner Bros. ...

DreamWorks has two features going into release next year, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda II.

And today I got a call from the studio informing me they were installing a medical clinic (affiliated with The Motion Picture and Television Fund) on the campus. Animation Guild members will have a co-pay of $5 if they opt to visit the physician there.

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Saving incentives that save jobs in CA

I've been around long enough to remember when TAG members were the only ones who acknowledged that there was a problem with work leaving Hollywood to be done elsewhere. So it's good to see the problem acknowledged as openly as it has been in recent years by other Hollywood civic groups and labor organizations.

At a meeting of Hollywood IATSE business representatives yesterday, the discussion centered on the upcoming fight to save (and ideally expand) California's pilot film incentive program that was passed by the state legislature two years ago.

For years, other states, provinces and countries have bled work from Hollywood by offering substantial tax incentives to employers who send work to their parts of the world. Among the projects that have received tax credits in exchange for the guarantee to keep jobs in California was Disney's Winnie The Pooh feature, which has kept members of the Animation Guild working in Burbank. Unfortunately, California's incentive budget for 2010 ran out in August.

In the current political and financial climate, it's difficult to argue in favor of what seems to be another tax break for large corporations. But unlike other government giveaways, this program has a plus side in additional job opportunities for California film and television workers. It deserves our support.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 11

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

A mish-mash of millenia, wouldn't you say? These kids don't look like they come from Roman-occupied Galilee in the time of Caesar Augustus, but England during the reign of Richard the Lion-heart. But what do I know? It's a Christmas card.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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A Morning with Robert -- Part 2

We continue with our series of interviews featuring various leading lights of animation. Here's the second half of Mr. Alvarez's interview ...

TAG Interview with Robert Alvarez

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

(Among Mr. Alvarez's multiple Emmies is one for Samarai Jack -- shown above).

Copyright © 2010, Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Toy Story 3 Moolah

Vividly displayed in a Technicolor chart ....

There are those who maintain that Disney overpaid for the little Emeryville studio in northern California, that $7 billion and change was just too much. But I say, when you are the owner of cartoon features that rake in a billion dollars, the carpers get awfully quiet.

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Writing Animated Features

... From a non-union gig to an IATSE assignment.

'Nemo' writer set for Sony toon

David Reynolds has been tapped to pen an untitled animated feature for Sony Pictures Animation.

Reynolds, who co-scribed Disney/Pixar's "Finding Nemo," will base the feature on an original story by veteran animator Stephan Franck ("Despicable Me"), who will direct. ...

Next stop, a script deal under the WGAw.

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A Morning With Robert Alvarez -- Part 1

Number four of our continuing series of TAG interviews.

TAG Interview with Robert Alvarez

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

When it comes to animation, Robert Alvarez has done almost everything. "I've boarded, I've directed, I've designed, I've done backgrounds and I've animated. Everything but loading film." ...

While a student at Choinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, Robert began his career with t.v. animation producer Fred Calvert. One of his first assignments? Working on a British project entitled Yellow Submarine, starring a rock group whose name has been lost in the mists of time. (Not.)

In the years that followed, Mr. Alvarez worked on various features and hundreds of television shows. As he tells it, he's spent most of his working life fulfilling his junior high school dream of "being an animator."

"How many people get to do what they dreamed about in the eighth grade? Not many." ....

We spoke with Robert on a recent morning at the Cartoon Network studios in beautiful Burbank.

You can find our previous interview with Ed Gombert here.

Copyright © 2010, Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Anti "Toy Story" Campaign

Yesterday a Disney exec I was meeting with had to duck out, explaining he had to go monitor an informational picket by Disney Resort hotel workers battling the Mouse over health care insurance.

Truth to tell, I was a bit confused over what he was talking about until I picked up one of our fine trade papers and read about some of the Disney Company's unionized employees kicking Mickey where it smarts::

Disney's Academy Awards push for "Toy Story 3" might hit a PR roadblock thanks to an anti-Oscar campaign by union hotel employees at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

On Monday evening, members of the Unite Here union held an informational picket outside Disney Studios to coincide with a "Toy Story 3" screening for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. They plan to tote placards reading "Don't Vote for Disney," according to Unite Here spokeswoman Leigh Shelton.

The union's also launching a website,, and plans to picket other "Toy Story 3" screenings. ...

So this morning I get a call from one of the organizers of the "No to Toy Story 3" campaign. He explains that Disney wants its unionized hotel employees to pay for a much bigger share of health coverage ($365 per month for a family of four), which is a sizable bite out of take-home pay when you're earning $9 or $12 an hour.

The organizer tells me that the hotel workers are building a full-bore campaign to derail "Toy Story 3's" quest for a "Best Picture" Oscar. I tell him that though TAG doesn't have any direct skin in the game, and I'm not an Academy member, if I were on the Academy's roster I wouldn't vote for the picture because it is, except for SAG voice actors, a non-union enterprise, and I think it's a bad idea for unionized entertainment workers to aid and abet pictures made outside of the House of Labor. I say that WGA writers work on Pixar projects without benefit of contract, and I can't imagine any of them voting for a "Best Screenplay" Oscar for Up or Toy Story 3 against a picture written under a WGA contract.

We talk a bit more, I wish him well, and then run off to do a 401(k) enrollment meeting at an animation unit of the Disney Co. that happens to be unionized.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 10

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

Point of interest: Stars are usually shaped like angels in the middle east, and generally cast shadows.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Monday, December 13, 2010


When a cartoon company inks a wider distribution deal, that's a good thing, yes?

Hasbro Studios, the Los Angeles-based production and distribution division of Hasbro, Inc., and Turner Broadcasting, have agreed to a programming deal covering four key properties including Transformers Prime, The Adventures of Chuck and Friends, Pound Puppies and My Little Pony. Hasbro Studios President Stephen Davis and Turner Broadcasting’s Chief Content Officer Michael Carrington made the announcement today.

“Turner’s strong suite of channels will be an ideal home for our new animated series in Europe —all re-invented, re-imagined and re-ignited from our stable of well-known brands”

The agreement, which runs throughout the U.K., Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Middle East, will start in summer 2011. ...

It's the old, market-based story: The more your new product gets wider distribution and does well, the more money you get to make. (And the more artists get employed to make new stuff.)

You can't earn much in the way of profits if 'tweens, teens and little kids aren't out there watching your cartoons, and this deal helps to insure they will be doing just that.

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The Killing

Poor Jesse.

Poor Yogi.

Okay, it's already gone viral in animationland, and the Brew's put it up, but I had no idea what it was double-parodying until I saw the top clip.

Face it, this is just what Warner Bros. needed to boost the Aykroyd-Timberlake feature. (They're no doubt kicking themselves that they didn't think of this themselves.)

Add On: But maybe not. For The New York Times relates:

... A spokeswoman for Warner Brothers said on Monday evening that the studio had been in contact with [the creator] Mr. Earle, a 25-year-old animator and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, who was willing to add the disclaimer to his work. The studio said the video was likely a protected work of parody and it would have required an excessive amount of legal work to have it pulled from YouTube, if that were even possible. Warner Brother said YouTube turned down a request to have viewers input their age before playing the video (to keep impressionable young viewers from seeing it) but that YouTube would monitor the situation. ...

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Oh My

Via the Nikkster, media analyst Richard Greenfield has bad news re DWA.

... "Overseas, Megamind’s box office is far worse on a relative basis to prior DWA films, with only $67M of box office to-date. ... We are lowering our international box office estimate to $156M from $176M. ...

What strikes me here is, two of DreamWorks Animation's projects, both dealing with space aliens and both set in the U.S. of A., had less than stellar outings at the world box office: Megamind and Monsters Vs. Aliens. And Mega had the added problem of being the second animated feature in 2010 with a "Bad Guy" as a protaganist.

But features make what they make in the world marketplace. If Megamind collects the same amount in foreign lands that it does in the U.S., it's going to be in the $300 million to $320 million range, not the $350+ million I was fantasizing about a couple of days ago. And with DVD sales slumping, that isn't the happiest of scenarios.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Richard Corliss Commits Sacrilege

Coming on the piece late, but how can TIME Magazine say things like this?!

... While Disney's hand-drawn-animation unit stumbled on for a few years before the company mothballed the format and bought Pixar, DreamWorks went fully CGI and totally Shrek-ish. Hits poured out of the studio at a frantic rate, two or three a year: not just three Shrek sequels (which have topped the Toy Story trio with $2.5 billion in theatrical revenue) but also Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and the current Megamind. ...

Just because Corliss puts Pixar and Disney animated features on his "Ten Best" lists gives him no leave to tout Jeffrey's place this way. He'll end up giving the impressionable wrong ideas.

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Animation and the Worldwide Derby

It's looking good for animated features beyond America's shores:

"Deathly Hallows" falls to No. 2 as "Tangled" takes third place; "Megamind" still going strong at No. 4 with $11.7 mil.

Disney Animation's "Tangled", which drew $21 million from 4,784 screens in 17 territories representing, says Disney, 45% of the international marketplace. ...

"Megamind" ... opened in four markets notably including Australia (No. 1 with $3.3 million from 256 venues). The comedy-fantasy animation ... grossed $11.7 million overall from 3,265 locations in 32 markets for a foreign cume so far of $67.5 million. ...

Other international cumes: "Despicable Me", $288.3 million ...

Assuming a back-of-the-envelope 40% domestic/60% foreign calculation for Mega and Tangled, also assuming $150-$170 million domestic totals for both, the pictures will end up with $350-$450 million worldwide box office accumulations by the time it's all over.

But we're early in the foreign rollouts, so the Koch box office calculator (patent pending) might be off by a bit.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 9

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

What doesn't quite translate here on the intertubes is, all the gray above is shiney silver in the original card.

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Your Pre-Holiday Box Office

Now with peppermint Add On.

Tangled declines to #3 as the Derby wends its way toward Christmas:

1. Chronicles Of Narnia/Voyage Of Dawn Teader 3D (Fox) NEW [3,555 Theaters] -- Friday $9M, Estimated Weekend $28M

2. The Tourist (GK Films/Sony) NEW [2,756 Theaters] -- Friday $6.5M, Estimated Weekend $18.5M

3. Tangled (Disney) Week 3 [3,565 Theaters] -- Friday $3.4M, Estimated Weekend $14.5M, Cume $115.5M

4. Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows, Pt 1 (Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,577 Theaters] -- Friday $2.3M, Estimated Weekend $8.5M, Cume $257.7M

5. Unstoppable (Fox) Week 5 [2,967 Theaters] -- Friday $1.1M, Estimated Weekend $3.8M, Cume $74.2M

6. Burlesque (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 3 -- Friday $1M, Estimated Weekend $3.2M, Estimated Cume $32.7M

7. Love And Other Drugs (Fox) Week 3 -- Friday $1M, Estimated Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $27.6M

8. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) Week 2 [90 Theaters] -- Friday $925K, Estimated Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $5.3M

9. Due Date (Warner Bros) Week 6 -- Friday $825K, Estimated Weekend $2.5M, Estimated Cume $94.8M

10. Megamind 3D (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) Week 7 -- Friday $775K, Estimated Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $140.8M

Megamind clings to the list at #10. Industry analysts predict it will end its domestic run in the $150-$160 million range. If so, it will be under a multiple of four against its opening weekend. (Perhaps it hurts to be the second animated Bad Guy film out of the box with sidekick called "Minion.")

Add On: The Mojo gives us semi-final tallies for the weekend, where Tangled has the best hold of any Top Ten movie (down 32.6%) and a $115.6 million total after three weeks.

Down at #10 in its 6th week, Megamind loses 748 theatres, drops 49.2%, and now stands with an accumulation of $140.2 million.

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Organizer's Notes: The Organizing Process

With the recent increase in activity on the Organizing Visual Effects front, I've had to go over the process of organizing visual effects studios quite a few times. After a few months in this office, the caveats of the organization process are now part of my regular mantra. Because as many times as someone asks me what the steps are, I'm still surprised how few people know or are aware of the process. What better place is there than this blog to share this information?

This process isn't exclusive to visual effects. It's mirrored in all organizing efforts, through all unions. This outline assumes a studio that employs artists who have heard of the union and are interested in learning more about becoming members. These artists hope to get their employer to sign a contract with the union so they may be able to enjoy the seamless cloak of health and pension benefits and work under the protection of a solid union contract.

A Showing of Interest

This is the opening phase of the process. At this stage, one or many artists become interested in establishing a better set of working conditions because of an adverse change in the workplace, or because they've heard about benefits or working conditions other artists are receiving under a union deal.

These artists then approach the Guild. Sometimes, we receive representation cards in the mail from members working at non-union studios who are interested in continuing their union benefits. Meetings are arranged, information is shared. The guild researches how many artists are working at the facility, how long those artists will be there and how many of those artists are interested in TAG representing them. A committee of interested employees is formed and it reaches out to co-workers.

Representation Cards

Throughout the process of identifying interested artists, we circulate representation cards, asking each employee to sign and return one to us. These cards are a physical representation of the intent of the employee to have the Guild negotiate in their behalf. We use the cards as a gauge to determine how many of the total artists in a facility are interested in Guild representation. The signing of a representation card does not initiate membership with the Guild. It shows the intention of an artist to vote in support of union representation should that become necessary. Signing a representation card is a confidential matter, which we fiercely guard. We do not share the names of those who have signed representation cards with other employees in the group, or the employer.

Majority Reached

Knowing the size of the group of artists -- also how many have signed representation cards -- we determine if a majority of the group is interested in "going union." Throughout the process, more meetings are held and more information is shared. By this stage, we will have a firm group of artists who have been in support of organizing to represent the group as its Organizing Committee. This committee represents the group in contract negotiation or acts as its voice when TAG presents contract proposals to the employer.

Company/NLRB Contacted

With a majority of the artists showing an interest in Guild representation, the Guild tells the company it plans to file a petition with the NLRB for an election to represent the artists as bargaining agent. At this stage, some companies forgo elections at this stage and move directly to negotiating a contract with us. Other companies insist on a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board. The Guild delivers the cards to the NLRB to show majority representation and cause for the petition. The NLRB verifies a majority showing by contacting the employer and requesting a crew list, then checking names against the cards. ( The NLRB doesn't share the names of anyone who's signed representation cards.) Once the NLRB determines we have majority representation, they arrange a secret ballot election to determine the sentiment of employees.

An NLRB Election is Held

The NLRB conducts an election of the employees to be represented, determining if there is majority support for the Guild. The election takes place at a convenient location, usually inside the studio, always by secret ballot. Voters' identity and eligibility are verified before they cast their vote. The NLRB counts the votes and announces the result.

Contract Negotiated

With election results showing the employees desire representation by the Guild, the employer and the Guild sit down to negotiate a contract “in good faith”. The Guild uses its existing contract as a base of negotiations, also the proposals of employees.

Contract Reached

If a contract agreement is reached and ratified by employees, those employees become members of The Animation Guild, subject to the rights and privileges therein.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

An interesting house

Surfing the web, I came across a real-estate listing for this house at 3763 Fredonia Drive overlooking Cahuenga Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills. Why is this house of interest to the readers of this blog?

This house was built in 1939 and designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris. And it was built for none other than watercolorist and background painter Lee Everett Blair and his wife Mary Robinson Blair, the latter known for her stylized design and illustration work and for designing the "It's A Small World" ride at Disneyland.

I only met Lee Blair once and I never met Mary or visited their home. In the 1950s and 1960s my mother did a lot of work for Lee's brother Preston Blair when he was running Preston Blair Productions out of his house in Westport, CT. I have a lot of memories from my childhood of Preston's home, and it looked an awful lot like an East Coast version of Lee and Mary's home (although I tend to doubt that Harris designed the Westport house.)

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Mark D. has been hard at work (with small staff) on this in the upper reaches of DreamWorks Animation's Lakeside Building:

DreamWorks Animation to Combine Hand-Drawn Animation and CGI for ‘Me and My Shadow’ ...

Chicken Little director Mark Dindal will helm the project, while Kung Fu Panda’s Melissa Cobb and Shrek Forever After’s Teresa Chang are serving as co-producers. ...

Mr. Dindal told me some weeks ago that Jeffrey had wanted to do a story involving shadows for awhile. Mark had pitched ideas, and Jeffrey had okayed him developing one of them.. The approach and artwork I saw looked intriguing.

Good to know it's coming along. I've long thought Mark was one of the better directors in the biz.

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas, part 8

Ralph Hulett Christmas card
Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image

Mr. Hulett always used Siamese cats in his cards, possibly because of the "Lady and the Tramp" influence, but more likely because they were the pets of choice around our house. (Paint the models at hand.)

© Estate of Ralph Hulett
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Disney TVA Pickups

The Chowder crew* continues to be gainfully employed.

Disney Channel Renews 'Fish Hooks' For A Second Season; Picks Up Comedy Series 'Gravity Falls' ...

Television animation has been doing reasonably well the last couple of years. (This after a stretch of definite unwellness.) Word is circulating that Disney will be ramping up a new "Disney Junior" type channel to rope in more of the moppet set, and other studios continue to launch new series.

Then of course there are the super hero shows at Marvel-Disney and Warner Bros. Animation, the new Hasbro offerings, and a spate of C.G. shows. You'd almost think we're on the cusp of a new TV boomlet.

* The "Chowder" crew, if you are just tuning in, migrated to "Fish Hooks" when the earlier Cartoon Network series ended production.

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TAG Employment Numbers

I got asked by a studio exec what kind of breakdown The Animation Guild has with current employment ....

So to give you round figures (since I'm at home and not in the office), we've got just under 2600 members currently employed, with 51% working in features, 46% working in television, and 3% in "other media."

I'm pretty sure "other media" doesn't mean etch-a-sketches.

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Ed's Afternoon -- Part II

>TAG Interview with Ed Gombert

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

We continue with Mr. Gombert's tales of the animation biz ...

Copyright © 2010, Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sagging Sales

Unfortunate news for animation on the little silver disk:

Shrek Forever After, available for sale Tuesday as a standalone or as part of a set, is headed for underwhelming results, a Wall Street analyst was telling his clients on Monday. ... Greenfield's latest analysis also makes the case that Disney/Pixar is seeing "underwhelming" sales of Toy Story 3. ...

And Megamind, due early next year, also "will face substantial headwinds," Greenfield said, given his estimate that it will generate only $153 million at the domestic box office ...

The trendline for disk sales has been down for a while now. Jeffrey K. and others have noted how "family" animated features have held up better than R-rated live-action, but nothing in the age of online streaming has been shooting up.

Maybe piling on super-excellent extras atop Disk 2 of the Special Platinum Edition will temporarily stem the death spiral, but long-term, studios will have to come up with new revenue streams.

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