Wednesday, March 31, 2010

At the Sonora

Over at Disney Television Animation at the Sonora building, crews are working on Inspector Oso (the second season), and Jake and the Neverland Pirates (first season).

Staff on Oso said they should be working on the series until December "unless they pull the rug out from under us and decide to suddenly cancel it." (Visions of the abrupt decapitation of My Friends Tigger and Pooh's third season obviously dance in their heads.)

And a Neverland Pirates artist remarked to me:

"We've got fifty-two shorts to do on Pirates [That's 26 half-hours.] It'll take us until October to finish, which will be almost a year's worth of work ..."

I took a look at some of the board work for the show. Nice stuff. The Captain and Mr. Smee are in the mix, but I noticed something about Hook I hadn't noticed before.

I mentioned earlier that the good Captain is simplified for the show, and isn't close to being a ringer for the Frank Thomas version at all . (A colorized screen grab can be seen above.)

But funny thing. Monday I was traipsing around the hat building, and came across old model sheets of Hook up on a wall, both the 1953 final and an earlier 1940 model sheet.

And it hit me. The 1940 version -- with big cartoony nose and more boneless, rubbery limbs -- is a close cousin to the Neverland Pirates Hook: a simpler creation than the version that appears in the '53 film.

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The Health Plans Panel

Plan administrator Greg Mason, explaining the intricacies of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

Last night at TAG's General Membership Meeting, Greg Mason of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan held forth about the various moving parts of the Animation Guild's (and twenty-four other IATSE labor unions') health coverage. To wit:

* The Motion Picture Industry Health Plan covers 110,000 paticipants (42,00 active participants and their families; also 12,000 retirees.)

* A new Summary Plan Description book (to replace this SPD) will be out later in 2010.

* The Plan has three basic health coverage options:

1) Blue Shield/MPI Health Plan. (PPO)

2) Kaiser Permanente (HMO)

3) Health Net (HMO)

(Open Enrollment into HMOs: first month of eligibility and July of each calendar year. Participants can move from the HMOs to the Blue Shield Plan the first of any month.)

* The Health Plan (number one, above) has three tiers -- each tier costing more to participants.

Tier One -- Motion Picture and Television Fund Clinics. (7 Clinics throughout Southern California -- co-pays of $5 per visit. Referrals to specialists via clinics (total of 587 specialists in network) -- also $5.)

Tier Two -- Blue Shield Network. The network pays 90% of the contracted rate. Office visits for most Blue Shield doctors -- $30. Out of pocket costs for in-network hospital stays capped at $1000.

Tier Three -- Out of Network -- Plan pays 50% of usual and customary charges. Other 50% paid by participants/patients.

* It's important to be a good health care consumer; ask if a doctor and surgical center are in the Blue Shield Network; ask if a second surgeon is covered. Contact the Plan or doctor if you believe there has been a billing error.

* Emergency Rooms are covered 90%, but when a patient enters an out-of-network hospital, it's important to transfer to an in-network hospital after patient is stabilized.

Prescription Drugs/ Medco: Drug Plan pays for brand drugs when generics are available only up to the generic price. Maintenance medications (that is, long-term prescriptions) must be ordered through Medco after the first two 30-day prescriptions. (Drug costs are rising 18-23% annually.)

* New Federal Health Legislation: Some of this year: No co-pays for preventive health examination, no lifetime caps, child coverage continued to age 26 years) will be communicated to particpants when the government issues its regulations.

After Mr. Mason finished his presentation, representatives from Kaiser Permanente) and Health Net reviewed the bells and whistles from their plans:

Kaiser Permanente -- * $15 co-pays for doctor visits in KP hospitals and medical facilities. * Kaiser Permanente has a presence in 9 states. * If participants use Kaiser Pharmacies (they are also eligible for the Health Plans Prescription Drug benefit), they're entitled to $9 co-pays for many generic drugs.

Health Net -- * $15 co-pays for doctor visits. * Health Net contracts a broad array of physician groups and hospitals in Southern California. * St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank is a Health Net contractor.

Lots of questions got asked. Members wanted to know the impact of the recently-passed Health Care legislation and why prescription drugs get pricier every couple of years. All in all, it was a useful session.

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Bento Box Entertainment

BBE, formed in 2009 by former Film Roman execs, is producing Fox animated shows. Neighbors From Hell, created in conjunction with DreamWorks Animation, was the first. Bob's Burgers will be the second. The Animation Guild has signed a contract with them.

The agreement covers the second season of Neighbors From Hell and production work on other shows going forward. The company is headquartered in beautiful Burbank.

We thought you'd want to know.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Like an Article About Which Sky Contains the Best Clouds takes the prize for Stoopid Article of the Day:

Pixar vs. DreamWorks: Who makes better movies?

The real answer? Two cartoon companies, both with roots over at Walt's place, make animated features of varying quality and commerciality. Some people like one studio's product; others prefer the competitor's. But there is no "better," there is only the ones that writer Eric Snider likes more.

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As I wander down the long hallway of life, I grow wiser, although it happens very slowly.

Long ago, I figured out that many of the folks who win and folks who lose don't do these things based strictly on merit. There is also animal cunning, basic smarts, and the ever-sharp claw of fate.

But maybe I've worked in the movie industry too long, and seen too much. Because I was reminded (again) of Tinsel Town realities as I perused an investment book this past weekend. It was a tome called The Five Rules of Stock Investing -- Morningstar's Guide for Building Wealth and Winning the Market, and pages 104 and 105 read as follows:

Analyzing a Company -- Management

Compensation is the easiest of the three areas to assess because the bulk of the information is contained in a ...proxy statement.

First and most important, how much does management pay itself? ... [S]ome executives think they have a license to print money just because they manage a huge company, no matter how poor a job they're doing.

Pay for Performance

...At many companies, so-called "performance targets" are set by a subcommittee of the board of directors, which can often rewrite the rules of the game if the CEO appears to be losing.

...In 2001, for example, Coca-Cola's board reduced CEO Douglas Paft's goal of 15 percent earnings growth over five years to 11 percent ...

At least Coke's shareholders knew what the target was, though. According to the 2001 proxy, Walt Disney's compensation gurus decided that bonuses:

"... may be based on one or more of the following business criteria, or on any combination thereof, on a consolidated basis: net income (or adjusted net income), return on equity (or adjusted return on equity), returns on assets (or adjusted return on assets), earnings per share (diluted) (or adjusted earnings per share [diluted].)

In other words, Disney's CEO was going to get paid no matter what. To add insult to injury, the gang at Disney wrote that "[we believe] that the specific target constitutes confidential business information the disclosure of which could adversely affect the Company."

More likely, it would have adversely affected Disney management because the board wouldn't have been able to move the goalposts in the middle of the game ..."

-- Pat Dorsey -- Director of Stock Analysis -- Morningstar.

2001, of course, was during the storied reign of Diz Co. Chief Michael Eisner, (around the time a disgruntled Disney lawyer grumbled to me: The Company took a beating last year. The stock lost money. But Michael still got the board to give him and Bob Iger eight million dollar bonuses ...")

Meritocracy is a wonderful thing. But please don't delude yourself that it is the only (or principle?) force that's in play. The game, sadly, is often rigged.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Animation Quality

The L.A. Times has the answer to my tortured questions below.

... You can create really good animated films but, as a rule, you'll have more success if your films aren't that great. ...

But of course! Why the hell didn't I think of that?!

It explains why Space Chimps and Everyone's Hero are the two highest grossing animated features of all time ...

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Are Dragons Detrimental to Box Office? Or Is It Something Else?

USA Today, before How to Train Your Dragon was released, cautioned about the profitability of dragon movies:

Even the most dedicated fantasy-film fan would have to admit that movies with dragons all too often turn out to be a drag.

Cinematic serpents may date to the silent era, when filmmaker Fritz Lang had his hero slay a 60-foot-long mechanical puppet in 1924's Die Nibelungen: Siegfried. [And Doug Fairbanks gutted a dragon in The Thief of Baghdad -- also 1924.] But most recent big-screen outings, such as Eragon, Reign of Fire and Beowulf, that center on the slithery beasts have not exactly inflamed the box office or the audience's imagination ....

Another possibility is that Viking movies are the problem. Outside of Kirk Douglas's (and Richard Fleischer's) 1958 epic, how many blockbuster Norse movies have you seen?

I thought so.

Then again, a feature's box office performance might have to do with the setting, (though Cressida Cowell, author of the Dragon books, thinks the movie's depiction of her novel's far-north island is fabulous.) As Kevin Koch writes:

Pete Emslie made an interesting point in the comments section on a recent post:

“I particularly believe that films set in exotic locales like South America have a great deal of appeal . . .”

This is consistent with what most of us believe — Variety is the spice of life. We consciously crave variety — at least we think we do. Most of us long to visit exotic places when we’re daydreaming, but when vacation time comes, we’re usually happier to just chill out in our back yards, or travel an hour away to the beach or a favorite resort community. The relatively new field of Happiness Research bears this out. Research shows that more variety doesn’t make us happy, and that we’re actually happiest with what is familiar ...

Put another way, we want variety, but in a much narrower range than most people realize. Someone who loves hamburgers is always on the lookout for a great new hamburger joint; they might talk about investigating that dim sum place in Chinatown, but when their belly is growling, they’ll find themselves steering the car to Bob’s Big Boy.

I think the same thing happens with our taste in movies, especially animated movies. As much as good animated films appeal to the entire audience, if we lose the childrens’ market, we’re facing an uphill battle for success. And any parent knows that children are far less variety-seeking than adults. Ask a child if they want to sit home and watch Ice Age 3 for the 17th time, or go see a new animated movie that just arrived from Netflix, and you’re likely to be watching Ice Age 3 for the 18th time ...

Lastly, there is the biggest elephant in the room: story. If the story doesn't engage and enthrall, then box office bets are off. But I'll go out on a limb here. A weak story is the least of Dragon's problems. As a veteran Disney story artist said to me today:

"My kid and I loved this film. It cooks. He's telling his friends to go see it, and I'm telling people around here to take it in. I think, with the word-of-mouth and Spring vacation, it should do well straight through next week ..."

I have no idea how Dragon does next week, or next month. Frankly, I'm befuddled why it didn't perform more strongly in its debut weekend. (Setting? Characters? Story? Lack of zany, pratfall humor? Resistance of audiences to three dee ticket prices? What?)

You can choose you own questions. But the ones that play in my head on an endless loop are these:

Why did Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel open with $48.9 million?

Why did How to Train Your Dragon earn $43.7 million?

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"Scapes", Alex Kube show at Gallery 839, opens this Friday, April 2

Alexandra (Alex) Kube loves to paint.

With a history in animation, graphic design and illustration, and a degree in fine art, Alex has found her niche with painting in oils.

The colors in these landscapes sing a story of the aliveness in the serene natural environments. After many years of painting, she is honored to have a one-woman exhibit at Gallery 839.

Gallery 839's next show opens Friday, April 2, with a reception from 6 pm to 9 pm. Gallery 839 is located at the Animation Guild, 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. Snacks and refreshments will be served.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

China Dives Into Anime

The Middle Kingdom is interested in expanding its artistic horizons (as it is so many other things):

... With government subsidies, Chinese animation companies tripled their presence at this year's Tokyo anime fair even as the overall number of exhibitors declined. The four-day event through Sunday, one of the world's biggest anime-related trade shows and festivals, featured a "China-Japan Anime Summit" along with multiple China-themed lectures.

"China is a big market, and everybody is trying to get in," said Jimmy Tse, chief executive of Top Art Investment Ltd., which makes the panda Komazawa craved. "And the Chinese people, they are starting to think, 'How come I'm manufacturing for someone else?' Why are we not creating anything ourselves?'"

China's growing ambitions coincide with an ominous industrywide slump in Japan. ... Since 2006, ... a trend toward adult-oriented (and often sexually explicit) niche titles have turned off the general audience. Moreover, the industry is losing young talent due to persistently low pay and poor working conditions, forcing Japanese animation companies to outsource much of their work.

"The Japanese anime industry basically gave China, Korea and all these countries the keys to the candyshop"...

Low pay? Crappy working conditions? Who would have thought?

Happily, the United States doesn't have problems like that. We're far more enlightened.

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The Overseas Horse Race

While Dragon has hit #1 domestically, Alice In Wonderland retains the crown in foreign venues:

... "Alice" was challenged by ... "How To Train Your Dragon," which drew $31 million from 5,594 locations in 35 markets, of which 32 are new. (Last weekend's debuts were in Russia, the Ukraine and Romania.) Overseas cume for the 3D animation ... stands at $42 million. The worldwide tally is $85.3 million.

I just came from a local screening of Dragon, and it is one terrific film.

And if I were to make a prediction about where it ends up in total, worldwide box office, I would say it's going to be somewhere around $500 million.

(This is giving it a domestic multiplier of 4.6 X $43.3 million = $199.2 million, then estimating the foreign cume as 60% of the U.S./Canada total. I make the projection based on CinemaScore -- an A -- and overall reaction to the film. Ultimate mileage might be considerably different.)

But we'll know more after Spring vacation is over and we see how the picture holds. Whatever How to Train Your Dragon finally does box office-wise, it's a solid piece of movie-making, one of DWA's best.

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Discuss the future of the holiday party at the next membership meeting

TAG's Executive Board has been discussing changes in the format of our holiday party, and we're inviting members to give their input at the next membership meeting on Tuesday, March 30.

Also on the agenda is a panel discussion about the options we have for health coverage. Present to answer our questions will be GREG MASON of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan/Blue Shield, ANDREW HUSS of Healthnet and ALEX JAUREQUI of Kaiser Permanente. Come prepared to learn about taking advantage of the choices available to us. We will be electing delegates to the IATSE District Two convention to be held in Universal City in May.

The meeting is open to TAG members only; inactive members (on withdrawal or suspension) have voice but no vote. The meeting will be held at the Guild's headquarters at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. Pizza and refreshments will be served starting at 6 pm; the meeting and panel start at 6:30 pm.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Elimination of Lines

Per the co-director of How to Train Your Dragon, the barriers between different types of movies are coming down.

The modern Hollywood animator is accursed with a burden that never bedeviled Walt Disney, Chuck Jones or even the '80s Imagineers who framed each shot of Roger Rabbit. In the era of "Avatar," ... [n]othing is impossible.

... "There's nothing you can't do in terms of creating a performance," says Dean DeBlois, ... "It's only a matter of time, money and imagination." ... " 'Avatar' has bridged the gap so much between what live-action did and what animation traditionally did. ... "It exists in the middle. Those lines of animation and photo realism are so blurred." ...

Matter of fact, the lines are eliminated, aren't they? When an audience looks at characters that gestated from an animation artist's head, to her drawing tablet and finally her computer, yet accepts the resulting images as live-action, there ain't no differences anymore.

We've reached the era of full-on fusion. Bre'r Rabbit and Jessica Rabbits were cartoon figures invading a live-action world. The life-forms of Pandora are animated characters passing themselves off as live-action beings from start to finsish.

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Investing 101 -- Financial Advisors

Now with Boglesque Add On.

Because the monthly deadline for enrolling in the TAG 401(k) Plan is fast approaching (it's April 1st), I put up another post about tucking money away for later.

This one concerns the wonderful world of financial advisers. William J. Bernstein, one of the sages of investment strategies, writes this:

[In investing] I emphasize three main principles: first, to not be too greedy; second, to diversify as widely as possible; and third, to always be wary of the investment industry. People do not seek employment in investment banks, brokerage houses, and mutual fund companies with the same motivations as those who choose to work in fire departments or elementary schools. Whether investors know it or not, they are engaged in an ongoing zero sum, life and death struggle with pirhanas, and if rigorous precautions are not taken, the financial services industry will strip investors of their wealth faster than they can say “Bernie Madoff. ” ...

William J. Bernstein, "The Investors' Manifesto: Preparing for Prosperity, Armageddon, and Everything in Between."

Or, as Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has a financial advisor say:

"I recommend allocating 2% of [your money] to me, and 98% to things that sound good if you don't look at them too closely ..."

You know, things like funds with big commissions for the advisor, so he'll make even more money off you.

When I look at that Dilbert strip, I look at a quarter century of my life. Because I had, for over twenty-five years, a folksy, friendly stock broker who took me to lunch and invested my money and took 2% off the top, season after season.

And when I finally wised up and told him I was taking my money elsewhere, the friendliness faded a bit and he showed me with colorful bar graphs how much money he'd made me. (This was in the middle nineties, fifteen years into a bull market). And I asked him:

"Okay, this seems impressive. But after all the stock trading and strategizing, how much did you beat the benchmark by? You know, the S & P 500?"

We sat there and did the math. It turned out after all that time, after all the wheeling and dealing and jolly lunches, I had made 1% less than having the money in a freaking index fund. And I had paid him, for decades, 2% of my stash.

Neat. (And I haven't used a "financial advisor" since.)

This is what I say in 401(k) meetings, over and over:

* It's important to asset allocate between small company stocks, large company stocks, international stocks and bonds.

* It's important to keep doing this from your twenties to your sixties.

* If you're freaked out by the thought of losing money, then go conservative (more bonds than stocks), but invest.

The theory is simple. The execution is hard. Because people often jump into hot sectors around the time that sector is cooling off, and jump out of a sector just as it's bottoming.

The trick is to set up a good allocation plan and stick with it. And tune out all the noise from the Smart Money: ("American stocks are dooomed! The U.S. dollar will be worthless in two years! China's the place to put your money!" etc.)

The reality is, nobody can say with accuracy where various world markets will be in two years ... or ten ... or twenty. The dollar might be trading at five cents on the Swiss franc, but with the rest of the world in much the same shape as the U.S. of A., I would shrink from making that prediction. (When I was in my twenties, China was an economic basket case.)

So. Cover your ears. Put a chunk of every pay check into savings and retirement accounts, get it out of your head that you can time any market, and press forward. (It will seem like a bore now, but you'll be happy you did it when your hair is gray and you're swigging down Metamucil.)

Add On: John Bogle, who founded Vanguard Mutual Funds and knows as much about retirement investing as anyone, holds forth here. (Read his wisdom and act on it.)

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Friday, March 26, 2010

TIME's DWA/WB Analogy

... which some won't like:

"Each year I do one DreamWorks project," actor Jack Black told the crowd at the 2009 [Academy Awards] ceremony, "then I take all the money to the Oscars and bet it on Pixar."

That was also the case 60, 70 years ago, when Disney shorts had a monopoly on the Oscars, while the funnier, livelier cartoons from Warner Bros. — which today are treasured — were ignored. In that sense, Pixar's features are closer to the old, elevated Disney style, while DreamWorks' films are flat-out cartoons, proud to carry on the fast, cavorting Warner tradition.

I don't know if I would draw exactly the same parallels, though I could see how others would. To tell you the truth, chunks of the Ice Age franchise are as Looney Tunesque as anything out there in CG land.

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Topics of The Week

I was in the usual bundle of studios Monday to Friday. Among the bullet points from various visits:

#1 Topic today at Film Roman: How does the recently passed health care bills impact the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan?

I said the same things that are mentioned here, emphasizing that the excise tax on "Cadillac Plans" won't kick in until 2018. (General relief all around.)

Simpsons artists are wrapping up Season #21, embarking on Season #22.

Held meeting at another (unnamed) studio about overtime rules.

Artists asked if I could enforce o.t. infractions and keep individual employees' names anonymous. I said that was hard to do. If employees are working uncompensated overtime, management needs to know who they are so people can be paid the o.t.

Another question: "Why can't the union referee the length of production schedules, tell the company if its schedule needs to be six weeks instead of five weeks?" My answer: "That's what keeping track of hours is supposed to do. If employees falsify time cards to 'hit the schedule deadline,' the company has no clear idea of how long the work really takes." Everyone needs to follow the contract's work rules.

At the IM Digital facility in Marina Del Rey, employees have moved past the shock of closure and are getting on with Mars Needs Moms, the last film IMD will produce.

Disney manager told me that employees will be laid off in four waves as IMD's last movie rolls to completion: Spring, Summer, Fall, December. Different departments will complete their assignments at different times as each department finishes its work.*

* Kindly note: IA reps visit IMD studios, not me. But I did talk to a Disney manager re the above.

Enjoy your weekend.

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And .... They're Off!

Now with gilt-edged Add On.

The Derby begins, and The Numbers guesstimates the numbers:

... How to Train Your Dragon is the latest 3D movie to hit theaters and so far 2010 has been dominated by such films. In fact, this will be the 13th weekend of 2010 and a 3D film has come out on top nine times. At some point 3D could flame out and crash, but I don't think that it will happen this weekend and How to Train Your Dragon could beat analysts expectations. Right now expectations range from around $35 million to close to $50 million ...

Frankly, with the critics rhapsodizing over Toothless and company, I don't know what the movie will pull in. But I speculate the epic will have staying power

However, one of the new wrinkles attached to Dragon's launch is this:

Theaters are also planning on raising the 3D ticket price by 8% to squeeze out more revenues from premium ticket sales ...

Nothing like a little gouging when you've got a hot, Three Dee commodity. A stupid thing to do, I think. Because a tipping point will come and audiences will start to opt out of paying extra money to see the Dimensional Version.

Add On: The LA Times has the same thought about rising ticket prices. The greed is taking over.

Killing the golden goose: Exhibitors raise 3-D ticket prices sky-high

Add On Too: The Nikkster's spies and stoolies project weekend box office receipts (subject, of course, to later revisions ...)

FRIDAY 10:45 PM UPDATE: My sources just gave me these updated Friday box office figures with weekend estimates. ...

1. How To Train Your Dragon 3D (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount) NEW -- Friday $13.5M, Estimated Weekend $47.5M

2. Alice In Wonderland 3D (Disney) Week 4 -- Friday $6.2M (-36% from a week ago), Estimated Weekend $22.5M, Estimated Cume $298M

3. Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM) Friday $4.5M, Estimated Weekend $13.5M

4. The Bounty Hunter (Relativity/Sony) Week 2 -- Friday $4.2M (-45%), Estimated Weekend $12.5M, Estimated Cume $39M

5. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid (Fox) Week 2 -- Friday $3.1M (-57%), Estimated Weekend $11.5M, Estimated Cume $37.3M

Add On Three: B.O. Mojo pegs Dragon's Friday numbers at $12.2 million.

Add On Four: Box Office Mojo calculates Dragon's weekend take as $43.3 million. As the Nikkster says:

Even rival studios readily acknowledge that DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg had one of his best films in years coming out this weekend. "It's exciting, adventurous, emotional," one competitor gushed. "But it's been tracking badly." That's because the pic lacked comedy, unlike DA's previous hits Kung Fu Panda and Monsters v Aliens. (Those often annoying wisecracks written into so many DA movies are real crowd pleasers.)

So Dragon finished its opening weekend with a $16M drop from Monsters v Aliens which debuted the same time last year. This, even though both pics commanded higher 3D ticket prices, and Paramount distributed Dragon to more 3D theaters. (Dragon's studios kept wanting to compare the pic not to its own MvA but to Sony's 3D Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, which opened with $30M in September also to great reviews. It's the box office game of managing expectations.) Still, with 97% positive reviews and an "A" Cinemascore, moviegoers liked the product, which heads into 2 weeks of school holidays and should play to good multiples ...

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Dream of Work

I walked away part of the afternoon at the DreamWorks campus, admiring the olive trees and fountains and waterfalls, but mostly talking to dreamworkers. Many are excited about Dragon, but some are wary of the overall awareness level for the feature reflected in stories like this:

... DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon," which is being distributed by Paramount Pictures, probably will sell between $40 million and $45 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen pre-release polling.

That's significantly less than the $59.3 million that DreamWorks' last animated feature, "Monsters vs. Aliens," opened to on the same weekend last year ...

The reason for that, per the pundits, is that Alice is still out there, along with Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (My prediction, based on nothing more than a feverish imagination, is that the movie hits in the $50-$60 million range. But I have a sterling record for being wrong.)

One artist, fretting about how it will do, said: "The word-of-mouth will be strong because Dragon is a great picture. So if it gets okay numbers Saturday and Sunday, we'll be fine, because those people will get the word out ..."

Meanwhile, the story crew on Croods has been deprived of Mr. Sanders's presence because he's busy on last-minute duties on How to Train Your Dragon.

"We're going ahead and working on the next pass of the picture. We've talked changes through already. We'll get newer script pages later when Chris has time to work on them ..."

I'll be catching Dragon this weekend. After all the positive buzz, I don't want to lolly gaggle around and wait for everyone else to give me blow-by-blows.

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The March of Links

More linkage for a Spring day.

Green Froggy, per Home Media Magazine, came in #2 against Twilight: New Moon:

... Walt Disney Studios’ The Princess and the Frog, rode its $104.3 million box office gross to a No. 2 debut on both sales charts. Nielsen research shows that 17% of the weekend sales tally for New Moon came from the Blu-ray Disc, while Princess generated 22% of its first-week sales from Blu-ray. ...

Forbes magazine tells which voice actors are hot in feature animation (like we didn't know?):

... When a studio can combine a popular lead vocal actor with a rich box office, a sequel can't be far behind. ... Jack Black is preparing to bring the thunder once again with a sequel to DreamWorks Animation's 2008 film Kung Fu Panda. Black also starred in the less successful 2004 film Shark Tale, which also featured Will Smith. Black's films have earned an average $500 million at the worldwide box office and he was featured in an average 2,000 press clippings around his movies....

Market Watch expounds on DreamWorks Animation's marketing partnership:

... The dragon's share, or 95% of [How to Train Your Dragon's] merchandise, will be exclusive to Wal-Mart, not just the crimson cookies. And Katzenberg considers this type of pact essential as DreamWorks faces an increasingly competitive future in animated features.

"Having these kinds of retail partnerships is part of our future," the movie studio chief (DWA 44.00, +1.59, +3.75%) told MarketWatch. "You have to be innovative today. You have to find new ways to do business. To us this is a unique opportunity."...

Dean DeBlois (co-director of How to Train Your Dragon) is one of those "work from home" kind of animation employees.

"The Pacific Northwest is definitely my preferred place to work from," said DeBlois ... "We share the same time zone. I can hop on a plane and be there in two hours. It actually works out really well."

Cinema Blend compares DreamWorks Animation's output to Pixar's ... and comes down in favor or DWA:

... When you enter Pixar world, you enter a world of smoothness, of class, of originality that's been polished to a sheen. DreamWorks is a much shaggier operation, which explains why many of their films have been outright disasters, but also how they create some of the weirdest, and funniest, films out there. ...

The Daily Telegraph informs us that The Simpsons influence on the Mother Tongue has been profound:

Homer Simpson's catchphrase "D'oh!" has been voted the greatest contribution made by the famous yellow cartoon family to the English language.

It came top in a survey of international linguists marking 20 years of The Simpsons, the world’s longest-running sitcom.

"D'oh!" beat other much loved words and phrases from the programme including "eat my shorts", "don't have a cow" and “craptacular”.

The exclamation has already been officially recognised and was added to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary ...

Newsweek questions the depth of humor of Adult Television cartoons:

The ‘South Park’ Death Knell? ...Why topical, weekly humor shows must adapt, or face the wrath of the channel-change button.

To deflate pomposity is the raison d'être of the modern nighttime cartoon. All the heavyweights—The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, not to mention the Adult Swim universe—revel in zealously ridiculing athletes, politicians, and pop icons, or anyone who can be treated like a piñata without inviting a lawsuit.

But there's often a disconnect between the large game and the satirical cartoon's ability to accurately target it ....

You're almost through the work week. Press on.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PDFs for your portfolio

If you've been looking for work lately, you're doubtless aware that studios large and small are looking for ways to avoid having to deal with applicants bringing in physical portfolios as part of the application process.

Yesterday, one of our signator studios announced it will only accept portfolio submissions in PDF format. Like it or not, more and more studios are refusing to accept physical portfolios, and are requiring that submissions be in a common format such as PDF.

PDF is the document format supported by Adobe Acrobat. Chances are you have a copy of the free Adobe Reader program that reads and prints out PDF files (if not, click the link to upload it.) However, Adobe Reader only reads and prints out PDF files. To convert your graphics or resumes to PDF you will need to use an online converter, or a program such as Adobe Acrobat Professional.

There are several websites that offer free or low-cost online PDF conversions; Adobe offers this service at for $9.99 per month. Other similar sites include, and Most of these sites have restrictions as to the types of files they can handle or the size or number of files you can convert for free.

If you own other Adobe programs such as Photoshop or Illustrator, check to see if they include a free version of Acrobat Pro. Also, if you own a scanner it might have PDF conversion built into its software, so you can scan and convert in the same step, and you may not even need to buy a separate program.

It may also be the case that you have a PDF print driver on your computer, in which case you will see an option labeled PDF or Adobe PDF when you are prompted to choose a printer. Choosing this option will "print" a PDF copy of your document as a file on your computer.

If the free websites are inadequate and you don't have a PDF-compatible print or scanner driver, you may want to invest in Adobe Acrobat Professional software. Go to and type in the phrase "Adobe Acrobat Professional" (and make sure you're buying actual software and not a license or guidebook.)

As is the case with anything in the computer world, shopping around will result in some good bargains. For example, you don't necessarily need the most up-to-date version of Acrobat Pro, but make sure the version you buy is compatible with your computer and operating system.

We have Adobe Acrobat Pro available in our computer lab if you'd like to come in and learn about it. Contact Ken Roskos at for details.

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Learn about your health plan choices at the next membership meeting

In these days of rising health costs and uncertainty, as our Health Plan approaches its next open enrollment, it’s more important than ever to understand the available alternatives under TAG’s health insurance.

At the next membership meeting on Tuesday, March 30, we will be hearing about the options we have for health coverage. Present to answer our questions will be GREG MASON of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan/Blue Shield, ANDREW HUSS of Healthnet and ALEX JAUREQUI of Kaiser Permanente. Come prepared to learn about taking advantage of the choices available to us.

Also on the agenda is a discussion of the Executive Board’s recommendations for the TAG holiday party, and the election of delegates to the IATSE District Two convention to be held in Universal City in May.

The meeting is open to TAG members only; inactive members (on withdrawal or suspension) have voice but no vote. The meeting will be held at the Guild's headquarters at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. Pizza and refreshments will be served starting at 6:30 pm; the meeting and panel start at 7 pm.

Hulett adds his two cents:

I've gotten first and second-hand complaints about changes in the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan, and it's important for people to show up and ask questions of the Health Plan reps. Here's a few pieces of information to know.

* The Plan faced annual health service increases of 9-10% and had a $528 million deficit over three years to fill.

* The Plan filled the deficit with 50% additional monies from the companies and 50% cost-shifting. (In other words, participants have higher co-pays.)

* Despite the above, there are many ways to minimize out-of-pocket expenses. Here are three:

1) Use the Motion Picture and Television Fund Clinics.

2) Use hospitals in the Blue Shield network.

3) For extensive and expensive dental work (because your mouth is a mess) use DeltaCare USA, the pre-paid dental plan ....

By all means come to the meeting and get all your questions answered.

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Permanence of the Dees Times Three (Part XIV)

Mike Fleming at the Nikkster's site says:

Michael Bay and James Cameron Skeptical of 3D Conversions: "The Jury Is Out"

The chance to charge higher ticket prices has every Hollywood studio rushing to retrofit their 2D spectacles into 3D. Some directors are pushing back, concerned there's an imminent future of cheesy-looking 3D that will stunt the momentum created by Avatar ...

Well of course there's going to be "cheesy looking" 3D. This isn't about artistry or a director's "vision" or a better and stronger America. It's about raking in extra money at the box office. (If the rubes want to come to your dark, muddy-looking Three Dee spectacular, you can't stop them ....)

I have mixed feelings about dimensional cinema. Some of it, I think, works pretty well, and some of it gives me eyestrain and a headache.

But sorry, James and Michael. The jury has already returned with the verdict. The congloms we love and admire are convinced 3D is an exciting new path to riches, and they are going to be pushing the good, the bad and the ugly out the door just as fast as they can. Despite what movie directors may or may not want.

At some point the crap retrofit Three Dee (think of it as the visual equivalent of Capitol Records ancient "Duophonic" technology) will start to drag down the box office like a lead anchor, and there will be (perhaps) a course correction.

In the meantime, brace yourself for lots of big unsightly glasses at your local multiplex. Like it or not, you'll probably find yourself sitting in the dark with the big lenses perched on your nose, squinting at the various planes of objects and action out ahead of you.

So enjoy.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time With the Mouse

Flynn Rider, the doll edition ...

Short post: I rambled around the first floor of the hat building today, pausing at different doors to talk to staffers. The lighting crew for Tangled is now immersed in the picture. (They are turning and burning to get a trailer out in short order.)

I had a chance to look at different Tangled images up on different computer screens, and trust me here, the picture is going to be great looking ....

The challenge for the crew is that there's a lot of work compressed into a short amount of time. Everyone is working at maximum capacity. Some are fretting about hitting the deadlines. One person said to me:

"I wish the studio was releasing this farther away from Harry Potter ..."

... And Mr. Rider's grandfather ... with the padre of the Skipper ("Gilligan's Island") there on the left ...

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With the New Health Insurance Legislation ... What Happens to the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan?

I've gotten asked the above question multiple times the past few weeks. Here's what I know:

The New Health Insurance Reform legislation will impact:

Lifetime Maximum Benefit Payments -- currently the max is $2 million per participant or dependent. The new health bill eliminates these caps.

Dependents' Health Coverage -- right now MPI Health Insurance covers participants' children to age 19 (age 23 if they're a full-time student.) This will rise to age 26.

Tax on "Cadillac Plans" -- one of the contentious parts of the Senate version of the health care bill was this levy. Organized labor negotiated higher caps and a later kick-in date for the provision, so the tax now doesn't take effect until 2018, by which time, several labor contract cycles will have happened and unions and guilds will have hopefully made accommodations in the structure and costs of their respective plans ...

I'm anything but an expert, but I've followed the progress of the new legislation and read about many of its details; participants in the MPIPHP won't be seeing any sizable changes in the Plan because of the new Federal legislation. Certainly nothing anytime soon.

The bigger problem for all Union/Guild health plans in the entertainment industry (WGA, SAG, DGA, IATSE) has been escalating health costs. The Motion Picture Industry Health Plan's cost inflation has run below the national average by 1-2% year after year, yet still has annual increases of 8-10%.

These kinds of run-ups can't go on forever. Either more money has to be kicked into the Trust Fund, or the Health Plan has to be redesigned to lower costs. For the MPIPHP, it's been some of both: Employers have contributed more dollars, and Plan participants have endured higher out-of-pocket expenses. (One example: Emergency Room visits used to be free of charge, then they went to $50, now they are $100.)

There are ways for MPIHP participants to lower their health care costs inside the plan. In future posts, I'll go over various strategies. For now, know that the new health bill will not change the coverage that TAG members receive in any large way.

(Writer Craig Mazin comments on the health bill's impact on the Writers Guild's health plan here.)

Add On: List of immediate benefits of the bill here.

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The Fleischers Ride Again

Okay, not Max and Dave exactly. But you get the idea.

Sony is bringing an all-CGI "Popeye" to the bigscreen, with the iconic sailor man's muscles set to pop in 3D.

Avi Arad, who teamed with Sony to turn Spider-Man into a powerhouse franchise, is producing. Scribe Mike Jones is in negotiations to adapt ....

From comic strips to cartoon shorts and Technicolor featurettes to three-dimensional CGI. (And of course Robin Williams played him in an Altman film that was not ... uh ... rapturously received. A Disney publicity exec told me Williams did a funny bit at an early screening making fun of his own performance, Mr. Williams saying he could see his career flashing before his eyes.)

I expect we'll be seeing other animated icons make the move to dimensional CG as we trundle along. Especially if this one makes some money. (Just because Rocky and Bullwinkle don't make the cut isn't a deal breaker. We still have Daffy and Donald and Pepe Le Pew. And has anyone given thought to making Foghorn Leghorn the star of his own film franchise?)

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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Permanence (so far) of Animation Domination

I'm not referring to the glories of Up or the box office grosses of Avatar, but the Fox Network of a Sunday evening.

FOX Sunday animation No. 2; ‘Sons of Tucson’ ranked 4th

Last night FOX ranked No. 2 for the night among Adults 18-49, Adults 18-34 and Teens with its Animation Domination lineup and the second week of new comedy SONS OF TUCSON.

At 8p THE SIMPSONS posted a 2.8/8 among Adults 18-49 and was up +12% versus last week (2.5/7). THE SIMPSONS ranked No. 2 in the half hour among Adults 18-49 and No. 1 in Adults 18-34, Teens, Men 18-49/18-34 and Women 18-34.

At 8:30p THE CLEVELAND SHOW returned to a 2.5/6 among Adults 18-49 and ranked No. 2 in the time period among Adults 18-49 and No. 1 in Adults 18-34 and Teens. CLEVELAND was down -11% compared to its most recent original on 2/21/10 (2.8/7).

FAMILY GUY at 9p posted a 3.5/8 among Adults 18-49, even with last week’s delivery. FAMILY GUY ranked No. 2 in the half hour among Adults 18-49 and No. 1 in Adults 18-34, Teens and Men 18-49/18-34.

Week two of SONS OF TUCSON at 9:30p delivered a 1.9/5 among Adults 18-49, down -10% from its premiere last week (2.1/5). SONS OF TUCSON ranked No. 4 in the half hour among Adults 18-49, No. 3 in Adults 18-34 and No. 2 in Teens.

Kindly note: The live-action piece of Fox's Sunday night smorgasbord is declining, while one of the longest-running shows in teevee history is going up.

Also note that the animated contingent (Cleveland, Simpsons, Family Guy) is outscoring the live-actor Tuscon by a comfortable margin. My question is, when will other networks develop clusters of cartoon half-hours of their own?

Probably when they figure out how to replicate FOX's success.

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Nothing's "Wrong"

I generally avoid linking to other animation think pieces, but this makes my teeth itch:

I think ... Disney ha[s] come up with one of Mencken's easy, neat, plausible, and wrong answers. While aiming to make movies for a wide audience is an admirable goal, I don't think it's strictly necessary for box office success ....

Look. There's only one factor that (almost) guarantees box office success.

You have to make a compelling movie, one that people get off their duffs to go see. Disney hasn't been "wrong" in making or avoiding "Princess" type features. It hasn't been wrong making musicals, or making adventure films, or CGI extravaganzas.

It's only been wrong insofar as it hasn't, over the past few years, made animated features that yank people into theaters. Here's what I mean: Does anybody think that The Princess and the Frog is more riveting and compelling than Aladdin? The former has fine sequences, fine animation, bouncy music, but does it come together like the Arabian tale from the early nineties?


When people get asked what they think of TP&TF, they smile and say "Oh, it's nice." Back in the day, when people got asked what they thought of Aladdin, the answer was: "It's great! You gotta go see it!"

Now I've heard a few malcontents mention that it was the characters populating TP&TF that put a dent in its grosses. But consider Aladdin for a moment. It had brown-skinned people. It had a setting that worried Disney at the time. (We were in the midst of Gulf War Uno and the name of Aladdin's hometown -- Baghdad -- was hurriedly changed.) It was the third Disney animated musical in four years.

But when the picture came out, nobody cared, because the music, plot and spirited trajectory of the piece grabbed audiences by their shirt fronts and got them talking it up to their friends and neighbors, and getting them to go see it.

So let's fast-forward eighteen years. The last three Disney features -- Bolt, Meet the Robinsons, and The Princess and the Frog -- have generally been considered under-performers. Most people admit to being mildly charmed by the movies, but nobody rushed through dinner and bee-lined to the local AMC to watch them.

My take is, if Rapunzel/Tangled turns out to be a wowser, audiences will flock to view it. And then they'll tell other people it's really, really worth seeing, and the Mouse will have a major hit on its hands. The feature could be called Long Blonde Hair or Flynn's Night Out or anything else, and the grosses will be up there.

But the movie has to motivate people to go to the multiplex. It has to be buzz-worthy, a quality that's often elusive but usually recognizable when it's in place. (Toy Story and Snow White had it, likewise The Lion King.) If the next feature out of the box doesn't have that "gotta see it" ingredient, Diz Co. will likely have another disappointment staring it in the face. (And please don't think I believe creating a movie to which everyone flocks is easy. I don't. But creating a riveting feature is the goal. Making product designed to sell "the brand" or a lot of rubber toys won't cut it.)

So, is Walt Disney Animation Studios making a mistake by shooting for the widest demographic? Don't think so. Its main errors, I think, are making advertisements for merchandise and over-thinking the specific audience for which it is building this or that entertainment. The only thing that ultimately matters is making compelling films.

When that goal is reached, the soggy box office will disappear. And "synergy" will blossom.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dragon's Foreign Rollout

The Hollywood Reporter tells of How to Train Your Dragon's overseas launch.

DreamWorks Animation's "How To Train Your Dragon" opened No. 4 on the weekend via Paramount in Russia, Romania and the Ukraine for a take of $8.1 million from a 698 locales.

The 3D animation about a Viking dragon hunter turned dragon owner drew $7.5 million from 600 screens in Russia, which Paramount says is 25% more than the comparable opening figure for Pixar/Disney's "Up" and 50% more than the opening gross of Pixar/Disney's "WALL-E ." ...

A few hot foreign markets, of course, are not overwhelming predictors of worldwide box office success. But they're certainly better than the reverse, wouldn't you say?

Meanwhile, Mr. Burton's Alice continues to thrive.

... "Alice in Wonderland" cruised to its third consecutive No. 1 round overseas, rounding up $47 million from 6,687 screens in 49 territories.

Foreign take so far for director Tim Burton's re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll classic stands at $300 million, of which $216 million or 72% derives from the 3D venues playing the film. Worldwide, "Alice" has grossed $565.8 million to date.

Think about that. Almost 3/4 of the turnstile take is from stereo venues. No wonder the conglomerates are falling all over themselves to retrofit dimensional viewing to their 2-D backlogs. (Sort of like when studios retooled silent movies with music, sound effects and fresh-filmed talking sequences in 1928 and 1929.)

Corporate and human behavior seldom changes. You dangle a big enough carrot out there, and some entity or other will go charging after it. And those kinds of box office numbers are too mouth-watering for the Big Boys to resist ....

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Your Early-Morning Read

Kevin points out one of the cornerstones of effective story-telling in Animationland.

My Final Answer to the Question

We’ve established that I don’t think story is the end all and be all for successful animated films, and that it might not even be crucial. And I’ve written that I think storytelling is one factor that is absolutely crucial. But is there more? Yeah, I think so, and I think both of these things are separable from story and storytelling.

My answer to the question, ‘What are the three most important things for a successful animated film?’ is, Storytelling, great characters, appeal. When you’ve have these three things going on, you have a chance unleash a Lion King or a Toy Story or an Ice Age.

Appeal, as I’ve discussed before, is difficult to quantify, and I’m not going to try here. We know it when we see it. The first moment we saw Skrat in the very first teaser for the very first Ice Age, we were hooked. Regardless of what the story might turn out to be, we were going to that film ....

Go read the whole thing.

I'll offer only one small spoiler: Kevin holds up Dumbo as a cartoon feature with appeal. In this he appears to have a slightly different take from one of the old animation masters.

I was coming out of a third-floor screening room after watching Dumbo (under instructions from Woolie Reitherman, as I remember.) Frank was walking toward me down the hall. He smiled when he saw me, and asked what I'd been watching.

"Dumbo", I said. "Woolie wanted me to look at it. Man, it's a great movie."

Frank's smile got wider. "There's a mistake in every scene."

I nodded blankly. Said "Oh."

Frank walked on down the hall.

Six months later, I ... mentioned my brief exchange with Frank about Dumbo to Ward Kimball, and Frank's "mistake" comment. "It seemed kind of strange to me," I said. "Why do you think Frank would say say something like that?"

Ward beamed at me from behind his big round glasses. "Because Frank didn't work on Dumbo."

By the way, if you want to comment on Kevin's post, you'll need to do it over at SynchroLux.
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Creating the Multi-National Book of Kells

Today we received a lengthy report in moderated comments regarding production details of the Academy-nominated The Secret of Kells. Since I found the comment highly interesting ... and since the feature is out now ... I put the whole of it here.

I thought I would bring a bit of trivia about the production [of The Secret of Kells] to the forum.

The film was produced in 7 studios around Europe and Brazil with a work-split approximately like this:

Pre-production and Story up to Layout was done in Kilkenny-Ireland.

Backgrounds: Kilkenny-Ireland and Angoulême-France

Animation: Kilkenny, Brussels-Belgium, Sao Paolo-Brazil and Kecskemet-Hungary

Cleanup: Sao Paolo and Kecskemet, and the odd one in Kilkenny

Ink & Paint: Liege-Belgium

Compositing: Brussels and Angoulême

3D: Brussels

Final editing: Paris-France

All being directed and edited (except for final editing) from Kilkenny, the main base of the director Tomm Moore (His blog:", and the teaser for the next film from Tomm and Cartoon Saloon

The film was drawn on paper, with a few sequences in Flash and 3D integrated with 2D. A few scenes incorporated flash elements.


Photoshop for Layouts and BG's

Good old pencils and paper for animation and cleanup

Linetest in Animo

Ink and paint in proprietary software (SoftAnim) in Digital Graphics (

3D: 3DSMax by "Walking The Dog" (

Composite: Combustion, Shake and SoftAnim by Digital Graphics

Misc: A little bit of flash (Italy, and Ireland)

Editing: 4 Avid systems automatically kept up to date with latest footage (HoBSoft is also integrated with FCP)

Production system: HoBSoft (

Here is an early clip of video featuring some early artwork, and some clips from the studio in Brussels; it is in French, but interesting even if you do not understand ....

Here is an article more or less about the same [It's in French, but break out your French English dictionary and take a look-see ...].

As a last tid-bit of info I would like to add that the production Manager Camille Leganza (Now DreamWorks Redwood), who at the time was living in Turkey did about 50/50 of her time at home and in Kilkenny, however... once production had finished in Ireland (Except for direction and editing), (so only 6 studios producing), Camille worked almost 100% from home in Turkey.

Imagine keeping the reins on 6 studios "From the comfort of your own home" ...

I haven't yet seen the feature, but the NY Times says:

... [T]he sometimes hectic plot ultimately serves as scaffolding for Mr. Moore’s extraordinary visual brio. Using the vivid colors and delicate lineations of the Book of Kells for inspiration, he establishes a surprising and completely persuasive link between the ancient art of manuscript illumination and the modern practice of animation. Like the crystal lens that is a crucial element of Aidan’s craft — an enchanted eye that refracts and renews his, and then Brendan’s, perception — “The Secret of Kells” discloses strange new vistas that nonetheless seem to have existed since ancient times.

What Kell's production highlights is the breadth and width of animation work around the globe. Hats off to everyone connected with the making of the feature. Their talent and craft are on full display.

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The Mid-March Derby

With licorice Add On.

Tim Burton continues to frolic at the top of the box office chart.

Alice In Wonderland -- $9.9 million

Bounty Hunter -- $7.65 million

Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- $7.4 million

Repo Men -- $2.2 million

She's Out f My League -- $1.9 million ...

A remarkably under-powered Friday, to my way of thinking. Next week, of course, How To Train Your Dragon springs forth.

Add On: At the wire, Alice in Wonderland again gallops ahead of the filed, taking $34.5 million into the winner's circle.

Back behind, the other entrants finish as follows:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- $21.8 million

The Bounty Hunter -- $21 million

Repo Men -- $6.2 million

She's Out of My League -- $6 million

Green Zone $5.9 million (-58.3%)

Shutter Island -- $4.8 million

Avatar -- $4 million.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Recent TAG Happenings

Since the announced closure of ImageMovers Digital last Friday, the Animation Guild staff has been assisting IMD employees who are now looking at their last three ... or six ... or nine months of work with the Novato-based studio (which will wrap up operations when Mars Needs Moms is completed.)

Employees have been offered "Completion Packages" that offer assignment end-date guarantees, retention bonuses if folks stay to the end of the production, and sweetened severance pay. All of these things are to the good.

But it's not as if the company is being generous because of a sudden surge of corporate guilt. The Mouse needs CG artists to stick around the 2 1/2-year-old studio until the completion of Mars. It wouldn't help Diz Co. much to have key personnel bailing while there are still shots to be executed ...

On the TeeVee cartoon studio front, people are still complaining about tight boarding and production schedules, and I'm reciting my usual mantra.

* Time cards are legal documents, so fill them out accurately.

* If overtime is due under the Collective bargaining Agreement, (time-and-a-half after eight worked hours; time-and-a-half on the 6th and 7th days worked for "on Call" employees, etc., etc.) TAG will willingly file a grievance if the o.t. is not paid.

(Employee reluctance to stick their heads over the company parapet because of o.t. issues remains an on-going issue.)

Another recent sore point: The march of streamlined animatics and the erosion of timing direction (you know, slugging and exposure sheets?) Some shows are throwing those things overboard and relying solely on the digital animatics. Many directors with whom I talk think this will end up increasing retakes in a major way and ballooning show budgets on the back end. But of course, it wouldn't be the first time a cost-cutting measure resulted in cost escalations ...

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Green Froggy On Silver Disk touts "The Princess and the Frog" as the top rental and sales dvd of the week, soaring above Up In the Air, Precious and Astroboy ...

The problem with that take is, there isn't a lot of hard data out yet. And next week, Twilight Deux bounds from the gate, so what Green Froggy's numbers will look like then is anybody's guess.

TPandTF's worldwide theatrical totals haven't changed too much: $247,047,141 to date. The feature might climb a wee bit higher before the shiny silver circles become the main method of distribution; we'll have to wait and see. I've no idea what markets remain untapped.

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Italy Didn't Get the Memo

Good God. Don't these people know how girl films are poison?

Italo film outfit Medusa has partnered with Winx creator Iginio Straffi's Rainbow on Italy's first stereoscopic 3D toon, "Winx Club 3D: Magic Adventure," an ambitious new step in the fairy franchise. ...

If the citizens living on the boot peninsula are going to thumb their noses at Mouse House wisdom, I think they're truly beyond help.

I say, we send Richard Ross over to kick some sense into them.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The People's Links

One more linkfest, with Dear Leader showing the way (DL , by the by, is not the kid in the coonskin cap ...)

... [B]eneath Kim Jong-il’s sinister regime of Mafiosos, the Dear Leader has a heartier side: he sells comic books and animation to raise government funds—and to brainwash the masses.

Every year, a state-owned publishing house releases several cartoons (called geurim-chaek in North Korea), many of which are smuggled across the Chinese border and, sometimes, mysteriously end up in university libraries in the United States ...

‘These books are mostly geared toward children, unlike South Korean comic books [manhwa], which are often aimed at adults,’ says Park Jae-dong, one of South Korea’s most famous cartoonists who once drew for the Hankoryeh, a left-leaning newspaper in Seoul.

In almost every cartoon, those who stay faithful to Juche have happy endings; the others aren’t so lucky. The villains fit outlandish stereotypes. Americans are usually depicted with big noses, German Nazis as wearing swastikas and Japanese with glasses and buck teeth ...

Stereotypes?! Who could stoop to such things? What depraved animals! ...

For Mr. Burton, it's back to his roots.

... [D]irector Tim Burton has found a new 3D project. He will direct a stop-motion animated film based on Charles Addams' original ghoulish cartoon drawings of The Addams Family. Illumination Entertainment, the Universal-based family film unit headed by Chris Meledandri, has acquired the underlying rights of the Addams drawings, once a staple of The New Yorker magazine.

(This is a feature I want to see.)

There's a bit of casting news on Sony's Smurf hybrid feature.

... Hank Azaria — best known for ... numerous characters he voices on The Simpsons ... will lend his voice to the character of Gargamel, the evil sorcerer and arch-nemesis of the Smurfs.... Furthermore, pop star Katy Perry will voice Smurfette, while George Lopez and Alan Cumming will play two of the other little blue guys. ...

DreamWorks is leaving nothing to chance for its new dragon epic.

... Wal-Mart will be the exclusive U.S. retailer of nearly all licensed Dragon products, excluding the later DVD release, among other items. The two sides didn't disclose an estimate of the financial value of their arrangement, which they described as broader in scope than past efforts. Wal-Mart will carry more than 100 licensed "Dragon" products, more than twice as many as it has ever sold at the launch of a DreamWorks picture at the time of its theatre debut. ...

Variety takes note of the shutdown of different cartoon studios.

In the wake of Friday's closing of ImageMovers Digital, the animation business has been hit by a double-whammy of bad news.

Monday night Toronto-based animation/vfx studio C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures closed its doors, effective immediately, then Tuesday animation studio Cookie Jar Entertainment, which has a three-hour Saturday morning animation block on CBS, laid off 35 staffers, mostly in its animation department in Toronto.

The closings in California and Toronto expose a paradox: While California's animation and visual effects studios lament the lack of tax incentives to keep their work from fleeing the Golden State for Canada, there's buzz north of the border that Canada's tax incentives aren't entirely working for companies there, either.

C.O.R.E. gathered its staffers Monday evening and told them the company was closing immediately, and there is some doubt about if and when staffers will be paid their last two weeks' salary. ...

Cookie Jar gobbled up DIC Entertainment a year and a half ago.

Last and saddest of all: Davy Crockett passes away; boomers mourn.

Fess Parker, ... who launched a craze for coonskin caps as television's Davy Crockett, died Thursday of natural causes. He was 85.

Family spokeswoman Sao Anash said Parker, who was also TV's Daniel Boone and later a major California winemaker and developer, died at his Santa Ynez Valley home. His death came on the 84th birthday of his wife of 50 years, Marcella ...

(The L.A. Times provides a lengthy obituary here.)

Have a productive Friday.

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At the Afternoon of Remembrance

Photos by Bronwen Barry and Steve Hulett.

Over a hundred people attended the Afternoon of Remembrance at the Hollywood Heritage Museum last Saturday, to honor the memories of fifty fellow members of the animation community. Above, President Emeritus TOM SITO hosting the event.

Tee Bosustow, son of UPA co-founder Steve Bosustow, spoke about Oscar-nominated writer MILLARD KAUFMAN, who wrote the first Mr. Magoo short.

Animator/director JOHN FREEMAN, who died on New Years Day at the age of ninety-two, was remembered by his daughter Melissa Freeman.

Bill Kroyer shared his memories of KATHY WHITE, one of the first employees of Rhythm and Hues.

Martin Forte and Larry Huber spoke of their mutual friend, the late JAIME DIAZ.

Bob Kurtz and Dave Brain, two animation veterans remembering old friends.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Musta Been Like This When Sound Came In ...

And it was bound to happen in the multi-dimension era:

Paramount Pictures is using high-pressure tactics against theaters to book DreamWorks Animation's upcoming big-budget 3-D film, "How to Train Your Dragon" onto scarce 3-D screens around the country, according to industry executives. ...

Paramount Pictures is telling theaters that if they don't show the upcoming DreamWorks-produced "Dragon," on a 3-D screen, then it will withhold from the theater a 2-D version of the movie to play instead, according to four theater industry executives, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal ...

"This is the most unusual and intense situation that I've ever seen," said Robert Bagby, a 30 year-industry veteran who is president of Missouri-based B&B Theatres, which has 200 screens, only about 40 of which are 3-D. "Of course, it's a wonderful problem for us that 3-D is doing so well in the market that we're having these kinds of issues."...

No doubt the day will arrive when theater owners will be screaming for enough dimensional movies to fill their kajillion Three Dee screens. But not yet.

"All singing! All talking! All flying off the screen over your head!"

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Tom Waits Sculpture (the documentary)

Jeff Johnson, the sculptor of "Tom Waits" (now on display at Gallery 839, above) has a short film about sculpting the piece here ...

You can view it by clicking on Quicktime or Windows Media Video after the link. (The video will also be availabe -- shortly -- at .)

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American Animation Trends

Talking with a scribe last week, it occurred to me that there's been distinct trends in animation -- teevee and theatrical -- over the last two decades. And when you think about it, they kind of leap out at you. (Please note that what follows is painted with a broad brush.)

Television Cartoons -- 1990 to Now

In TeeVee (circa 1990-95), there was a surge in higher quality toonage, away from the Hanna-Barbera/Filmation styles of the eighties. Spielberg teamed with Warners for Tiny Toons and the various series that came after (Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, etc.); Disney ginned up the Disney Afternoon and blocks of animation derived from the roundish Disney house-style going back to the 1930s.(But was also influenced by what Warners Animation was doing.)

Budgets were relatively high in the quest for quality ...

Then came the Nick and Cartoon Network era.

The round "classical" look of television cartoons were, series by series, supplanted by flatter, simpler, more angular styles epitomized by Rug Rats, Ren and Stimpy, Cow and Chicken, Sponge Bob and the other Nick-style shows (produced by every company -- from Cartoon Network to Disney) that came after.

The changes, I think, arrived in the second half of the nineties for several reasons:

1) Ratings for the flatter-style shows compared well with the classical Warners and Disney television cartoons.

2) The Nick-style shows were perceived as "edgier."

3) The Nick-style shows cost less to produce.

4) The boom in syndicated broadcast animation came to an end and licensing fees declined.

5) The need for low-budget cable-programming exploded and lower-cost cable-based toonage took off.

One overarching development that happened as we shifted from one millenium to another was that television animation studios and divisions got cost-conscious, real cost conscious. The business model of large, stable, in-house staffs turning out animated shows with 65-episode orders morphed to the thirteen-episode, project-to-project, freelance-heavy style of employment we know and often loathe today.

There are, of course, exceptions to this trend. Prime-time animated shows on the broadcast networks (otherwise known as "the FOX Sunday block") employ large in-house staffs, but even this has changed over time as Fox and some of its sub-contractors have attempted to rein in production costs.

Now, in the second decade of the new century, television animation is changing again.

Nickelodeon, once a pioneer in the flat and edgy, is pivoting toward cartoons of the computer graphics persuasion, what with Kung Fu Panda, Penguins of Madagascar, Fan Boy and Chum Chum and other CG product. Up until recently, CG cartoons for the home screen were but a small subset of total output, since some ambitious CGI series from the turn-of-the-century didn't perform well enough (Starship Troopers) to justify costs.

That now has changed.

And what changes the oncoming era of three dimensional television will bring is anyone's guess. But as I write, it's pretty obvious what three dee cinema means at your local AMC ...

Theatrical Animation -- 1990 to Now

The big milestones in theatrical, feature-length animation have been simpler and more pronounced than in t.v. land. Below, the big events (again with the broad brush, since I'm not writing an Encyclopedia Britannica entry ...)

* Prologue: From 1937 to 1980 it was pretty much Disney and a few pretenders to the throne. Everything was hand-drawn, most product was based on the Disney model (Yellow Submarine being one notable exception) and the most prominent, on-going theatrical animation staff was housed at 500 S. Buena Vista Street in Burbank, California.

In 1980, that changed a bit when Don Bluth and part of the Disney staff bolted from Burbank and commenced creating their own feature cartoons that were also built on a Disney foundation. Although Don was not wildly successful, he did have two animated hits in partnership with Mr. Spielberg, and he turned out over a dozen features over the course of fifteen years.

* As the 1990s floated into view, Disney was proceeding in its usual way, turning out a new animated feature every two to three years. But new management took over and the tempo picked up. And starting in 1989 with Little Mermaid, the department's feature cartoons became lots more profitable. When the profits reached gargantuan proportions in the earlyand middle nineties (LionKingAladdinBeautyandtheBeast), most of the Mouse's rival conglomerates jumped into Cartoonland with decidely non-gargantuan results (Quest For Camelot, Titan A.E., etc.).

* In the late 1990s, the tide receded. But as Disney's hand-drawn animation crested and the rivals flamed out, a small studio partnered with Walt's place turned out a c.g. feature entitled Toy Story; it was a major hit, and the course of feature animated was reset.

(Side note: I don't think hand-drawn animation would have declined as rapidly as it did from late 1990s to early 2000s if the Mouse's story prowess had remained as potent as is it was under Mr. Katzenberg. But power centers changed, and the happy chemistry that had clicked for five or six magical years at Disney Feature Animation faded away, and CG feature animation became the platform for bonafide hits.)

* By the start of the new century/millenium, other studios clambered aboard the CG bandwagon to partake of some of that computer-generated goodness (a.k.a. profits). This second time, the congloms didn't crash and burn, but had hits of their own. And this (by my estimate) sealed the fate of CG animation's pencil-and-paper cousin. The day of Snow White style animation was O-VER.

* Today: CG animation hasn't simply displaced the older style. It's displaced live-action, too. Directors and animators can argue who controls the performance of big blue aliens or 19th century Londoners, but the bottom-line is, lots of animators are sitting at lots of computers doing something that impacts the images projected on those big, silver screens.

There's lots of new animation and CG technical work in this brave new world, but the question is, where is the work going to get done? A sizable chunk will be outsourced to various parts of the globe. However, a lot of the work will be performed stateside because cost differentials aren't the crucial fulcrum in high-budget features. The most important elements are quality control and timeliness. (It does no good to save a million and a half dollars on your sword-and-sorcery epic if the shots don't get done in front of the release date.)

This doesn't mean, of course, that CG personnel are going to have an easy time in a sellers market, far from it. I've been sitting in this grandstand seats for awhile, and I've observed that supply always catches up to demand, and in-demand skill sets never stay in-demand over long stretches of time. (I know CG artists who could write their own tickets in 1995 who now work as independent contractors because their leverage is now less.)

What I also know is that animation is an expanding part of the movie universe, and the jobs supporting it are high-skill and high-value. Lower end product will be outsourced because lower-end product seeks the cheapest labor market in order to get made.

But the high-end product? The name of the game there is quality not cost. The last thing that James Cameron, Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg want is a hackish CG job-shop in Bangladesh wrecking their vision. It has been ever thus, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The TS3 Early Verdict

Entertainment Weekly pronounces it good.

[Pixar] graced exhibitors with an unfinished cut of the [Toy Story II], and — though I’m sure it comes as no surprise to any of you — the film is great. Not only do the latest adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Cowboy Woody maintain the high quality that we’re used to seeing with Pixar movies, but this one is also exceptionally emotional. I was surrounded by a group of adults and there were many tears shed throughout the film ...

Others, of course, also think it's fantabulous ... while still more people think it merely pretty okay.

I have no opinion on the quality of the feature because I haven't seen it. But I have an opinion on the ultimate grosses. They've bee somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 to 800 million dollars, and will reassure Robert Iger on his decision to buy the Emeryville studio in the first place.

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The MegaCollector's Fred Moore Girls

Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized image.

MegaCollector emerges from winter hibernation to extract artwork from vault #453. This time it's a Fred Moore art piece from the mid-1940s, a tad wrinkled but still full of color and lilting images ...

Mr. Moore, for those unversed in the history of animation, was Walt Disney's premiere animator in the 1930, bringing to life the three little pigs and seven dwarfs, among many other Disney characters.

More from the Megacollector's megacollection.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

IM Digital Follow On

This morning we fielded a lot of questions from ImageMovers employees who wondered:

1) What happens with health insurance?

2) What happens with pensions?

3) What happens with separation in general?

We told folks that A) Health coverage will continue for most employees for six to twelve months after layoff, B) 401(k) contributions are owned by the employees, C) The Individual Account Plan Pension is vested for IM Digital employees who have worked 400 or more hours in a calendar year, and D) the Defined Benefit pension is takes five qualified pension years to vest, but there's a five year window to reach to goal.

We put this information and more into a letter that goes out to IM Digital employees tomorrow.

When conglomerates hand out mass pink slips, it's always crappy. (There's no other way to describe it.)

We're going to do what we can to backstop IMD staffers. More than one told me about Zemeckis's visit to the studio on Friday, how there were tears and emotional talks, and employees were in shock.

There is still a picture to complete, so everyone is going to keep working awhile. (Even though people must be kind of numb.)

Our condolences to all the employees at IM Digital. They deserved better.

Add On: This article from last week's NY Times describes the situation succinctly:

Disney Cost-Cutting Fells Zemeckis Company ...

The Mouse is in major retrenchment mode. Divisions that don't produce healthy cash flows get whacked.

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