Friday, April 30, 2010

Family Guy Producer Talks

Forbes rolls out a lengthy Q & A with Kara Vallow, the topkick at Fox Animation, the studio housing the McFarlane franchises. Some of the takeaways:

[Family Guy] is different than the other shows of its ilk because it is so much a product of one man's vision and voice. Seth [MacFarlane] created the show and he voices it and he's involved in every little part of it. He's constantly pushing himself and the show to not be stale. He's always focused on it being bigger and better and better-looking. This coming season the episodes are going to be way more expansive and more complicated than they have been in the past. ...

[FG] ... costs an incredible amount of money and it takes over a year to churn out an episode, so it's a big leap of faith for these studios on a medium they don't historically understand. But ... if it works, animation is more profitable than any other kind of show. People don't buy Two and a Half Men T-shirts and bobble heads the way they buy things for our shows. With our weird little adult animation niche, the sky is the limit with tchotchkes and action figures and ringtones. ...

Which is one of the reasons -- of several -- that studios make animation. (There's also things like shelf-life, saleability overseas, DVD profitability, etc.)

But animated shows aren't always expensive. Fox prime-time animated half-hours have different production costs than, say, lower rent cartoons shown at all hours of the night or day on basic cable. Simpsons episodes run in the millions, with high writing and voice-talent costs. Willy the Wacky Wombat, pre-produced by a small, non-union Valley studio, animated in Shanghai and shown on basic cable (if it's shown at all), comes in at a few hundred thousand bucks.

(Interesting wrinkle: The salary of the individual artist working on Willy, and the artist drawing Bart? Not that hugely different.)

However, the big reason animation keeps being made is it provides long-term cash flows for your friendly, neighborhood conglomerates. There are hundreds of live-action television shows that were produced in the fifties and sixties; today those shows might earn a trickle of license fees on TV Land. Beyond that they are, as the Germans say, kaput. But t.v. cartoons? Like the Flintstones? Like Yogi Bear? Like Scooby Doo? Those fifty-year-old limited animation epics trigger the sale of rubber toys, and games, and t-shirts. They sell lots of little silver disks. They beget sequels and spin-offs.

In short, Fred and Wilma go on forever.

And that's why, friends and neighbors, there are so many cartoons produced, even to this very day.

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New Cartoon Creators

Another visual effects house goes into the animated feature biz:

Vancouver-based vfx and animation studio Rainmaker has unveiled its first-ever slate of original animated feature projects and is pitching them to distributors. ...

... Rainmaker hopes to get its first feature out in two to three years and release a feature every 12 to 18 months. ...

Good luck with that.

As we've mentioned here maybe sixteen times, there is little money in doing visual effects for live-action feature films. The job shops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest and other points of the globe slice each others' throats by low-ball bidding work, to the point where profit margins are next to nada.

The solution? Start making animated cartooons! Start owning content! Become the next Pixar!

Which of course sounds enticing, but is often difficult to do. (Just ask Sony Imageworks.) It is not enough to have an experienced production crew in place, it is also necessary to have a story team that knows how to maximize entertainment value with whatever property that's being done.

It's also useful to choose the right property in the first place.

All this sounds simple, straightforward and easy, but so many production houses have loused the process up over the years, that it's reasonably clear to the reasonably intelligent that, based on history, maybe it's not.

But good luck to Rainmaker anyway. The more successful animation projects that are out there, the more artists there are gaining production experience. And that's a good thing for the long-term health of animation.

The link above will take you to Variety's subscription wall, just so you know.

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Pres Romanillos and the Pres-Aid Charity Art Auction

Fellow animator and former TAG executive board member Pres Romanillos needs our help. A few years ago, while producing and directing his own film in Spain, Pres was diagnosed with leukemia. He returned to the US and underwent chemotherapy and a successful bone marrow transplant. He had less-than-optimal medical insurance at the time, and so his treatment (which is very expensive), and his long recovery during which he was unable to work, wiped out most of he and his wife Jeannine's savings. Eventually Pres returned to work, and animated on The Princess and the Frog at Disney and then on Shrek 4 at DreamWorks.

Unfortunately, Pres relapsed in March. He's back at City of Hope, getting chemotherapy and gearing up for another bone marrow transplant. At this point, the burden of medical copayments and the associated costs of his illness have Pres and Jeannine at a financial tipping point. Pres and his wife Jeannine, along with their brood of dogs and cats, are in a difficult spot, and they need our help.

We've planned a charity art auction in June to benefit Pres. On the evening of June 4, the monthly 'First Friday' event at Gallery 839 (and in the upstairs meeting space) will feature the artwork we've collected for the auction. At that reception, we'll have a silent auction for some selected pieces, and we'll have information on how to become a bone marrow donor.

Then on Sunday, June 13, we'll conduct a live auction at the TAG building in Burbank. Howard Lowery has volunteered to help run this auction, and as most of you know, Howard is the expert in these kinds of things. Also, during the first couple of weeks in June, we're planning to have selected pieces sold on eBay. Our goal is to collect about 100 pieces of art for the auction, and we're about half way there now.

I've created a website for the event ( as well as a Facebook group, where you can get more information. I'm regularly posting artwork to the website that will be sold in the auction, and both those sites have additional information about Pres, his illness, and the auction.

We've contacted many friends and coworkers of Pres's to donate artwork, but we haven't been able to reach everyone we'd like to. If you're interested in helping, contact me at kevinwkoch(a)

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

End-of-Week Linkorium

Dreamworks story top-kick Walt Dohrn explains his voice characterization of Shrek villain Rumplestiltskin:

... [H]is vocal inspirations was the child murderess in the 1956 film "The Bad Seed" because "there was this fake innocence about her but any minute she could turn. We also liked Bette Davis in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane' ..."

Actor Russell Crowe opines on screen Robin Hoods that predate his new effort:

. Of Errol Flynn, Crowe joked, “The practicality of going through an English forest, with all its coarse bushes and bramble and all that, in green tights? Not very practical now, is it?” ...

When the interviewer showed Crowe scenes from Disney’s 1973 animated film, the A-list actor dubbed it, “The best Robin Hood so far.” ...

Not my favorite version of the Sherwood bandit, but who am I to argue with an Academy Award winner?

The L.A. Times questions whether DreamWorks Animation producing a Dragon sequel is a smart move:

... There's a reason the last eight Oscar winners for best animated film have been stand-alone movies, and there's a reason Pixar is so selective about what it keeps going and what it lays to rest.

Yes, it keeps playing with a broader, merchandisey property such as "Toy Story," but wisely stays away from over-milking its elegant character films such as "Wall-E," "Ratatouille" and "Up." A lesser company would make a sequel out of the latter, call it "Down" and have the two main characters explore the ocean floor in a submarine. Pixar, to its great credit, does not.

I'm not as sure of Pixar's motivations as Steven Zeitchik seems to be, but it's good to know there are good pictures to sequelize and bad pictures to sequelize. Makes me tingle.

While we're on the subject of Emeryville, here's USA Today's favorite Pixar shorts:

Pixar is well known for their features (of which The Incredibles is my personal favorite), but their work in shorts can be just as entertaining. These are some of my favorites of the latter group ...

Story artist Ed Gombert puts up some fine Vance Gerry story sketches for a never-produced Disney animated feature. (Anybody guess what the title of the project was?)

Anyone who worked at Disney Feature Animation over the past forty years knew who Vance Gerry was. Very few actually got to see his work before it was shipped off to the archives. ...

The Middle Kingdom knows award-calibre animation:

... Pixar's computer-animated film "Up" bagged another honor Thursday, picking up the best foreign feature category at the Monkey King Awards, China's top animation award event.

"Up" defeated "Madagascar: Escape to Africa" and productions from nine other countries to earn the award at the event in Hangzhou City, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province ....

Have a productive Friday and restful weekend, in that order.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Calloused Behavior

The last couple of weeks, I've gotten more complaints than usual from artists about non-communication from studios regarding jobs.

Here's the back story about those gripes:

1) Signator Studios have a need for an artist or technician, and ask TAG for a list of available personnel in the category. TAG supplies list.

2) Studios (usually non-signator studios) ask us to e-mail an "Artist wanted" ad to our members. TAG complies. (We are not, strictly speaking, a hiring hall, but we strive to help.)

2) Studios get flooded with inquiries.

3) Studios look at portfolios and hand out tests to artists so they can "audition" for the job. (Tests are often days long.)

4) Artists jump through the hoops, do the tests, sit by the phone and wait.

5) Artists hear nothing.

6) Artists call TAG to complain about hearing nothing. ...

Rinse and repeat.

I understand that studios get inundated by inquiries, and that response times are sometimes slow as a result of the indundation. What I don't understand is why studios' human resource departments (or whichever departments are handling applicants) can't get back to people with a "Yes," "No" or "Maybe" before those people get gray hair and retire from the cartoon business. A few comments from the disgruntled:

"[Studio B] called me and asked to see my portfolio. I had worked there before, and brought it in. I didn't hear a word for six weeks. Finally I called. They said they had no openings, they'd all been filled. So I asked for my portfolio back. They had lost it ..."

"You drive to the studio to pick up a test, see that it's going to take a week to do, and spend five days making it as good as you can. Then you turn it in and never hear anything." ...

"I was up for a couple of jobs. Interviewed for them. They said they'd call back in ten days or less. Five weeks later they called to say they were going in another direction, but they might have an opening in two months, would I be interested? I said yes. They said they'd call back in a week. It's already been a week and a half. I'm not holding my breath. ..."

And so on.

Just to let you know, TAG objects to week-long tests. We have no problem with half-day tests, for we know that studios have to check somebody's drawing style against the work in that somebody's portfolio, since people have been known to represent others' drawings as their own.

But we have a strong philosophical aversion to artists doing week-long storyboard tests for free. Yet despite most studios' promises in contract adjustment meetings to cut tests down to more reasonable lengths, long tests continue to happen.

We also have a philosophical problem with studios who don't inform job applicants whether they've gotten the gig or not. Yes, we understand the thing about bottlenecks and the short-handed staffs, but the behavior of many studios is ... what's the right word here? ... piggish. They treat job applicants the way rock stars treat groupies. They use them, abuse them, then toss them away.

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A Word About Comments

For those here who put up some sparkling observation or valuable factoid in "comments", you should know that if you join the thread after it's been up a few days, your sentences don't pop up instantaneously but go into a "publish" or "reject" folder to be scrutinized by a "blog administrator." ...

We eventually publish the comments that seem relevant. But if you're a spamster, you won't see the your sales pitch for ladies' handbags or a male enhancement product pop up at all.

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Commercial Animation?

There are those constant questions: "So which animated features connect with the movie-going public, and which not?"

And more to the point (as far as Hollywood is concerned: "What's going to make the turnstiles whirl and the grosses pile up?"

Because ultimately a feature's box office totals are what cause more of animation to get made. ...

I'm not certain Metropia (seen above) is what America's been looking for, but hey. I've been wrong before ...

"What we wanted to do [with "Metropia"] was create something almost like a moving painting," says Tarik Saleh, the director ... "We had very experienced animators come in, but they had never worked with this technique, because we developed it. So it took a month of training before they could even animate a frame."

From conception to release, "Metropia" took about six years to make. The movie's creators say the software they used is a common animation tool that any movie maker has access to. What they did differently was use a very old, almost outdated software plug-in, and then manipulate and update that plug-in to suit their needs. ...

The look of the piece is kind of intriguing, tinged with photo-realism but definitely not mo-cap. Metropia is probably going to be an attention grabber, but will the thing attract sizable audiences?

The look and execution of the piece is always important, but the characters and story are usually the ultimate deal-makers. Sadly, Scott Ross of NBC isn't super-encouraging:

The sepia-toned rendering of the world Roger and friends live is attention-grabbing, but as the film wears on, its magic wears off. ... [T]he faces that are embedded into the animation are beautifully expressive and lifelike, [but] the characters' movements prove to be limited, looking as much as anything like the Supermarionation that brought "Thunderbirds" to life more than 40 years ago.

"Metropia" is reasonably smart, thoughtful and well-intentioned, but it lacks warmth, humor or anything truly new to say about the nightmare we're all hurtling towards. ..

I believe it's a good thing when animation's envelope is pushed out into new territory, but I want the enlarged container to be successful, and become sulky when it's not. I'm funny that way.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

DreamWorks Animation at the Noon Hour

Today was DWA day. A lot of departments have moved into the newly expanded Lakeside Building, and I tromped around the second and third floors, seeing who had settled where.

I find the additions to Lakeside quite nice, fancy even. There are wood floors and area carpets and lots of couches and soft lights. I'm surprised I never find people sprawled in one of them taking a nap; apparently everyone is focused and energetic.

Animators are hard at work on MegaMind ("The schedule is tight ..."), and a television special that I don't think has been announced yet so I will keep my yap shut about it. Kung Fu Deux launches shortly ...

An artist and I fell into conversation about How to Train Your Dragon's soft opening, about how it's held up with good word of mouth. He was as perplexed as I was that it didn't open better, saying it's one of the best features they've done. (The only thing I can attribute it to is early, unsteady marketing and that vikings are not ... ahm ... guaranteed audience grabbers.)

As mentioned below in comments, Jeffrey K. conferenced with the business press about the company's latest numbers:

DreamWorks Animation SKG reported a 65% drop in profit in the first quarter, a swing that was the result of not having a major holiday release to power sales at the beginning of the year. ... The Glendale animation studio reported net income of $21.7 million, or 24 cents per share, on revenue of $162.1 million for the three months ended March 31 ...

DreamWorks Animation Chief Jeffrey Katzenberg said, "2010 is off to a strong start, thanks in large part to the performance of ‘How to Train Your Dragon.' "

He called the studio's latest film the company's "next franchise" and announced plans to release a sequel in 2013 ...

DreamWorks Animation, I think, is well-positioned to make a nice chunk of money this fiscal year. HTTYD will top out somewhere between $400 and $500 million in worldwide grosses. And the last installment of Shrek will come in at $700 million-plus. (I won't venture a guess how well MegaMind ultimately performs.)

All in all, the crew should be enjoying free lunches well into 2011.

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Happy Mickey

Neither we nor the Megacollector have figured out for which cartoon Fred Moore drew this Mickey Mouse cycle, but given the style it was obviously late-1940s to early 1950s, probably not too long before Moore's unfortunate demise in 1952.

It should not surprise you to learn that these are © Disney.

Click the thumbnails for a high-res version of the image.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Smoldering Right Along

The L.A. Times describes a "slow burn" feature at the movie box office, and this season's prime candidate for the title.

There are many holy grails in Hollywood, but few as pursued as the slow-burn success -- that film that doesn't blow away audiences when it first comes out but hangs on long enough to become a breakout. Like the Holy Grail, the slow-burn is frequently sought ...

This year's candidate for the slow-burn, "How to Train Your Dragon," isn't likely to hang around for 12 months, or even until August. But there's something "Greek Wedding"-like about it just the same. When it opened last month, the movie debuted at No 1, but with a soft-ish $43 million. Then it fell from the top spot, vacillating between second and third place for the following three weeks. And this week it reclaimed it. ...

Frankly, I couldn't understand why Dragon didn't open bigger the weekend it premiered, but an old DWA hand explained it to me:

"Look, it was about dragons and Vikings. How commercial is that? It took word of mouth to keep it going, but it's now at four times its first weekend gross and still going. Chris and Dean [the directors] came up with separate sequel ideas that sort of tracked each other, and I think they'll have a chance to make one of them ..."

We debated how much Dragon will end up grossing domestically. He wasn't sure it would go over $200 million, I thought it would. (It doesn't have that much further to go.)

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The Monday Studios

Today I hopped over to Bento Box (mere blocks from the office) and chatted up the small but growing staff for Bob's Burgers. Directors are on board, and other staffers are beginning to come aboard. A production person mentioned:

"We've got to get focused on ramping up. It's not like we've got loads of time ..."

The TAG contract took effect April 1st, covering new series and Neighbors From Hell's second season. (We assume here it will get picked up for a second season, even though the first hasn't been launched yet. We're optimistic young things ...)

In the afternoon I covered three of four floors at the Disney hat building. Tangled now moves in higher gear, and the most interesting visuals I saw was the video Disney marketing has unspooling in the first floor lobby hall. They go farther than this:.

There's some nifty footage of the fairy tale's settings, with light streaming down through towering trees, verdant landscapes, a huge castle. What's on display has the flavor of some of the older hand-drawn features, viewed through a CG prism. The brief scenes with Rapunzel and Flynn are beguiling.

Whether the splashy art direction and establishing shots add up to a feature that earns a big opening weekend and five or six weeks of staying power, I donno. That will probably depend on whether the story fires on all cylinders.

We'll find that out in November.

Meanwhile upstairs, animators and cleanup artists continue work on Winnie the Pooh, none of them knowing if there will be a hand-drawn feature beyond it.

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Animated Feature, Indian Style

Everybody in the biz understands that a lot of CG sub-contracting for American animation takes place on the sub-continent. But what about animated features made by and for the largest film market on the planet?

Under the strange headline, "Animated Films Are All the Rage in India," the Express Tribune allows as how no, they're really not:

Animated films in India have a tendency to bomb at the box office, but filmmakers continue to try and make headway into this profitable industry. Hollywood studio Warner Bros and Indian filmmaker Jyotin Goel have joined hands to make an animated feature called Bird Idol.

... Whenever Indian filmmakers have tried fully animated movies, they have flopped, such as 2008’s Roadside Romeo and Jumbo. ... [Yet] the Indian film industry is determined to be involved, and Rajesh Turakhia, the CEO of Maya Entertainment Ltd, sees potential. He said, “Animation is a universal language. But in India it is still a nascent industry. We cannot afford to be complacent and need to constantly upgrade our knowledge to international levels.”

Just a thought, but maybe Indian animated features crash and burn with Indian audiences (and everybody else) because they're ... uh ... not very good?

It's not enough to make a cartoon feature inexpensively. You must also make a feature that people want to see. Or am I missing something?

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Let the Whining Begin

Richard Ross has spoken, and Tony Lewis of Badger Herald starts the complaints:

... Pixar’s upcoming direction is moving away from [its] winning formula [of original movies]. Including “Monsters Inc. 2,” three of the next four scheduled Pixar features are sequels to past films — the other two being “Toy Story 3” which comes out this June, and a “Cars” sequel scheduled for June 2011. Additionally, “A Bug’s Life” sequel is slated for release in winter 2013. To put this in perspective, it’s been more than ten years since Pixar released its one and only sequel, yet the studio plans on releasing four within the next three years. If you ask me, Pixar is only setting itself up for failure. ...

What Tony doesn't seem to get is that large, American conglomerates aren't in the business of being Florentine art studios in the time of Michelangelo. Disney bought Pixar for reasons.

It wanted its expertise at manufacturing hits.

It wanted Lasseter, Catmull and their platinum track record.

And it wanted its catalogue of blockbusters. (Although, to be perfectly transparent here, it already had the right to sequels for those earlier features, since it was half owner.)

Thus far, the creative engine at Pixar has worked well up in Emeryville, but it's misfired at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Happily, there is still that glittering Pixar library to dip into.

Because for the multi-nationals, its about commerce, cash flow, and maximizing profits. Big entertainment companies strip-mine movie titles the way West Virginia mine operators saw through mountains to get coal. They know they're sitting atop valuable properties, and they're going to drill down to them and exploit them, come hell or Monsters, Inc. IV.

What the hell does Tony think American capitalism is, anyway? Well, I'll tell him. It's about getting big profits and bigger houses into the hands of the Owners by the fastest way possible. Because you can never be too rich.

It's the American Way.

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On Overtime (Yet Again)

A comment from a half-week back:

I have never been shy about asking for OT. Unfortunately (for me,) these days, management has been just as eager to show me the door!

Is there really no cover from the GUILD for instances like these? I was a long term employee in one case as well as a *"short-timer" in the other[*within the 60 day "probationary period" afforded Producers under the guild contract.]

Here's the way it goes, at least in the time I've been doing this. (I can't speak to studio workplaces in, say, 1967. I was in high school then.):

Generally, few get laid off during production crunches for requesting authorization for overtime. They will get laid off at the end of the production crunch if they don't have the leverage to stay on. We'll define leverage as:

1) Skills the company really, really needs.

2) Everybody sticking together and drawing a bright line in the sand.

3) The company worrying about legal action by the employee, either through the union or through private lawsuit.

4) The employee having the protection from somebody in a higher position of power.

5) Market forces working in the employee's favor. (This ties in to Numero Uno up above.)

Here's what employees actually do when confronted with uncompensated o.t. (Beyond what I've already described here.)

They learn to cut corners and be more efficient. A director on a prime-time show told me:

"When the work-load gets crazed, I just start slamming through things. I don't linger over sections of the show to polish them, I just do what I think will get by and hope it gets past the producer. Most times it does. In fact, in a couple of instances I've gotten compliments ..."

From a board artist on a prime-time show:

"I've gotten faster as I've gone along, but there's still too much work for forty hours. But I found that I could get through my boards in forty if I came in right at nine, sat down and started drawing. And never stopped until lunch, and then never stopped until six. By the end of the week my brain was completely fried, but I could do the job in forty hours."

They quit. When there are other jobs out there, this is a viable option and I've known lots of animation employees who take it. Time demands vary from show to show and studio to studio. I've seen different series at the same shop with widely different work environments. The variances mostly come from A) budget and B) the honcho running the production.

They move to a different job classification. Here's one example:

"I was a board revisionist for two years. I worked forty hours, I got overtime when I needed it, no problem. Then they offered me a boarding position and I stupidly took it. I had a higher salary but I was on-call, and with the uncompensated o.t. I was making less money than I was as a board reviser. I've gone back to being a revisionist. It's less stressful, and I have a life."

There are no permanent solutions for the problems listed above and in the previous post. An issue will get "solved" for awhile, then it crops up someplace else. Studios are always trying to do production "cheaper, faster, better" but reality always intrudes to teach the lesson: "Not possible to have all three of those things together."

Bad systems of production will change over time. Good systems of production will change over time. This is because new executives will come into the mix and try and reinvent the wheel, even though the wheel needs no (or minimal) reinvention. It's crappy, but the way the real world works. If it were otherwise, Walt Disney Animation Studios would still be turning out mega-hits.

My job through all this as Your Humble Business Agent is to be an information gatherer and dispenser, a pot stirrer, and an enforcer of violated rules. Sometimes I'm effective, other times less so. The animation employees who end up with long and successful careers are:

1) The lucky. (They were in the right place at the right time with the right skill set.)

2) The hard-working. (They get the job done and work well with others.)

3) The politically savvy. (They know where the power centers are, know how to read the personality quirks of The Boss and The Immediate Supervisor, know how to negotiate the various shoals in the corporate river.)

4) The highly skilled. (They know Renderman backwards and forwards. They can draw like Rembrandt and Picasso combined. They can turn out fifteen feet of quality animation week in and week out. Etcetera.)

Like I always say, if you have one or two of the qualities above, you'll need less of the others.

Last thought: There are always forces outside your control that sabotage (or help) you. There's nothing you can do if the show you're on gets cancelled. Nothing you can do if the little job shop at which you've happily worked the last three years goes out of business. Stuff happens. All you can do is suck it up and move on.

So strive to move on with style, purpose and a light heart. It makes day-to-day living more bearable.

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Overseas Movie Performance

The grosses in foreign lands continue to pile up nicely for our fine entertainment conglomerates.

..."Clash of the Titans" claimed an estimated $32 million from 10,075 screens in 60 markets on the weekend, raising its overseas boxoffice total to $240.4 million. ...

Taking second place on the weekend was Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," which tallied $26.7 million in its eighth round on the foreign circuit from 7,233 venues in 54 markets. A Brazil bow generated $5.7 million from 649 locations, Disney's biggest market gross ever for this market.

Director Tim Burton's 3D re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll classic has rolled up an overseas boxoffice total so far of $548.5 million, making "Alice" the 17th most popular offshore grosser ever ...

Finishing third on the weekend was DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon," which lured $11 million from 6,671 situations in 60 markets. Of this tally, 59% came from 3D venues, said distributor Paramount.

In its fourth round in France, "Dragon" drew $3 million from 811 locations for a market cume of $18.3 million. So far, the animation title has grossed a total of $194 million overseas.

Dragon has accumulated $372 million worldwide through this weekend, and looks to blast through the $400 million level within days.

This compares favorably with the $381.5 million accumulation of Monsters vs. Aliens, the dragon's immediate predecessor. My guesstimate is, HTTYD will pull more of its total box office from overseas, which would be a reversal of Monsters' totals, 52% of which came from the United States and Canada.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Weekend Linkorama

Charles Solomon writes of a one-woman animation studio:

Nina Paley wrote, directed, drew and bought the music rights for her feature, based on an ancient Hindu epic.

Paley completed "Sita Sings the Blues" in three years on a budget of about $200,000: $80,000 in production costs and $120,000 "for food and rent and things like that." ... [C]ommentators believe that "Sita" represents a new paradigm: Computer technology has become so powerful and affordable that an individual with sufficient talent can make a full-length film. ...

Mr. Ted Petok, Academy Award winning cartoonist, dies.

Ted Petok, a metro Detroit cartoonist and illustrator who won an Academy Award for an animated film about a shaggy feathered bird, died Tuesday of coronary artery disease in Rockville, Md. He was 93. ...

... "The Crunch Bird," an animated short about a cranky bird with a voracious appetite, was less than three minutes long and was produced and directed by Mr. Petok ...

After his Oscar success, Mr. Petok formed a distribution company and went on to make dozens of animated shorts, including 1974's "The Mad Baker." It starred a mad scientist and his creation, a monstrous chocolate cake. ...

The Times of Los Angeles details the censoring of South Park:

... [A]fter an ominous threat from a radical Muslim website, the network that airs the program bleeped out all references to the prophet Muhammad in the second of two episodes set to feature the holy figure dressed in a bear costume. The incident provides the latest example that media conglomerates are still struggling to balance free speech with safety concerns and religious sensitivities, six years after Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was slain for making a film critical of Islamic society. ...

And the same newspaper lists the big summer movies, many of which appear to be of the animated variety:

May 21: "Shrek Forever After" ( DreamWorks Animation). The fourth — and promised last — installment in the mammoth ogre franchise could well be one of summer's most popular releases. ...

June 18: "Toy Story 3" (Pixar/Disney). Tom Hanks and Tim Allen's first talking plaything movie launched the computer animation revolution in 1995, and the third film in the series is the first in the franchise to be designed, made and exhibited with 3-D in mind ...

July 9: "Despicable Me" (Universal). The first animated movie from the new alliance between Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios, it's among the very few original 3-D movies this summer. Steve Carell plays Gru, an accomplished thief whose plans to steal the moon are altered after he meets three orphan girls ...

July 30: "Cats & Dogs 3: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (Warner Bros.). ... A sequel to a 2001 movie about talking animals, the new "Cats & Dogs" combines the spy antics of "G-Force" with the preternaturally loquacious creatures of "Babe." ...

Mr. Kennedy offers "A Kick in the Head, Part !V" ... also the drawings (one directly above) handed out by animator Glen Keane at a Cal Arts lecture.

... [A] drawing that works three dimensionally is always more solid and will always be a stronger drawing ... Obviously, if you're animating in 2D it's extremely important because as you animate your character needs to feel like its sitting in real space and if you can't draw your character from every angle then you'll never be able to turn them around as they move. But as more and more people animate in 3D this is becoming a lost discipline, I fear. ...

And director/animator Will Finn offers a related tutorial:

... Silhouette is one of those rules that is so important, so fundamental, that it isn't just important to animation: it is essential to clarity in all graphic art, including painting, sculpture and photography. I confess like many "bullheads" when I first heard about it: I immediately questioned whether it was 100 per cent valid in every circumstance. After all, when we are animating, we will have to draw many angles of a figure and many phases of action. ...

Have yourself a restful Sabbath.

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Springtime Derby

Now with Sunday brunch Add On.

The Nikkster has early numbers, and she's not kind to the newer entries.

FRIDAY: J-Lo & Joel Silver Pics Both Bomb

1. The Back-Up Plan (CBS Films/Sony) NEW [3,280 Theaters] -- Friday $4M, Estimated Weekend $12M

2. How To Train Your Dragon (DWA/Par) Week 5 [3,665 Theaters] -- Friday $3.6M, Estimated Weekend $15.5M, Estimated Cume $178.4M

3. The Losers (Warner Bros) NEW [2,936 Theaters] -- Friday $3.3M, Estimated Weekend $9M

4. Date Night (Fox) Week 3 [3,294 Theaters] -- Friday $3.2M, Estimated Weekend $10M, Estimated Cume $63M

5. Kick-Ass (Lionsgate) Week 2 [3,065 Theaters] -- Friday $2.8M (-63%), Estimated Weekend $8.3M, Estimated Cume $33.5M

Dragon keeps on flapping along. By and by it will glide past Monsters Vs. Aliens and crack the $200 million barrier ...

Add On: Per Box Office Mojo, HTTYD occupied the second slot on Friday, it's 28th day of release.

Add On Too: On an admittedly slow weekend, Dragon claws its way to the top of the heap as Jennifer Lopez swoons.

How to Train Your Dragon -- $15 million

The Back-Up Plan -- $12.25 million

Date Night -- $10 million

The Losers -- $9.6 million

Kick-Ass -- $9.5 million.

Dragon, outside of the debuting Oceans (#8, from Disney), had the highest per-screen average of any Top Ten feature, and the smallest drop off (-23.5%).

Add On #3: Time Magazine offers a succinct analysis of the box office weekend:

... All praise then, if only by default, to Dragon, which opened to soft business in late March but has proved to be one of those pictures kids and adults want to see and see again. Its $178 million cume, with about the same amount from theaters abroad, should assure it of franchise status among DreamWorks features; as with Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda, this movie will have one or more sequels. Dragon's success also underlines the box-office clout of 3-D ....

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Three little pigs, six little poses ...

... courtesy of the Megacollector and master animator Fred Moore, © Walt Disney Pictures.

Click the thumbnails for a high-res version of the image.

We're thinking these come from The Three Little Wolves and not the earlier short. But Mega didn't tell us, and we neglected to ask.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Animation Departments

I bopped through several cartoon plants this week, and here are two stories I picked up. They present kind of "Ying" and "Yang" situations, so I recount both of them here:

Story One: The late-working, under-compensated artists:

"Everybody in the department is working 'On Call'*. We've got tight schedules and nobody can make the deadlines without working late nights and coming into work Saturdays. Only nobody gets authorization to come in on Saturdays, so we work the Saturdays for free.

"And everybody is afraid of getting on [the producer's] shit list so nobody speaks up or rocks the boat. But the schedules are getting worse. A lot of us don't get to see families much. I don't know how much more we can take ..."

What do I do when I hear this? (And I've heard variations of this story for freaking years.) I offer to file grievances. Offer to come in on weekends and see who's working and take names, then file a grievance for non-compensation. ("Just call me up, and I'll drive over ...")

So far, nobody's taken me up on my proposal.

(I've also suggested that people work 5% or 8% over scale so they can't be "on call." Nobody has bit down on that one either. The artists tell me they'll be laid off at the end of the season if they do ...)

Story Two: The eight-hour per day crew.

"There's a lot of designers and board artists around here who get pressured with deadlines, get intimidated into working free overtime, and do work it for free.

"But not us. Everybody in our department has talked and has an understanding. And when a production manager comes around and says, 'The deadline's been moved up,' we politely say 'then you're authorizing overtime?' And if the production guy says no, we tell him, 'Sorry, we can't do it.'

"We've drawn that line and the production people know it. And we don't get hassled. But the people out in the other room? They get manipulated and pressured and work free o.t. all the time. But that's their problem ..."

Two different shows at two different studios (and of course I'm not going to name them, for obvious reasons.)

And two different groups of people with different approaches to dealing with management. Group #2 isn't afraid to draw a bright line in the sand and declare "no uncompensated o.t.," Group #1 is. I can't sit here and tell you that Group #1 is totally unjustified in their fear of possible layoffs if they don't "hit the deadline" without asking for authorized overtime, but I do know that their fear is overblown.

But what I believe to be true doesn't matter. I'm not the artist with his job on the line. And if everyone's perception is that they'll get canned if they don't falsify timecards and don't charge for the Saturday worktime, then that becomes the reality.

Everybody knuckles under, everybody keeps their head down and slaves away, and everyone is unhappy.

Sadly, I can't solve this fustercluck, because I can't guarantee that nothing bad will happen if people stop working for free. I can't take their fears away. I can't wave a magic wand and bend production managers to my will.

All I can do is be a squeaking wheel, nudge, cajole and stir the pot where it's stirrable, and try to convince people if they stop working long hours for free, the sky won't crash down. And I intend to go right on trying, because Mom always said I was the most trying son she had. And I don't want to disappoint Mom now.

* "On Call" is a clause in the TAG contract that's been there since way before my watch. It's basically a paragraph that creates semi-salaried positions for animation employees who don't have to be paid on an hourly basis under state or federal law. If the employee agrees to be "on call," and is more than 10% above minimum scale, they can work above and beyond an eight-hour workday without additional compensation. However, if they work a sixth or seventh workday (usually Saturday or Sunday), then they'll be paid "1 1/2 times one fifth of their minimum weekly rate."

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Motion Picture Industry Pension Investments

What does the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan invest its money in?

Since I get asked the above a lot, here's the broad-brush answer from the Plan itself:

Pension Assets -- $2.5 billion

Cash - 3%

Government bonds - 11%

Corporate bonds - 18%

Corporate stocks - 23%

Real estate - 5%

Mutual funds - 17%

Investment entities - 11%

Collective Trusts and pooled accounts - 9%

Other - 2%

MIPHP building - 1%

This allocation shifts from time to time at the behest of the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan's board of directors. They have a fiduciary duty to act on behalf of the Plan participants (like any pension board.)

There appears to be enough cash tucked away to pay for the participants' pensions, which makes me glad. (If the sun reaches its red star phase, of course all bets are off.)

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

They Make Sequels, Don't They?

As we all know, the horrid DreamWorks Animation is addicted to sequelitis, being a klunky and money-grubbing studio, and also devoid of imagination or creative panache. (Plus, it's run by a non-artist.)

So this bit of news is hardly a surprise.

Disney announces release date for Monster’s, Inc. sequel

Disney’s new film chieftain, Rich Ross, announced a couple of Pixar release dates during a discussion and presentation Thursday. BRAVE, a tale of archery and royalty, ... is set for June 15, 2012. Then five months later on November 16, 2012, MONSTERS’S, INC. 2 is set for release.

Oh, wait ....

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A New Animated Feature! From Overseas!

Imagi might be kaput, but there's a newer animated feature from Hong Kong:

Local 3D animation feature “Little Gobie” is set to launch a new Christmas character in North America through The Weinstein Company at the end of the year. Producers are now in negotiation with distributors in Hong Kong and China for a December 2010 release ...

“Little Gobie” tells the story of a reindeer’s adventure to find his lost pet dragon through a series of Christmas-themed locales ... The filmmakers intend to create a series based on the “Little Gobie” characters with new releases every two years. In the meantime, T-Films will launch a new animated character at the upcoming Cannes market for a second series to alternate between “Little Gobie” releases.

The Weinstein Co. has been involved with Asian animation for some time now. They had good results with Hoodwinked Uno back in the day, but Hoodwinked Deux, according to people who worked on it, sits on a shelf awaiting release. ("The Weinsteins didn't have the dough to release it theatrically," claims one of the artists who worked on it.)

If the LA Times is to be believed, there might be some truth to that:

Kanbar Entertainment is feeling hoodwinked by the Weinstein Co.

The San Francisco-based movie producer has filed a petition in Superior Court to try to force the Weinstein Co. to begin arbitration proceedings to resolve disputes between the two companies over the production and release of the animated movie "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil." The movie was originally going to be released Jan. 15, but in December the Weinstein Co. said it was postponing the release to February at the earliest. Since then, no new date has been unveiled.

Undaunted, the Weinstein Co. presses on. And here we are with yet another cartoon from abroad, going for the big brass ring of "Worldwide Hit." Will Little Gobie have that magical something?

Welll ... the great highway of animation is littered with the road kill of cartoon features with high aspirations and minimal box office. In fact, the subject came up recently with some artists working on Tangled. We talked about foreign animated features, and the ever-present question, "Is all the production work going to India?" cropped up.

I allowed as how most of it wasn't going there because:

1) Foreign job shops are in the business of quantity and lower cost, not quality. There's little financial incentive for Indian or Korean or Brazilian subcontractors to do the job better, but large incentives for making it cheaper. Therefore that's the way they roll.

2) Because it is quantity over quality, foreign contractors often lose their most talented employees, who desire to work on more ambitious and upscale projects and so jump ship, moving on to higher-end studios. (Can you say DreamWorks? Can you say Pixar? I knew you could!)

3) In theatrical animation, quality counts in the performance of feature films.

4) Ipso facto, because it is a quality issue, animated features created in foreign job shops often fail to make big bucks.

In the time I've been doing the biz rep thing, I've seen lots of animated productions pass through studios, and the high-end stuff (IMO) remains stateside because A) this is where a lot of the talent that delivers high-grossing product resides and B) it does companies little good to produce a $30 million CG feature if it only grosses $20 million.

Conglomerates, as lumbering and dense as they sometimes are, know that it's better to make a $100 million feature that grosses $500 million ... and as a result keep the production here.

So Brothers Weinstein? Good luck with Little Gobie, and I hope the Hoodwinked kerfluffle works itself out. But as for the low-end, foreign stuff hitting big at the box office, I'm not holding my breath.

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Fred's Dopey

Click the thumbnails for a high-res version of the image.

Above, an animation rough of Dopey as drawn by Fred Moore for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Below the fold, a character model sheet. Both courtesy of the Megacollector; both © Walt Disney Company.

(Mr. Mega supplied TAG blog with lots of Fred stuff, and so we continue to share it. The above pieces come from Vault 4-1235, if you're keeping track.)

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That Old Warners Animation Team Back Together Again

This gives me a 1990s kind of flashback.

The Paris-based company announced Wednesday that it’s getting into the business of producing animated TV content. It’s Technicolor’s first foray in its 117-year history into original production.

The initiative will leverage Technicolor’s Bangalore, India animation studio and will be managed by the digital productions division that has been under the watch of former Sony Imageworks president Tim Sarnoff ...

Jean MacCurdy and Fonda Snyder have been brought on as VPs of digital production ...

Ms. MacCurdy was the head of Warner Bros. Animation during its glory years (Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Tiny Toon Adventures ...), and Mr. Sarnoff was one of her right-hand guys.

It's good to see them reunited in this new endeavor. We'll see what comes of it.

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The Big Broom Finishes Sweeping

Since the last Disney marketing team didn't seem to be too swift marketing Disney animated features, maybe this will be an improvement:

MT Carney has been formally named the new head of the Walt Disney Studios marketing team.

Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross announced her appointment to the post of president of marketing Wednesday. ...

With Carney's appointment, Ross will have completed an overhaul of the studio, having early on put Bob Chapek in charge of distribution and named Sean Bailey as head of production.

Some might argue that the newer animated features weren't mega-grossers because they weren't mega-dazzlers. But I'm sorry. Trailers were weak. Calendar dates were strategically awful. (When you release The White Doggy against Twilight to crappy results and then use the lame excuses, "Who knew?" and "Nobody could have predicted ...", you need to have your Marketers' Membership Card permanently revoked. It's your freaking job to know.)

So maybe this new person, this Ms. Carney, will be an improvement. Certainly her last name is encouraging.

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Toons of Loon

The official news of the latest Looney Tunes franchise is now with us.

Cartoon Network is launching a new version of the classic Warner Bros. series "Looney Toons." The announcement was part of the network's upfront presentation, which included a slew of new series and an animated version of "Mad" magazine (full list and art below).

"The Looney Toons Show" will star Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, along with Yosemite Sam, Tweety, Sylvester -- the whole gang. Weirdly, the network is having each episode as a half-hour story along with "cartoons within a cartoon." ...

There have been lots of sequels and spin-offs to the original Looney Tunes over the years. In theaters there was Space Jam and Back in Action. Two decades ago, Steven Spielberg and Warners partnered for Tiny Toon Adventures on television. More recently there was the Loonatics Unleashed.

The new LTs have had ... what's the right phrase here? ... a challenging development history. There have been production course corrections. Board artists have been laid off and new ones brought on. Directors and production people have been replaced.

Still in all, artists tell me that the character designs they're working with are top-notch. And I have hopes that the show will turn out to be worth watching. (I'm always hopeful. Also trusting. Every union rep is, so why should I be different?)

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pixar North

The new studio in Vancouver rolls out.

Disney Pixar officially launched its new Vancouver studio Tuesday, as it ramps up to an eventual 100 artists animating short films based on popular Pixar characters.

The Vancouver studio, which has put out a hiring call for local animators and technical artists, will produce short-form animation portraying legacy Pixar characters that includes Buzz Lightyear and Woody from "Toy Story" and Lightning McQueen from "Cars." ...

Pixar's new facility will be the third Disney studio set up north of the border. It seems as if yesterday there were others:

Walt Disney Animation Canada Inc. will open a Canadian studio in January, 1996, with offices in Toronto and Vancouver, it was announced today by Tom Ruzicka, Senior Vice President Production, Walt Disney Television Animation, at successive press conferences in each city. Walt Disney Animation Canada Inc. will produce direct-to-home video programming in connection with Walt Disney Television Animation ...

These two earlier studios turned out hand-drawn, direct-to-video features, but didn't last long. By the end of the decade they were gone, victims of shifting priorities and executives down at the Mother Ship in Burbank.

I'm guessing this new Disney studio north of Seattle lasts longer than its predecessors.

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Even Moore of Freddie's girls

Some beauties from the Megacollector's megacollection of Fred Moore originals.

Click the thumbnails for high-res versions of the artwork
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To DreamWorks Animation

Everytime I truck over to the DreamWorks campus, I find that one department or another has been moved to a different building.

Layout is now tucked away in the newer, fresh-painted space of the expanded Lakeside building. The Croods's story staff has transferred out of their old digs to (I think) the same building, its third move while I've been keeping track (and it ain't easy to keep track. As a long-time DreamWorker told me: "We move so often I walk to the wrong office for two or three days after the transfer." ...

And a different DW artist says that hand-drawn vignettes of future CG features will show up on future DVDs.

"...They liked how the drawn animation turned out for Kung Fu Panda, so they're planning more of it for other projects, at least two that I know about. It's kind of interesting doing drawn models from the CG models ..."

MegaMind, DWA's last released feature of the year, is still in story tweaks:

"There's only two board artists on it right now. Could be more later. We're still doing changes to the second act, but sequences have been locked and are in animation ..."

And work hums along at the Glendale campus.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

The Nick Experience

I spent my morning at Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios located on lovely Olive Avenue in the Athens of California.


When I walked in to visit with Nick's Human Resources person, he had employment paperwork fanned out on his desk and said:

Look at these. Hire, hire, hire. We're picking up a lot of new people. We had layoffs after The Mighty Bee ended production, but now we're bringing on a lot of new people ..."

TAG has 131-plus member employees at Nickelodeon at present (see the pie-chart below), but my H.R. person said they would be adding enough folks to bring it close to 200. We'll see.

Of course, there are reasons Nick is doing more production, and here are several of them:

List of top 15 cable shows in Nielsen ratings

By The Associated Press (AP) ...

Rankings for the top 15 programs on cable networks as compiled by the Nielsen Co. for the week of April 5-11. Day and start time (EST) are in parentheses:


... 7. "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Saturday, 9:30 a.m.), Nickelodeon, 3.02 million homes, 4.01 million viewers ...

... 9. "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Sunday, 9:30 a.m.), Nickelodeon, 2.82 million homes, 3.73 million viewers ...

... 11. "Penguins of Madagascar" (Saturday, 10 a.m.), Nickelodeon, 2.76 million homes, 3.51 million viewers ...

... 15. "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Saturday, 9 a.m.), Nickelodeon, 2.64 million homes, 3.43 million viewers ...

I've gotten in trouble for writing about animated teevee shows that have gotten new-episode orders before our fine conglomerates have sprung this news on a breathless public. So I won't do any blabbing this time, because I want to avoid a brusque and businesslike phone call from some exec or other (and nobody called me back to give permission.)

Suffice it to say, one of Nick's shows has gotten a sizable extension; others are in full-bore production and likely to remain that way for awhile. (One of the leads on Kung Fu Panda, the Series informed me that the overseas animation and rendering or the characters look "real good.") I guess you can decide for yourself when the show comes out next month.

Nickelodeon is doing a lot of CG shows for the first time in its existence, so the studio is at last fully engaged with computer-generated projects as the genre finally takes off on television. Up until now, CGI has been a lagging indictor in t.v. The higher expense of doing it wasn't rewarded with higher ratings, so many studios didn't do very much. Not so anymore ...

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Studios Come and Go

As does everything.

In February, 1989, Lou Scheimer called Filmation staffers into the studio's top floor screening room in staggered shifts to tell them the studio, after twenty-six years, was closing.

In 1985, Filmation had been the largest animation studio in Los Angeles, with 800 artistic employees.

I bring this up (again) because I got into a discussion with a couple of board artists the other day. The pair wondered aloud if the Animation Guild held contracts with any of the same studios we repped in 1952, the first year of our existence.

The answer, after deep thought and shallow research, is no ...

On this date in 1952 (we had been around for five weeks at that point), the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists had contracts with:

Walt Disney Productions

Warner Bros. Animation

M-G-M Cartoons

Walter Lantz Productions

Now, you're going to think I'm wrong here, saying "You guys still rep artists at Disney and Warners!", but bear with me.

The contract with the Walt Disney Animation Studio is now held by the IATSE, not us, though we still represent the animation staff under this newer contract. And Warners went away for a decade in the late sixties, so we have a contract with the new Warner Bros. Animation, not the original.

And Walter Lantz and M-G-M are but memories.

So what companies do we have agreements with today? Here's a partial list:

Sony Adelaide Productions

Bento Box Productions

Cartoon Network Studios

Crest Animation

DreamWorks Animation

Film Roman/ Starz Media

Fox TV Animation

Nickelodeon Animation

Pointy Hat Productions

Sabella-Dern Entertainment

Tom T. Animation

Tornanate Productions

Woodridge Productions


The object lesson here? There is no permanence in Cartoonland, and like Lantz and M-G-M once upon a distant time, there is no way to know if that animation or visual development or storyboard job you're immersed in will last a month, a year, or a decade. I talk with the hardy elder statesmen on The Simpsons and they are amazed the gig has lasted twenty-two years. And I chat with veteran Winnie the Pooh staff people at WDAS who can't believe their feature careers -- riding high when Lion King was breaking box office records and Disney animated hits seemed as perennial as California rainstorms -- might be close to over.

The only remedies to the impermanence is to be good at what you do, live below your means, and help TAG organize the newer studios that will invariably, inevitably crop up. Because new companies will be coming into existence as surely as many of the old ones will disappear. And you've got to be ready for them when they arrive.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Member Issues

Recent quotes from longtime TAG folks. (You hang out here much, you'll find them vaguely familiar) ....

Unpaid Overtime

"I worked at Klasky-Csupo years ago, and the overtime, unpaid, was brutal. I finally couldn't take it anymore and left. The union studio I'm at now doesn't like to pay o.t. either. The intimidation is intense. They've got ridiculous schedules and get on you if you don't hit them. Lots of people just stay as long as they have to. Nobody kibitzes, nobody takes breaks, there's no time ..."

This is a constant in the time I've been here. Some productions have "doable" production schedules and some not, but short schedules usually create pressure to "get it done on time" with the proviso: "We don't have any money in the budget for overtime!" (Like this is the artists' problem?)

TAG stands ready to file grievances over unpaid overtime. Many studios have coded cards to enter studio premises, so employers know exactly when employees are in the studio and when not.

Less Work Around Town

"I'm picking up less freelance and longer term in-studio gigs seem few and far between ..."

Television production work -- which is what the member above talks about -- has picked up a bit from levels of a year or two ago, but it's down from the levels seen in the 1990s and early 2000s when licensing fees were higher and syndicated animation blocks were a significant part of the television landscape. Now it's mostly cable ... cable .... cable.

This graph shows overall employment from 2007 through to this January:

This pie graph shows the distribution of employment as of today [numbers of people working are in square brackets] ...

The same chart for September 2009:

...And for August 2008:

The Motion Picture Industry Health Insurance

"Last summer I was getting more things paid for when I went to the doctor. Prescription drugs are now more expensive. An older co-worker who's retired isn't getting the same retiree health benefits he used to ..."

The reason these things have happened since August 1, 2009? The Plan re-design kicked in on that date, and Motion Picture Health coverage is now less generous.

For example, formerly fully-paid visits to the Motion Picture Television Fund clinics are now $5 a pop. Hospital stays that used to be 100% covered in the Blue Shield network are now 90% covered with a maximum out of pocket of $1000 (before August 1 it was $800.) Many medical costs that Medicare doesn't cover for retirees are no long being picked up by the Motion Picture Retiree Health Plan. (And retirees aren't happy about this.)

The Plan re-design was necessary because the Plan's health costs have risen 9.5% a year. Though cash in-flows have been going up, they haven't gone up enough to cover higher expenses.

But here's at least a partial remedy if you need to keep costs down:

Motion Picture Television Fund Health Center Locations

Bob Hope Health Center -- 335 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. 90036 -- (323) 634-3850.

Glendale Health Center -- 800 S. Central Ave. #305 -- Glendale, CA 91204 -- (818) 876-4790

Jack H. Skirball Health Center -- 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, CA 91364 -- (818) 876-1050

North Valley Health Center -- 11550 Indian Hills Road #200, Mission Hill, CA 91345 -- (818) 876-4770

Santa Clarita Health Center -- 25751 McBean Parkway #210, Valencia, CA 91355 -- (661) 284-3100

Toluca Lake Health Center -- 4323 Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA 91501 -- (818) 556-2700

Westside Health Center -- 1950 Sawtelle Blvd. #130, Los Angeles, CA 90025 -- 310 996-9355

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Weekend Links of Toonage

DWA will convert old titles into stereo-viewing experiences:

The first three Shrek films are to be converted into 3D, Dreamworks studio has announced.

Ahead of the release of the fourth film in the series, Shrek Forever After, the studio said it was converting the first three for a 3D Blu-ray release.

"Our movies exist in digital files to begin with," [Jeffrey Katzenberg] told the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention. "To go back and rebuild to a quality 3D experience is not inexpensive, but we are about to achieve a pretty high quality result." ...

Three Dee is one thing, but Shrek's publicity turns out to be too risque for his home studio.

Dreamworks ... is having serious regrets about giving fashion magazine VMan permission to shoot the hit film’s characters alongside scantily clad hipster models. Surprisingly, they’re more upset about the “scantily clad” part than the “hipster” part.

But wait. What happened to "There's no bad publicity ..."??

In older news, Mr. Foxx enters AnimationLand:

Jamie Foxx is taking his first steps into the world of animation - the Oscar-winner has been given the go ahead for his latest project Welcome To The Jungle ...

Pixar is mid-point in putting up a big, new building.

The animated filmmaker is about half-way done building a $64 million, 150,000-square-foot structure on its 21-acre campus in Emeryville. ... The company ... has some employees in leased space in Emeryville ...

Finally, Mr. Kennedy's third installment of "Kick in the Head" (via Temple of the Seven Golden Camels.)

Ollie Johnston said "Draw clear, not clean". When a drawing isn't working it's always tempting to clean it up in an attempt to "fix it" when, really, you know that the drawing is flawed and you should just start over.

If a drawing is rough but the pose and expression reads clearly, then it's a successful drawing. A clean drawing that doesn't read isn't worth all that much, like a car that looks great on the outside but has no engine or working parts ...

And good luck to youwith the workweek ahead.

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The Overseas Horse Race

Once again, the Reporter has the numbers.

The weekend's No. 3 title was DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon," which boosted its overseas gross total to $176.5 million after four rounds thanks to a $15.5 million weekend at 6,582 venues in 58 markets.

Paramount, the animation title's distributor, said about 65% of the overall weekend gross came from 3D screens. Despite unseasonably warm weather in the U.K., "Dragon" managed to hold nicely with $2.1 million generated from 683 sites (80% of which were 3D screens) for a market cume of $20 million ...

Doing a rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation, Dragon is now up to $335.1 million in worldwide grosses, and counting.

Elsewhere, Tim Burton is enjoying a dandy run with his re-imagining of Alice in CGland:

Worldwide, "Alice" has generated $827.5 million to rank as the 22nd biggest boxoffice hit of all time and the fourth most popular title ever released by Disney.

It's a long way from the lower ranks of the animation department at 500 S. Buena Vista Street, yes?

The Director of Alice with Joe Ranft ... after eating a very rare steak ...

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Three Lantz stars

Click the thumbnail for a high-res version of the artwork.

Courtesy of the Megacollector, here's a bit of comic book art by Dick Hall of Charlie Chicken, Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker of the Walter Lantz 'toon tribe.

Dick Hall worked as an animator, character designer, and comic book artist for half a century. (He was fired by Disney in 1931 when Walt found out he was looking for another job.) Much later, Mr. Hall drew Disney comic book art.

Charlie Chicken made his last screen appearance in 1943's "Meatless Tuesday", which, along with the Woody design, pegs this as being from the 1940s. Mr. Mega informs us this artwork was created in 1947.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

What a Difference a Pulitzer Makes

Apple, it seems, is rethinking its position regarding an on-line cartoonist/animator:

... On Monday Mark Fiore became the first online-only cartoonist to win a Pulitzer, for weekly animated videos published on, the Web site of The San Francisco Chronicle. In a subsequent interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab, he recalled that Apple had rejected his iPhone application in December since it included cartoons that mocked public figures. ...

... After Mr. Fiore received the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning — and after he mentioned his app’s rejection in an article published on on Thursday — he was encouraged by Apple to resubmit it. Mr. Fiore did so on Friday morning and is awaiting a response.

Nothing like a a high-profile award ... coupled with some adverse publicity ... to change hearts and minds.

Like we always say: "There is no 'fair' or 'unfair', but only the amount of leverage you possess." And it would appear that Mr. Fiore, now that he owns a Pulitzer, might have sufficient leverage for his app.

Here's hoping.

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To the Derby's Starting Gate

Now with Extra Salty Add On.

The Nikkster provides early numbers for a slow and sleepy April weekend. (No holidays, no nuttin' to goose the numbers.)

1. Kick-Ass (Lionsgate) NEW [3,065 Theaters] -- Friday $7.5M, Estimated Weekend $19M

2. Death At A Funeral (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [2,459 Theaters] -- Friday $5.6M, Estimated Weekend $17.5

3. Date Night (Fox) Week 2 [3,380 Theaters] -- Friday $5.4M (-40%), Estimated Weekend $17.5M, Estimated Cume $48.8M

4. Clash Of The Titans 3D (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,753 Theaters] -- Friday $4.4M (-47%), Estimated Weekend $14.5M, Estimated Cume $131.5M

5. [How To] Train Your Dragon 3D DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) Week 4 [3,825 Theaters] -- Friday $4.2M (-40%), Estimated Weekend $15.5M, Estimated Cume $154M

6. The Last Song (Disney) Week 3 [2,767 Theaters] -- Friday $1.9M, Estimated Weekend $5.4M, Estimated Cume $49.5M

7. Why Did I Get Married Too (Lionsgate) Week 3 [1,859 Theaters] -- Friday $1.2M, Estimated Weekend $3.8M, Estimated Cume $54.5M

8. Hot Tub Time Machine (UA/MGM) Week 4 [2,308 Theaters] -- Friday $1.0M, Estimated Weekend $2.8M, Estimated Cume $41.7M

9. Bounty Hunter (Sony) Week 5 [2,475 Theaters] -- Friday $975K, Estimated Weekend $2.8M, Estimated Cume $60M

10. Alice In Wonderland 3D (Disney) Week 7 [2,024 Theaters] -- Friday $940K, Estimated Weekend $3.2M, Estimated Cume $323.6M

Dragon continues its gentle descent as it creeps closer to Monsters year-ago numbers. (Next animated features up: Shrek IV followed by Toy Story III. Thank God Pixar doesn't make all those icky sequels like some animation studios we know ...)

Add On: Box Office Mojo details Dragon's progress:

... How to Train Your Dragon was off 38 percent from last Friday, and its total stands at $143 million in 22 days. Dragon had a bigger fourth Friday than Monsters Vs. Aliens did last year, and now trails Monsters by just over $10 million through the same point.

Slooowly closing the gap ...

Add On Too: Well, well. B.O. Mojo and the Nikkster have How To Train Your Dragon back at #1, declining a mere 19% weekend to weekend. (This might change by tomorrow, but still ... who could have imagined?)

El Dragono -- $20 million -- $158.6 million

Add On #3: Drat.

Superhero action comedy "Kick-Ass" won a tight contest at the North American box office this weekend, edging out "How to Train Your Dragon" and reversing the order from early estimates, according to final data released on Monday.

It was the second photo-finish in a row in the coveted race for the No.1 spot.

"Kick-Ass" made $19.83 million at U.S. and Canada box offices, compared to an earlier estimate released on Sunday of $19.75 million. "Dragon" made $19.63 million, but the previous estimate put the figure at $20 million.

Can't win 'em all.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Dragon's Hold

B.O. Mojo displays and explains the numbers:

Weekly Report: ... How to Train Your Dragon dropped 34 percent to $30.1 million. ... For the second week in a row, How to Train Your Dragon had the best hold of any nationwide release, though its 34 percent week-to-week drop was more severe than its 14 percent weekend dip. This is mainly attributable to the Easter holiday boosting mid-week numbers last week: Dragon's Monday-Thursday grosses were down 68 percent. Through three weeks, Dragons sits at $138.6 million, off $11 million from Monsters Vs. Aliens at the same point last year.

HTTYD has steadily closed on Monsters vs. Aliens domestic numbers since its tepid opening weekend. The feature likely stands a good chance of passing MvA's stateside gross in the next seven to fourteen days.

A few stats: Monsters ended its run with 52% of its worldwide total ($381.5 million) coming from U.S. and Canadian theaters.

Dragon reverses that, with 46% of a $300.5 million take (so far) coming from Canada and the U.S. and Canada.

HTTYD has had strong legs, which can be attributed to a solid story structure and first-rate execution. We can blame its under-powered opening on a publicity and advertising campaign that didn't click until it was rejiggered a week before Dragon's premiere. (Add to that a crowded 3-D field. Monsters, by contrast, had the -- somewhat smaller -- 3-D racetrack to itself*.)

* It's always fun to armchair quarterback after the fact. If DreamWorks Animation's latest had opened with a $70 million haul, I'd be saying how the savvy promotional campaign really kicked the movie into overdrive ...

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Andreas Deja at Van Eaton Galleries tomorrow

Our friends at Van Eaton Galleries are pleased to announce: An Evening with Andreas Deja, in honor of his new sketchbook, A Different Stripe: Andreas Deja's Animal Sketchbook. This is tomorrow, Saturday, April 17 at the Van Eaton Galleries at 13613 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, in sunny California. There will be a limited seating discussion from 4-5 pm, and a book signing and art exhibition from 5-7 pm. Books are available at the event and for pre-order, at $15 each, and a signed, event-exclusive limited edition giclee will be available for purchase. Remember, space is limited for the discussion, so please contact the gallery (818-788-2357) with any questions and to RSVP for the 4-5 pm event. And tell 'em we sent you. Click here to read entire post

Roaming Through Starz

Today was Film Roman-Starz Media day, where Season 21 of "The Simpsons" is winding down and Season 22 begins to ramp up ...

There seemed to be more empty cubes than usual. When I asked about it, one staffer said:

"People finish their shows and go on hiatus. Sometimes the hiatus lasts quite a while. You might be on for seven or eight weeks, then off for three or four. Or longer."

The way it was explained to me by a production person: "Fox gave the studio less money to work with after the writers strike and the voice actors' holdout. And a bunch of positions got eliminated, and the decision was made to spread the pain around, eliminate weeks on the schedule. So a lot of people are still working, but working fewer weeks."

More to the point, one artist noted:

"If you're slow, or they don't think you're productive enough, you're gone ..."

Still in all, "The Simpsons" shows no sign of ending its decades-old run. The show still has life in Sunday night ratings, and continues to sell lots of DVDs. A person up the production food chain told me:

"We've got 22 new episodes to do, which is a lot of hours into the Pension and Health Plan. And I think, talking to people at Fox and around here, that we could do several more seasons beyond this one ..."

Naturally the actors have to be willing, and Fox has to negotiate new deals with a variety of parties. But at least one of the parties is optimistic (in a backhanded kind of way):

Q: You do a zillion voices on “The Simpsons.” How long do you think the show will last?

Harry Shearer: I’ve always said “The Simpsons” will be on until Fox develops another 8 o’clock comedy hit. So I’d give us another 57 years. ...

The artists I talked to are glad to be working and prepared to go another fifty-seven years, if the show goes that long. But I'll tell you, I've seen better morale around the place...

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