Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where the Mouse Lives

Back at the hat, an animator told me:

"We haven't started animating on Wreck-It Ralph yet, but everything else is in work ..."

I got to see some very nice artwork for a feature in development but not yet greenlit, and one of the creators on the third floor told me he would be pitching a couple of projects to Mr. Lasseter in the next few weeks.

"I'm trying to cut the pitches down to one board apiece. The fewer words and dialogue up there, the better." ...

I went to lunch with a Disney long-timer who said it's nice the place has more stuff in development. We both agreed there wasn't near enough a year (or two) ago, but now? Better. Definitely better.

Up on top is a view of the feature animation building that you don't see everyday: the Riverside Drive side of Hat, as seen from the Riverside Drive sidewalk.

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The Entire 2011 Wage Survey is Now Online

The 2011 Wage Survey has been compiled, and is available at this link:

2011 TAG Wage Survey

You will note some market rates went up ... and others down. The wages listed cover writing, animation, technical positions, storyboards, and various others. We worked to be comprehensive. (In those areas where we were not, it's because of insufficient data.)

This survey will be available on the TAG website as well as in September's PegBoard. We started this survey in the early 1990s and consider it to be essential for artists working in the industry.

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The Times In Which We Live

We get e-mails (Ooh, do we get e-mails):

I am coming to a serious decision in my life....I'm getting ready to possibly leave the country I love (maybe for good) so i can find a new job. That's how tough times have become. ...

I had two heart attacks by the age of 37 in this business. I got caught working 100 hour weeks on some summer blockbuster. On the 75th straight day of work (mandatory 7 day weeks/17 hour days) I fell asleep at the wheel and did two 360's on the 10 freeway hitting 3 people. That was my only day off. I didn't mind at the time I was making like $1000 a day.

The real problem occured after 3 months. I never looked in the mirror. With all the catered breakfast, lunchs and dinners, 12-15 hour days, I had shot up to 290lbs (I was 200 when i started the job). THats 90lbs in 3 months. Too many breakfast burritos.....and I smoked 2 packs a day....and drinking tons of coffee.......They took me to the hospital with chest pains around 120 days.

The nurse in the ER didn't believe I was having a heart attack..."What? How old are you, 37? Thats too young...". The blood pressure cuff read 235/120.....She didn't beleive me until I started having nausea after telling her my arms were numb....I threw up in her lap. I was 238/125 now.........and ticking........ They first gave me a green sauce (which is what it looked like). They explained to me it was to freeze my esophogus....Just to make sure that it wasn't indegestion. The pain continued....

What is worse, you get so helpless. Literally, you're lying on your own slab and unable to move. You see their lips moving, but can't hear what they are saying. They asked me "Sir are you on methamphetamines? Do you smoke crack?" They thought I was a junkie....and it's the part in the movie where it goes all slow motion. I'm having a heart attack and the ER doctors think I'm on coke. It's true I hadn't had a physical since I was 18.....and I was uninsured......It was called "Defensive Medicine" designed to prevent me from suing them........ But could 90 hour weeks cause this? Unfortunately, the doctors never met an overworked VFX worker.

I waited in pain almost 4 they watched me have a heart attack.....they waited 'til the blood panels came back negative for ANY drugs. Finally that convinced them I was not a drug addict like they anticpated and I was indeed having a heart attack....... My blood pressure went up so high that it crushed my heart.....'til I wound up in these fools hands. Next thing I know they are shoving up a wired camera up my wazoo. In laymen's terms: they inserted a wire with a camera in my crotch....a femoral artery ...past my balls, my stomach into my heart. have to be concious for the whole procedure. It's part camera and part claw.....if the camera sees something, the claw rips it out......

There I am on a cold steel table with a camera in my most important aterery......The guys were telling jokes.....(most of the techs looked like they were under 27). The guy with the device now inside my heart......I watched as they inserted radioactive dye into ....or what looked like my own heart...on TV. They all laughed about getting laid at tonights parties.....It was Halloween in Los Angeles.....and you would shit your self at what LA hosptial i was in. Not many men get to see their own heart beating before there eyes...unless it was in a Quentin Terantino movie. Because i had no insurance, that night, they placed me in a room with a woman who was in the last days of her life ( a nasty state of dementia).....she couldn't sleep and she screamed all night because she was in agony........I'm thinking here I am...they can't save me and they can't kill her......stuck here in the middle with you.......I was in the movie Jacobs Ladder ....... no, alas, the American medical system.....isn't this the best medical system in the world?.....well maybe for some people......I suddenly realized I was not them.......

I was in between health coverages....and now I am uninsurable.

I lost like 40 lbs and went back to work. On the next summer blockbuster I had my second heart attack......and I was back at work 5 days later. Out of the hospital on friday back at work on monday. I could tell NO ONE about my condition with out the fear of being fired. I have since lost about 70 lbs and have my condition under control.....all though forced OT jacks my blood pressure up. The company where my first heart attack occured, they politely refused to hire me back.

Years later I went back to.....that fateful company. No pipeline......absolute chaos....and high end assets hit their plate. They call me in to save the day..........immediately into OT. I forgot my medication and I wasn't feeling good so I told the coordinator I needed to leave for the night and was unable to work OT.

She was like "Sure! we are all about safety!"...she went on...."In fact a couple years ago we had an VFX artist get hospitalized from a heart attack." I was like, "Laura.....that was ME...." almost kill yourself for a company...... and then they dont even remember you. That company later went bankrupt ... owing me close to $10,000 in back pay.

With worker productivity being the highest in the world, why would you outsource away from workers like myself who would literally kill them selves for a job?

Answer: You can get someone who will kill themselves for $15 a day in some other country. The Indians and the Chinese will have their OT and have their heart attacks too.....they will have their mortgages....and their wives that wonder why they don't see them any more....and have kids that wonder were there dad is.....their sister will have cancer and they need to miss work without being fired............or they realize they are us........but realize they sold their soul for less money.

Your facts about the AMPTP don't scare me.....That the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have sold out 10,000 + American workers so they can employ slave labor. Its not scary.............its worse for me...

I'm a 40-year-old, shit-kicking VFX artist, who has no health care in a job that is literally killing me......I'm the lowest you can go..........I have nothing to lose.

I've got a ton more horror stories. I've also retained a lot of the knowledge from being in bed with snakes. Things like mark ups and how much studios are really making.....and accounting practices....

If we can educate the fucking Gnomon kids on how much people are making off their asses.......we could shake the community if we do one simple thing...let everyone know what everyone is making......if we can take the glamour off the most unglamourous business.....

Unions? I don't think we can get one.....but that doesn't mean we can't stop outsourcing......My goal is to simply remind everyone that this is a business..and no one gives a fuck if you worked on Lord of the Rings ...or you worked with Dykstra.......or you were on Star Wars's not about hacking it in shitty pipelines either.....we are really gifted individuals and we deserve some respect for what we do.

I had a buddy who was at ILM. He was walking to the parking lot.....when the EP of ILM and Geroge Lucas were walking by. Lucas was super pissed off and was talking loudly. (Keep in mind, this is a true story.) My friend overheard George Lucas say ..."You know what the problem with this business is? Look at this parking lot.....too many BMWs".

Excuse me??!!!....but I didn't see George do all the concept drawings or pour the glue on the minatures...nor get behind the camera or do the stunts. A lot of people went in to making him look like a genius. And now ILM is part singapore.......I'm sure the stinking Force was too strong there. No? George?

If we could just tell people our heroes are not who we think they are......

In case you've been dozing, the American Middle Class is being sliced and diced, and our little corner of the American Dream whittled away along with it. The e-mailer above is a symptom of the problem, but only a symptom. As we move inexorably away from Ozzie and Harriet, June and Ward Cleaver to the London of Dickens' time and the Gilded Age of Mark Twain, remember the way it was, if only to tell your grandkids.

We can't afford Medicare. We can't afford Social Security. Nor police pensions nor public schools nor libraries that contain actual books. Taxes are just too high, don't you know. (Oh, wait ...)

Most other countries, from China to Germany and many geographic areas in-between, have industrial policies, and taxes and regulations for sheltering key parts of their economies. We gave most of that nonsense up decades ago, and things have worked out dandy ever since. (Oh wait ...)

And today, Americans get gifted with 90-hour weeks. What fun. Not.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

4 Artists at Gallery 839

Opens Friday, Sept. 2, 2011 from 6pm to 10pm. Gallery is open Fridays from 11am to 2pm.

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Website is back

We've been informed that access to our site and subsequent files has been restored. All tests we've performed confirm this to be true.

Our host service tells us email was not effected however we're finding that hard to believe. If you sent us anything since 5:pm yesterday and are waiting for a response, please resend or call us at the office: 818-845-7500

Again, our apologies for the confusion.

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Website is down

We arrived to the office this morning to find that the company that hosts our website, and subsequent files that we provide through the internet, is experiencing server problems. Access to our site and interview files is temporarily removed.

As soon as we are made aware, we'll post the good news of the reversal of this misfortune to our files. We apologize for any inconvenience this brings you.

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The Randy Cartwright Interview - Part II

Randy with his camera operator, a kid named John Lasseter.

One of the few filmed records of Disney animation in the eary 1980s came about because of Mr. Cartwright's eagerness to try out a new sound 8 millimeter camera ...

TAG Interview with Randy Cartwright

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

The camera had a ten-minute cartridge, and I wasn't sure what to shoot. Then I decided to make a reak -time documentary walking through the Disney animation department ...

With his assistant John Lasseter serving as director of photography, Randy wandered up and down the halls, walking into the rooms of surprised animators. The whole thing, of course, was unauthorized and pretty much illegal, but today the film is stored in the Disney archives, a little piece of thirty-year-old studio history.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

WGAw and TAG

The WGAw got into representing animation writers in 1997, when it signed a deal with Fox-News Corp. for cartoon scribes working in prime time. Since then, there's been a lot of internal guild politics to organize other companies under Guild contracts. We note that various candidates running for officer slots in the upcoming Writers Guild election are talking about it, among them:

Ari B. Rubin, Board Candidate:

... I believe our conflict with IATSE over animation writers is a festering wound and I will work hard to see the rift bridged. Animation writers must receive the WGA protections they deserve. We must also turn our attention to capturing two burgeoning fields: performance capture and video games. ...

Michael Oats Palmer, Board Candidate:

Feature animation writers are covered by the Animation Guild, part of IATSE, a carryover from the era where Uncle Walt and Chuck Jones were marquee names. But as complicated a situation as it is, we must work to make animated features covered by WGA ... Writers are better served by the WGA than IATSE.

John Aboud, Vice President Candidate:

We must therefore expand jurisdiction where possible -- including more coverage of animation, video games and new media -- ensuring our relevance in the future.

The Writers Guild's push for cartoon jurisdiction has been a hot-button issue for at least the last decade and a half, and I don't think there will be any cooling in the foreseeable future. Certainly Patric Verrone has made it a priority in his previous administrations. If he grabs the reins of the WGAw again, it will doubtless remain a priority.

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The Randy Cartwright Interview - Part I

Randy Cartwright was part of the Disney animation renaissance that happened in the 1970s ...

TAG Interview with Randy Cartwright

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

He's been working as an animator, story artist, and supervisor for the past thirty-five years.

Trained in art and motion pictures at UCLA, Randy submitted multiple portfolios to Disney veteran Eric Larson before being hired by the studio in July 1975. During his first week on the lot, he was invited by supervising animator John Lounsbery to view a rough cut of The Rescuers, and ended up working on it as Ollie Johnston's assistant. When Ollie retired, it was a couple of quick steps to the position of supervising animator.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mainstream View of MoCap

Tim Borrelli has one point of view regarding motion/performance capture ... and the New York Times has one a tad different:

... “Rise [of the Planet of the Apes]” uses a video system that analyzes the facial expressions of the actors playing the apes. “The system can capture every subtle nuance of expression down to the pixel,” Dr. Bregler said, “and every wrinkle. The wrinkles are especially important.”

Performance capture technology, as its name suggests, is based on actual performances by human actors. ...

Happily, the New York Times does make reference to the artists sitting in dark rooms with their computers and monitors.

... Software may do most of the animating, but human artists still apply their skills, adjusting the rendering if Mr. Serkis’s protruding human nose is not squashed exactly as it should be to become a chimp’s nose, or if the emotional intent of the performance is not conveyed properly.

“The process is not completely mathematical,” said Joe Letteri, a four-time Oscar winner and senior visual effects supervisor for Weta. ...

I guess it depends who you talk to ... and who has the bigger megaphone ... that ultimately determines whether the public believes that actors in wired suits are doing most of the heavy lifting, or it's somebody else. Because an animator writes this about one of the actors on another ape picture:

... we ended up using about 10% of what [Serkis] did on stage [for King Kong]. 10%. Most of it as a baseline for facial movement, the body was completely off and useless. And then I bring my family to the film, and I see that that Andy Serkis is credited as King Kong TWICE before any animators are mentioned. ...

Based on the above, I think the battle over who does what in animated/ motion capture features is going to be a long one. Right now, the public relation victories seem to be tilting toward the actors.

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Animation Beyond the Oceans

Hurricanes hurt here, but not over there.

... Foreign gross total for The Smurfs has surpassed the $250-million mark ($256 million) since it opened offshore on July 27. The CG-live action family feature captured the top spot in overseas box office for the third consecutive weekend. ...

So there, as the Nikkster might say, you are. And among other animated epics, we have:

... [Cars 2], which ranks No. 5 on the weekend, has grossed $334.6 million to date, and $522 million worldwide. ... A solid No. 1 opening in Italy ($6.6 million from 823 venues) buoyed weekend action for DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2. Overall take was $9.1 million drawn from 1,895 locations. ...

The sequel has now outgrossed the original, KFP's (highly successful) $631,744,000 by $6 million. This is a disappointment, just so we're clear.

(Cars Uno, by way of reference, collected $462 million compared to the $522 million of its younger sibling. Both of these films are also deemed disappointments. In Hollywood, after you've had a billion-dollar film, you are likely doomed to nothing but disappointments if you can't match that mark each time at bat.)

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fox's Animation Perseverence

The L.A. Times profiles Fox broadcasting's cartoon strategies:

... Fox has a bullishness on prime-time cartoons that no other broadcast network has ever come close to matching. In fact, after "Allen Gregory" finishes its initial run of seven episodes in the winter will come an animated version of "Napoleon Dynamite," the 2004 absurdist comedy about an oddball teenager in Idaho that developed a cult following. Both shows will air at 8:30 p.m. Sundays, in the plum slot between "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." ...

"Fox just has faith in the form," said Mike Scully, a former "Simpsons" executive producer who's now helping oversee "Napoleon Dynamite." "They really believe in it; they know how to nurture and launch the shows." ...

"Before 'The Simpsons' came on, animated shows used to be written by one or two people," said Al Jean, the longtime showrunner of the Fox series. "The Simpsons" changed all that. It has a staff of 22 writers — larger than for many live-action prime-time shows — and always has two rewrite rooms running, where scripts are relentlessly tested and revised ...

Maybe the fact that News Corp. has made billions from The Yellow Family has helped it to stay the course. It is certainly the only television network that has put sustained effort into building and nurturing a television animation block.

When FB commences clustering animation series on some other night besides Sunday, then we'll know they are really serious about extending the cartoon empire.

As one Simpsons artist said to me recently:

"Fox has figured out that cartoons have a long shelf life. People still look at Yogi Bear. Kid's don't think "Oh, this stuff is fifty years old." They don't care. Same thing with The Flintstones. There aren't many live-action sitcoms from 1959 or 1960 that anybody is looking at." ...

Thus far, Fox-News Corp. has the animation paying field pretty much to itself. But how long will that last, if they keep making serious money from the cartoons? Everybody else will want to jump into the big paydays as well.

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Hurricane Box Office

So North American box office eats it due to inclement weather. Bummer.

But the animation/ mo cap pictures appear to be doing well. ...

... Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes entered its 4th weekend in release earning $2.5M and an estimated $8.5M weekend for a $148.3M cume ... The Smurfs (Sony Pictures) Week 5 [2,861 Theaters] Friday $1.2M, Estimated Weekend $4.2M, Estimated Cume $125.4M.

With the exception of Mr. Depp and a few other actors in certain roles, CGI is becoming the standard-issue driver for high and medium-budget Hollywood offerings. James Franco and Neil Patrick Harris are top-flight talents, but box office magnets? Not as much.

Naturally, there are exceptions to the CG rule. Neither Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig nor digital effects could hoist Cowboys and Aliens skyward. And the mediocre box office was probably the major reason Diz Co. hacked away at its budget immediately thereafter.

The new industry watch-word is: "Westerns is poison!"

Add On: And the L.A. Times informs us that The Help comes out on top again:

Hurricane Irene significantly dampened movie attendance this weekend, but "The Help" still managed to stay afloat.

After opening behind "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" upon its debut earlier this month, the buzzworthy film has now managed to claim the No. 1 spot at the box office two times in a row.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Fox Prime Time Animation Watch

Fox has various prime-time cartoons in their hopper. Here is yet another:

... [Ryan] Reynolds and [Sandra] Bullock are expected to lead the voice cast of And Then There Was Gordon, an animated comedy from Reynolds and Allan Loeb’s recently launched TV company DarkFire, which has received a presentation order from Fox ...

The question isn't why Fox is doing another night-time animated half-hour. The puzzlement becomes, why are Rupert and his minions the only ones pursuing television animation during the evening hours in a serious way? Because they're the only ones who know how to do it successfully? Because they're the only ones with a WGAw contract to write same? (Both ideas far-fetched to me, but stranger things have happened in Televisionland.)

One thing I know. If Fox Broadcasting makes enough money from all its home-screen animation, the other carnivores -- Disney, Universal-NBC, CBS-Viacom -- will be elbowing their way into the market.

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New Poster Coming To Your Break Room!

The National Labor Relations Board has passed a rule requiring all employers to put up a new poster starting in November. It will sit next to the ones already mandated by state labor agencies. This new poster will outline employee rights to form unions as outlined in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (or as its truncated for ease of use, the Wagner Act). The poster would be a modest 11x17 and hopefully look a lot like this one found on the Montana Department of Labor and Industry website.

Seems pretty straight forward, doesn't it? A new poster that talks about workers rights will be up soon. How many people actually read those when enjoying a few minutes in the breakroom? What's really eye catching was the reaction this announcement has garnered from the anti-union "Business Groups". The negative sentiment toward the ruling isn't the shocking part. Rather the level of ire its raised with said groups in their public reactions to the finalizing of the rule.

AFL-CIO blog writer Mike Hall highlights some interesting responses in his post on the matter:

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) calls it an “unprecedented overreach of its authority… a punitive new rule…a new low…a trap for millions of businesses.”

Peter Schaumber, a former NLRB chairman appointed by former President George W. Bush, told Bloomberg News, “It’s arbitrary, it’s capricious.”

On the right-wing website GOPUSA, the new rule is “another disgusting government intrusion into private business.”

This goes to show the lengths to which those who wish to keep the notion of an organized workforce as far away from their little corner of capitalism as possible. It underlines the times in which we live and the need for everyone to understand the battlefield on which they stand. Your non-union employer will do anything they can to keep their control on your workplace. The idea of putting up a poster which highlights a seventy year old law, is enough to break the glass and sound alarms.

Its easy for a former artist now organizer to bray about the importance of acting cohesively when its not my neck thats exposed. However, its also important to remember that while you're enjoying your two-days off to rest and recoup, you can thank a union who fought to establish the weekend as a such a time.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Animation Vs. Live Action

The campaigns for the top spot at the WGA gear up:

... Christopher Keyser, a board member and co-creator of the TV show "Party of Five," squared off against the better known Patric M. Verrone, the former guild president who led the union through the 2007-2008 strike ... Verrone said the guild's position in Hollywood and the American labor movement had "atrophied." ...

Keyser positioned himself as a more pragmatic choice and criticized Verrone's past organizing efforts, including an ill-fated effort to organize workers in reality TV. ... [H]e has lined up some high-level support, among them writer-directors J.J. Abrams and outgoing guild president John Wells, and a majority of members of the 2007-2008 negotiating committee. ...

I've broken bread with Mr. Verrone, and he's a soft-spoken, articulate guy who's written a lot of animation under Writers Guild contracts. He's also -- at the same time -- a steely union man who plays hard ball in a decidedly corporatist age.

My opinion based on observation? What's happening in the current Writers Guild of America (west) is the centrist (Keyser) has taken on the hard charger (Verrone).

Patric plays rough guild politics, both internally and externally, and he's ruffled feathers and broken more than a few (metaphorical) noses over the years. Mr. Verrone knee-capped out-going President John Wells pretty good during the previous election campaign, calling him a writer who was allied with the Big Producers. Everybody ultimately formulated a truce and made peace, but it wouldn't surprise me if the politics from that election cycle is one of the reasons Mr. Wells is now in Christopher Keyser's corner.

Be interesting to see who comes out the victor after the balloting on September 15th.

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The Official Pick Up! At Last!

So the P & F crew can breathe easier.

Dan Povenmire and Jeff Marsh, the co-creators of the animated hit, have each inked multiyear deals with Disney Television Animation for another season as well as to develop a feature film. ...

It's always good when show get renewed. One cynical staffer said to me: "Oh, Disney doesn't do more than X number of episodes. Unless Europe wants more."

I guess Europe wants more.

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Highlights of the 2011 Wage Survey

Wages, wages. All kinds of wages.

Below the fold, results of the latest wage survey in some major categories.

For comparison purposes, all salaries are computed based upon a forty-hour week.

Directors - TV

  • Minimum: $1,312.50

  • Median: $2,625.00

  • Maximum: $6,009.61

  • 2010 median: $2,500.00

  • Change: +$125.00

Production Boards (TV)

  • Minimum: $906.25

  • Median: $1,892.50

  • Maximum: $3,000.00

  • 2010 median: $1,900.00

  • Change: -$7.50

Character Layout

  • Minimum: $1,034.04

  • Median: $1,854.00

  • Maximum: $4,000.00

  • 2010 median: $1,677.00

  • Change: +$177.00

Visual Development

  • Minimum: $1,098.76

  • Median: $2,101.20

  • Maximum: $3,900.00

  • 2010 median: $2,115,38

  • Change: -$14.18


  • Minimum: $952.56

  • Median: $1,800.00

  • Maximum: $2,612.50

  • 2010 median: $1,672.73

  • Change: +$127.27

Character Animators

  • Minimum: $1,155.00

  • Median: $1,639.23

  • Maximum: $3,163.23

  • 2010 median: $2,068.84

  • Change: -$429.61

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Knowing Your Job Classification

We get phone calls about wages from time to time. (Hard to believe, I know.) Lately it's been about minimum rates and overscale rates and wage bump-ups. Just so we're on the same page, here are selected TAG classifications and weekly journey pay rates:

Animator/Designer -- $1,628.56

Assistant Animator/Designer -- $1,393.72

Inbetweener -- $1,178.24

The above samples take in a range of basic Animation Guild salaries. We have ones that are lower, a few that are higher. But these are pretty fair bench marks.

I roll them out now because we are near the end of compiling the market rates of the 2011 Wage Survey, making an appearance here soon. Some anecdotal factoids:

A) Wages are going up for television production board artists -- wage minimums for which are 15% above the "Animator" rate up above. (Artists who specialize in action shows are in demand).

B) Feature animation facilities are working to hold the line on pay rates.

Work pipelines have been changing; some jobs are going away even as others prosper. In television, there are fewer animation checkers and timers. In features, there's not a lot of work for traditional animators. (Startling.)

When people call in asking about wages, many have no idea what their classification is, or what minimum wage-rate they should be receiving. We tell them: "Find out what your classification is, then we can talk."*

The moral of the tale is : Studio employees should review the contract (available on the TAG website), check the minimums there, and know the classification in which they're working. Knowledge is always useful.

* Years back, a studio producing t.v. episodes had a single background artist on a series. He worked as an "Assistant Background Artist." When I questioned the classification, the studio's Human Resources person said: "Oh, he's new, that's why we have him working at the lower rate."

"Fine," I said. "But who is he assisting??"

The H.R. person conceded my point. The studio bumped the employee to "Background Artist."

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Exec Ankles

Sometimes its good to move on.

John Batter, the co-president of production at DreamWorks Animation since 2007, is leaving to become CEO for MediaNavi, a subsidiary of Technicolor ... Batter joined DWA in 2006 as head of production operations. ...

There have been changes at DreamWorks Animation. I get calls from employees about wages being held flat, contracts not being renewed, artists and techs being laid off.

There have been some production holes with pictures' story sequences being retooled. And of course Kung Fu Panda 2 didn't make as much money as management hoped.

$625,109,666 qualifies, you see, as a "disappointment."

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Peregoy Open House

Because of the earlier demand, Gallery 389 will be holding a closing Walt Peregoy Open House on Thursday, August 24, 2011 from 6 p.m to 9 p.m.

This will be your last chance to see the Peregoy show at

Gallery 839

1105 N. Hollywood Way

Burbank, California

There will be refereshments at the Thursday night celebration.

The Gallery will also be open Friday, August 26th from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. All 53 pieces will be on display, with several still avialable for purchase.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Up Through the Hat

Back at the feature building on Riverside Drive, morale is better. Said a Diz Co. artist on the second floor:

"... They screened the King of the Elves story reels for us, and they look really good. John [Lasseter] has been down since last week reviewing projects, and I think we're going to be doing one film a year for the next three years. Wrec It Ralph, then King of the Elves, and then whatever's ready. There's a couple other projects in work. And Ron [Clements] and John [Musker] are going to be pitching to John ..."

There's also animated shorts being done, and the atmosphere just seems ... I donno ... lighter. It never hurts when the next feature being cued up grabs itself some positive buzz.

If the opening four and a half minutes of Wreck It Ralph is any indication, Disney has another big time hit on their hands. Scheduled for release November 2, 2012, Wreck It Ralph is an old school, 8-bit video game bad guy ... who is tired of being bad. One night, he sneaks out of his game console in the arcade and travels to different games hoping to find one where he can be a good guy. Featuring cameos from famous video game characters, homages to newer games and more, the footage shown at the D23 Expo was very crude animation cut with storyboards. Even in that rough state, it looked and sounded like something special. ...

So if WIR is a hit, that would make Walt Disney Animation Studios two-for-two in the well-performing features department, and pull the division out of the B-team doldrums, wouldn't you say?

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They Own It Now ...

... so they manage it.

... Disney canned Dana Precious, EVP of Worldwide Marketing for Marvel’s LA Studios; Jeffrey Stewart, VP of Worldwide Marketing (he’d been brought in by Dana); and Jodi Miller, Manager of Worldwide Marketing. ... That’s essentially Marvel’s entire marketing department. The trio had worried their jobs were on the line ever since Disney bought Marvel in 2009. And even more so this summer after Paramount released Thor and Captain America domestically and internationally, thus effectively ending that studio’s marketing and distribution of Marvel pictures. ...

The Mouse laid out a lot of folding green to purchase Marvel, so it stands to reason they're going to toss out the old and bring in their own group. It's the way of the world with all management. They're never married to the previous regime's staff, ever. And there's another constant:

... on June 24th, Rob Steffens, who is Marvel Studios’ EVP Operations, met with all of the department at the Manhattan Beach offices in what was described as a “Disney Rules of the Road” meeting. He told staff that there would be no house-cleaning by the mouse, period, so they were not to fear for their jobs and flee en masse. ...

I've worked at this taco stand for a few years now, and there is one iron-clad rule. When upper management tromps in with wide smiles and burbles to the staff: "Nobody has to worry. Your jobs are all safe," it's time to start circulating the resume and knocking on other companies' doors.

Click here to read entire post

Talking to Roman Arambula -- Part II

Roman today.

When Gamma came to an end in the late sixties, Mr. Arambula was quickly hired by a small animation studio in Dallas ...

TAG Interview with Roman Arambula

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Then as now, the Dallas animation community was not large, and Roman moved his growing family to Los Angeles, where he soon quickly work at Hanna-Barbera. "In those days, the studio was much like Gamma," says Roman,"with lots of cubicles, lots of artists, and lots of production ..."

Along with animation work, Roman freelanced in comic books, a field he had earlier pursued in Mexico. He continued the sideline in the United States.

But Mr. Arambula's sideline ultimately became his main vocation when he took over Floyd Gottfredson's daily "Mickey Mouse" strip on the Disney lot, continuing Floyd's legacy for close to two decades. Today, happily retired, Roman is now working on several graphic novels of his own design and creation.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Changing Super Hero Money Machine

Our fine entertainment conglomerates have scooped up super heroes wherever and whenever the well-muscled enforcers are available. Time-Warner owns D.C., and Disney, of course, gobbled up Marvel a year ago. So this has got to be alarming:

... Comic-book stores have become increasingly barren, with sales dropping consistently over the last three years and down an additional 7% so far in 2011. ... “The walk-in, casual fans have gotten away from us.” ... “We are down to just the die-hard buyers.”

Some blame convoluted story lines, while others point to cynical publicity stunts like killing key characters only to bring them back a few months later. But the main culprit more likely lies beyond the page: Today’s youth is far more interested in spending its leisure hours in the digital worlds of YouTube, Xbox and Twitter. ...

Comic books, like everything else, are not immune to technological change. Movies, books, and music, have been chewed up by the digital juggernaut. What makes four-color graphic novels so special? Rights holders can cling to old formats with grips strong enough to turn coal to diamonds, but they can't make fifteen-year-olds purchase slick covers and paper when the teenagers can easily goggle at the color layouts and dialogue balloons on iPads and Androids.

One of the problems is that comics/graphic novels are the drivers for movies, animated features and tv series, for video games and action figures and licensed pictures on cereal boxes.

Big business. Large cash flows.

So it's kind of important that the comic books, where most of the action starts, get embraced by the core fans who talk the product up and leverage the excitement and (dare we say it?) sales. D.C. has made the decision to shift to digital formats, believing they're the logical and inevitable next step.

... "The truth is people are leaving anyway, they’re just doing it quietly, and we have been papering it over with increased prices. ... We didn’t want to wake up one day and find we had a bunch of $20 books that 10,000 people are buying.”

Like music and movies, the Super Hero business is looking for salvation. Maybe digital will help them find it.

Click here to read entire post

Talking To Roman Arambula -- Part I

Roman Arambula animating at Gamma in the 1960s.

Roman Arambula has worked as a layout artist, director, storyboard artist ... and as the inheritor of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse comic strip work for Disney. But that's only a fragment of the story ...

TAG Interview with Roman Arambula

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Roman, of Basque descent, was born in Mexico, and trained at the University in Mexico City in drawing and fine art. He began his professional career in advertising, but soon found his way to the Gamma Studios, where he animated on Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fractured Fairy Tales, and other projects in the Ward universe ...

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Your Foreign Derby

The small blue people -- seeing as how Part II of the tall blue people is still dancing in Jim Cameron's head -- once again take the prize.

The Smurfs captured the No. 1 spot overseas with a gross of $35.3 million – down 34% from the prior stanza – at 10,590 screens in 54 markets.

.... The weekend’s No. 2 was, again, 20th Century Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which collected $29.6 million from 6,271 venues in 48 markets.

So lessee. Two hybrid animated features finished Number One and Number Two in the overseas sweepstakes.

And the comfortably-built Chinese bear is still performing martial arts at the turnstiles:

... Although DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 has been playing the foreign circuit since May 26, the 3D animation sequel keeps on chugging at the box office. A No. 4 Japan debut generated $3.2 million from 305 venues. Weekend overall came up with $5.5 million from 1,522 situations in 61 territories for an international cume of $459 million. ...

The worldwide total for KFP2 is $622,943,000 (74% of that foreign.) For Cars 2 the accumulation stands at $501,345,000 (63% from overseas.)

Illumination Entertainment's Hop has gathered in $76,500,000 at the foreign box office.

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Working Until You Drop

One wrinkle about being Biz Rep of the Animation Guild: you get a bird's eye view of how some of the more grizzled veterans of the animation industry are doing.

Just now, it's a mixed bag.

Some of the older artists are trucking right along, fortunate enough to be plugged into a studio (or sometimes two) that use them regularly and put them on staff when there's an opening. And some have found that jobs have gotten scarcer, either because the people they've networked with are retired or not getting much work themselves, or they've ticked off some executive and so are on a naughty list (and good luck getting anybody in the studio hierarchy to admit that list exists.) ...

In the last several weeks, I've encountered a bunch of folks with looong resumes who are out of work. With some of them, it's a case of bad timing and bad luck. With others, it's a matter of carrying reputations of complaining ... or back-stabbing ... or being generally irritating in the workplace. (Playing well with others in the cartoon sandbox is more important than ever.)

I counsel a lot of artists about how to play the politics at their particular studio, and my advice is more often than not similar at the Animation Guild's far-flung venues:

1) Don't tell your supervisor "I told you so" after you turn out to be right ... and he is wrong.

2) Pick the issues over which you want to go to the mat. (And remember: the less you go to the mat, the more effective you'll be when you finally do.)

3) Be positive rather than negative. Be happy to help out when asked. Strive to be kind.

4) Know what the legal and contractual rules are. When they're being violated, call me and we can discuss different remedial strategies. (They usually don't include the business representative coming in with guns blazing.)

5) If you have a shitty workplace personality (like for instance you don't suffer fools gladly, you get sarcastic too often, or bad-mouth studio bozos a lot when they're out of the room) build a fake, happy-face personality on top of it. This will serve you well over time.

6) As much as possible, stow your ego at home in the garage. Nobody much cares what your problems are. They are focused on theirs.

7) When in conflict with supervisors or studio brass and things look dire (meaning: you seem to get the stink eye a lot) seriously consider rolling onto your back with all four paws in the air and exposing your throat. (This is yet another metaphor for apologizing and "eating humble pie", even when you truly believe there is no valid reason to do so. You've parked your ego in the garage, remember?)

Now, please don't think I believe that the current workplace environment is the way things should be, because I don't. But I've kicked around enough ... and been kicked around enough ... to recognize reality when it smacks me in the face. Artists need to have good people skills and skill skills because even when they work for long periods of time, even when they've played the work game truly and well, all of them battle a strong current running the other way:

... More than three in five U.S. workers in their 50s and 60s plan on working past 65 -- and 47% of that group say they'll do so because they'll need the money or health benefits, according to a 2011 study from the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. ...

Happily, there is a bit of good news for long-term TAG members. If they've worked under union contracts, and if they've participated in the TAG 401(k) plan (and a couple of thousand people have), they are in a relatively strong position to embark on retirement. As one thirty-five year vet told me last week:

"I'll be sixty in a few months. I really want to keep working. But it's nice to know I've got the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan to tap into if I don't find the next job." ...

Life never goes quite the way you think it will. So it's good to have a Plan B, C and D to go along with Plan A.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Disney/Pixar Agenda

Now with ... "Hey, it's REALLY Pixar on Sonora!" Add On.

When you're having your own bash in Anaheim, it's good to save the big new movie announcements for that instead of San Diego's ComiCon.

Disney Announces Two New Pixar Films

The first movie is set for 2014 and looks inside people's minds. Directed by Peter Docter, the Academy Award-winning director of Up, the new Pixar toon is just starting its designs and sets and anticipating castings. The other movie is about dinosaurs set sometime in the future. ...

The wrinkle I occasionally forget is, Diz Co. has the Emeryville Studio, also the Burbank studio, to turn out animated product, so neither one has to release two pictures a year the way DreamWorks Animation does to hit the two big movie seasons.

The way things work now, the Mouse has all its animation bases covered. Even without IM Digital.

Add On (from Disney Toons in Glendale, CA.):

Click here to read entire post

The Weekend Box Office Tally

Now with Add On.

Your Nikkster and mine give us the early box office numbers. ...

1. The Help (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 2 1/2 [2,690 Runs] Friday $5.7M (-25%), Estimated Weekend $20M, Estimated Cume $71M

2. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 3 [3,471 Runs] Friday $4.7M, Estimated Weekend $16M, Estimated Cume $133.4M

3. Spy Kids 4D (Dimension/Weinstein) NEW [3,295 Runs] Friday $4.2M, Estimated Weekend $13M

4. Conan The Barbarian (Nu Image/Millenium/Lionsgate) NEW [3,015 Runs] Friday $4.1M, Estimated Weekend $11M

5. Fright Night (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW [3,114 Runs] Friday $3.5M, Estimated Weekend $8M

6. The Smurfs - 3D (Sony) Week 4 [] Friday $2.6M, Estimated Weekend $9M, Estimated Cume $118.7M

7. Final Destination 5 - 3D () Week 2 [3,155 Runs] Friday $2.5M (-66%), Estimated Weekend $7.5M, Estimated Cume $32.1M

8. One Day (Focus Features) NEW [1,719 Runs] Friday $1.8M, Estimated Weekend $5.5,

Apparently nobody is interested in the Anne Hathaway picture.

Add On: The Reporter gives the (almost) final results:

DreamWorks and Participant Media’s The Help continued to overperform in its second weekend, ... grossing $20.5 million ...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, from 20th Century Fox, also remained a worthy contender in its third weekend, falling only 41% to an estimated $16.3 million for a domestic cume of $133.8 million and coming in No. 2. ...

Meanwhile, Cars 2 coasts at #23 with $187 million in the glove compartment, while Kung Fu Panda 2 hunkers down at #25 clutching $164 million.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dimensional Disney

Going through the Hat Building, I watched staffers working on this:

Disney’s The Lion King will release into theaters this year in a new 3D format for the very first time on September 16th.

... Ahead of the Cars 2 screening, we were treated to the opening scene of The Lion King 3D which entails the entire “Circle of Life” song that ends in the title card. So, nearly four minutes of footage. The brightness and the clarity were great, and there are scenes that seemed tailor-made for 3D in retrospect. We have plenty of creatures walking towards the screen, and numerous opportunities to show off different depths, including a shot of ants climbing on a branch with zebras crossing in the background. ...

Several months ago, I had the chance to see a large part of Beauty and the Beast in three dimensions, and was pleasantly surprised how good it looked. No doubt LK will look even better.

Any quality conversion to 3-D is complex and time-consuming. Mr. Kaplan recently had lunch with a digital artist who is part of the team adding an extra dimension to James Cameron's Titanic. And apparently Mr. C. is a stickler for having everything look superlative, and not just "okay." (Who would have guessed?)

That conversion will occupy the next eighteen months.

Click here to read entire post

Pixar On Sonora

I spent a couple of hours at the Disney animation studio on lovely Sonora Boulevard, and was bowled over by the interior ambiance of the the new Disney Toons building, right next door to the old Disney Toons building.

A board artist at Disney TVA said:

"It's like Pixar in Glendale. Same designer did the interior. Big open entry with shiny floors. A gym and showers. Nice restaurant with reasonable prices. You should go look at it."

So I did ...

The woman guard at the desk in the airy lobby was a touch dubious about my Disney i.d. card, but let me in anyway. I've got no idea what the Emeryville facility is like (outside of the handful of online pictures I've seen) but Disney has redone the brick structure near Glendale's railroad tracks to within an inch of its architectural life.

The outside of the single story building has lots of glass and brick. The lobby beyond the tall, transparent doors is wide, and brightened with sunlight pouring through the sheets of glass decorating the entrance and far side of the building. The commissary is on the left, the artists' spaces north and south of the big, open lobby. As you walk down the wide halls to the production areas, the walls are covered with sand-yellow wood panelling.

Back in the work areas there are standard-issue cubicles. But unlike the specimens in the vacated Disney Toons space next door, these cubes are large and functional, with sliding doors. The artists have more room than at the old taco stand, also more privacy since the cubicle walls are taller. (Some people like the privacy, others are nostalgic for less of it.) The ceilings are high, with exposed silver ducts snaking across the open architecture. Between the broad areas of ranked cubicles, walls in primary blues, reds and greens encase good-sized story rooms.

But what I noticed the most as I ambled from cube to cube was how quiet the place was. A storyboarder clued me in:

"We're a lot more spread out over here because there's a lot more room. It'll get noisier when the place fills up."

It appeared to me the place would be in business awhile. Lasseter saw some of the work in progress yesterday, and Toons' product will be show-cased at D23 this weekend.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Nite Linkage

Warners release more Happy Feet Deux images.

The L.A. Times capsulizes the Anaheim festival known as D23. ...

Season four of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is but thirty days away.

The Beatles campaign against piracy.

And while we're in the market for short, black-and-white animation, there is In the Fall.

Ending on a sugary note, the Mouse tub-thumps for its princesses and fairies franchise. Click here to read entire post

The Cold Shoulder Ends

ASIFA is off Diz Co.'s naughty list.

The 39th annual Annie Awards, a celebrated but controversial prize in the world of animation, announced its "call for entries" on Thursday -- and in a major change from last year, TheWrap has learned that Disney/Pixar will be among the companies submitting entries.

... [T]hough Disney/Pixar has made no formal announcement, a source with knowledge of the ASIFA process says the studio will once again take part in the organization and its awards show. ...

ASIFA has gone through some seismic changes recently. New leadership. New awards procedures. Fresh outreach. I've pretty much lost interest in shiny gold statues, what with the explosion of awards ceremonies (SAG, ASIFA, MTV, Oscars, People's Choice, where will it end?) But I know they help commerce, and enhance the ability of our fine, entertainment conglomerates to remain solvent. So if one of the awards societies and a large company are now smooching and making up, I'm all for it.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Forget Story

Andy Hendrickson has a point:

"People say that it's all about the story. When it comes to tentpole films, bullshit." ... [Alice In Wonderland's] story isn't very good, but the visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn't hurt." ...

But is a sucky story irrelevant to success? I don't think so ...

When a movie succeeds despite underwhelming characters and plotline, it's usually because it's a sequel to a blockbuster or the trailer and advertising campaign grab people by their shirt fronts. Or one of the three surviving Hollywood mega-stars manage to open the thing.

The rest of the time, stories have to engage somebody or the feature dies a quick death. When you think of recent flicks that failed to connect, be it cowboys against spacemen or super heroes in day-glo spandex or the latest horror and gore fest, it's mostly because the substance and core of the flick is cliched and incoherent, with protagonists harder to swallow than a Vaseline sandwich.

James Cameron has gotten trashed a lot for writing underwhelming scripts, but say what you like, Cameron's films work a spell on people that cause them to lust for more.

No, bad story-telling usually goes hand-in-glove with weak box office. I would judge Mr. Hendrickson to be 75% wrong.

Click here to read entire post


As the trades tell us:

Last week, in the wake of The Smurfs surprisingly robust $35 million opening weekend, the company set a date for the sequel — Aug. 2, 2013 — and said Jordan Kerner was returning as a producer.

Not revealed was the fact the studio had been working on a script for months and in fact has a completed draft in hand. ... The Smurfs has grossed nearly $250 million worldwide so far

Like it or not, hybrid animation does well: Yogi, Chipmunks, The Smurfs, they're all good, for the greenbacks rain down.

Sony has had its share of disappointments in animation. Surf's Up was well-received critically but landed with a dull thud commercially. Open Season was robust enough to spawn lower budget, direct-to-video sequels, but Hotel Transylvania has sputtered along in development since the administration of William Howard Taft. And nobody yet knows how the Aardman partnership will turn out.

So for Sony, animation has been a very mixed bag. Now, however, it's got itself an unadulterated hit, and it's not going to let any grass grow under the corporate feet.

Forward to The Smurfs II!

Click here to read entire post

Animation and Acting

Tim Borrelli writes to the thespian hailed as the brains behind Caesar in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

Dear Mr. Serkis,

If you deserve to be considered for an Academy Award nomination for Acting in regards to your performance motion capture, then every animator who has ever animated a character in any movie deserves consideration as well. ...

[Y[ou seem to be ignorant of what happens to your performance data after you walk off the set. Many times, chunks of data need to be thrown out entirely and done by hand. Also, it is quite often that the actor’s proportions don’t match that of the digital characters, requiring a remapping of the motion. This may not seem like it affects a performance, but it in fact does. Different proportions means poses don’t read the same. It means a slouch on a short actor is a hunchback on a tall character. It means delicate interactions often need to be heavily modified or redone with animation due to differing limb lengths. ...

My take on this is the same as always. Margie Belcher (later Marge Champion) had a lot to do with the "acting" of the character Snow White. She performed Motion Capture in the form of filmed performance converted into photostats. But to argue that Ms. Belcher created the performance on her own would be a tad ... ahm ... disingenuous.

There were all those animators (chief among them, Grim Natwick.) All those inkers. All those clean-up artists and painters.

And somebody please tell me the difference between Mr. Serkis and the actor who performed as Gulliver in the Fleischer brothers Gulliver's Travels (1939.) When you strip away the pixels, software, and glowing computers, there really isn't any large gap between actors shot on film during the Golden Age of Animation and digital performances created today. MoCap by any other name is still motion capture.

Which isn't to take anymore away from Mr. Serkis than is taken from Ms. Belcher or the Gulliver guy. But let us stare reality in the face. I can see Mr. Serkis possibly capturing an Oscar nomination for his chimp acting, if the publicity drums beat loud enough, and the media does enough stories about it. But I can't see Mr. Serkis actually winning a little golden man.

Because there are a hell of a lot of actors paying dues to the Motion Picture Academy, and the vast majority of them will vote for an actor not covered with pixels. For the same reason they will mostly vote for a live-action feature for Best Picture over the animated kind.

They want to see the actor's performance, not just sense it under all the digital fur, stretched limbs, chimpanzee features and rejiggered timing created by modelers and animators sitting in darkened rooms.

Actors are funny that way.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Inappropriate Cartoons

Visiting WB Animation this A.M., I got a chance to see the new Warners theatrical shorts featuring the classic Warners characters. They run along the lines of the recent Coyote and Roadrunner 3-D cartoons that hit theaters over the past year.

And to let you know, this new crop is excellently done and very funny. But of course they have ... how do I put this delicately? ... a lot of creative Warner Bros. violence. (When you have heavy kitchen implements and large pianos falling from high places, what can you expect?)

After I got through laughing and wiping the moisture from my eyes, I fell into a conversation with a staffer about how it's nice that a large conglomerate can allow Termite Terrace style mayhem to occur on the silver screen in this day and age. (I asked: "Were these things focus grouped? Tested?" The answer was "No.")

And that led to what is and isn't politically correct in 2011, and how good old-fashioned cartoon socking and knocking is often balm for the soul. And then later in the afternoon I saw this:

The Parents Television Council fired another volley today at one of its favorite targets: adult-themed cartoons that also attract kids. ... "Our data demonstrates that today’s norm is profanity-laden storylines involving everything from rape and cocaine to STDs and crystal meth."

Storylines involving cocaine and crystal meth? The Council says that like it's a bad thing.

But I have a solution for the prudish, priggish and faint-hearted: If parents think Family Guy and American Dad are polluting little Johnny's and Tiffany's minds, maybe they should monitor what their children are watching. Or better yet, turn the flat screen off.

See, television isn't the end-all and be all. There are these great new things called books that force children to use their imaginations. And the great thing is, you can sit down with them anywhere. (Oh, wait. I guess you can do that with the teevee, as well.)

Click here to read entire post

Talking to Michael Giaimo -- Part II

Mr. Giaimo left Disney in the late 1980s after work on Fun With Mr. Future and two years of intensive development work on a feature film entitled Who Framed Roger Rabbit ...

TAG Interview with Michael Giaimo

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mike returned to the Disney fold several years later, and served as art director on Pocahontas. Mike remained at Disney afterwards, but ultimately departed to design and art direct the television series Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi. Today he is again at the House of Mouse, again designing for animated features.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

A Quarter Century Ago ...

As Charles Solomon recounts:

... [John] Lasseter showed some test footage in Brussels of the [Luxo] lamp hitting a ball with its shade. Raoul Servais, the noted Belgian animator, was impressed and asked about the story. When Lasseter said the work was "just a character study," Servais told him that no matter how short a film was, it should have a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

When Lasseter returned home, he began thinking about a story for his lamp character. Inspiration struck when co-worker Tom Porter brought in his infant son. ...

Few of us end up where we imagined we would, back in our starry-eyed youth.

More often than not, our successes and failures come from a combination of our genetic makeups, desire to succeed, work ethic, and ... let's be honest about this ... being in the right room at the right time with the right people.

Life might be a series of doors that we choose to open and walk through, but suppose the door we need isn't there in the first place. Not much we can do about that, is there?

So here's to Mr. Lasseter and Pixar, who found each other at the right moment for magic to result. And here's to Disney management for bankrolling the first animated feature, and (eleven years earlier) laying Mr. Lasseter off. Because if both of those things hadn't happened -- and a whole lot of others, besides -- I wouldn't be sitting here now linking to the Times story about Luxo junior and the beginnings of a new kind of animation.

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This guy is obviously a left-wing hippie.

... Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot. ...

Mr. Buffett should be ashamed of himself. He's one of the job creators, and as such should be taxed ... as little as possible.

Because everyone knows that low tax rates mean high growth rates. Except for all those years when they don't.

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Talking to Michael Giaimo -- Part I

Michael Giaimo in his office.

Mike Giaimo came into animation via the route a number of neophyte artists travelled in the 1970s: Promising student at Cal Arts makes an animated film; Walt Disney Productions takes a shine to same; the Mouse House then snaps up the neophyte to work in Burbank.

Sounds simple, but it wasn't always ...

TAG Interview with Michael Giaimo

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Michael started his Disney career in the same way that many others did. He in-betweened on production while making a personal animation reel. But he soon found himself tagged by superiors as having a spark for story development. And within a short period of time Mr. Giaimo found himself being mentored by the young story artist Pete Young, as you will hear in this first installment of the latest TAG Interview.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fox Keeps Blamming Away

ABC-Disney doesn't attempt it. Nor does NBC-Universal or CBS-Viacom. But Rupert and his minions are steady chargers, and on a definite roll:

Fox has ordered presentations for two separate animated shows from stand-up comedians Demetri Martin and Adam Carolla​.

Carolla’s project, The Birchums, will follow a character that the comedian developed for radio in the 1990s. ... The show is being produced by John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, who previously worked on Mike Judge​’s 13-year blue-collar opus King of the Hill​.

... Demetri Martin’s project hasn’t been given an official title just yet, but the stand-up comedian will be featured in the voice cast and at the writer’s table. The project is being pitched as “a family workplace comedy set in the California Redwoods.” Martin will serve as an executive producer alongside Peter Chernin​ and Katherine Pope ...

Almost 25 years after The Simpsons redefined what cartoons could do, Fox continues to dominate the prime-time animation scene. Its current Sunday night lineup features no less than five animated comedies ...

With other nights yet to come.

Fox Broadcasting, of course, has been aggressive about developing new prim- time cartoon properties. The McFaralne shows. The new Sunday night entries. Everybody else just kind of puts a toe in the water, gets the toe bitten off, then scuttles away and forgets about trying animation in the nighttime ever again.

Fox is also the only major entertainment conglomerate with a WGAw contract for prime-time animation. (But a panacea it ain't. Smaller companies have signed WGA animation deals and fallen flat. God, the Devil and Bob anyone?) I'm not saying there's always a direct cause and effect there, since all or most of the successful p.m. toons were developed from artists' idea with heavy input from artists. But it's given Fox a certain edge when staffing writers' rooms.

And more than that, the girls and boys at News Corp. see animation as a viable, prime-time commodity that is worth nurturing. If one show doesn't work, they will try another. They blam away until ideas meld and a new concept takes off.

No other entertainment network does this as well, or as tenaciously. And Fox's record of success pretty much speaks for itself.

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The Global Steeple Chase

As it is across the fruited plains, so is it beyond the seas:

The 3D animation [of The Smurfs] grosses $60 million overseas, sending Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 to third place; Cowboys & Aliens is off to a slow start at foreign box office.

After a month atop the box office charts on the foreign theatrical circuit, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 was finally shoved aside by The Smurfs, which finished No. 1 for the first time with an estimated weekend take of $60 million collected from 10,285 locations in 44 markets. ...

Before The Smurfs rolled out to general release, there were rumors in and around Sony ImageWorks that the visual effects and animation studio might bail out of the c.g. cartoon business if the little blue people didn't perform.

Happily, it looks like they're turning handsprings and other acrobatics, so Sony will likely keep its hand in the genre.

Meantime, some of the other animated entries that continue to pile up coin:

Pixar’s Cars 2 finished fifth on the weekend, pushing its foreign gross total to $290 million ... Worldwide tally for the 3D animation stands at $476 million. ...

Kung Fu Panda 2, $453 million (with a Japan opening due this week) ... Fox’s Rio, $342.5 million ...

Rio now has a worldwide total of $486 million, while KFP2 weighs in with $616,428,000.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Derby of Middle August

The Nikkster throws up her usual early numbers.

1. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 2 [3,691 Theaters] Friday $7.8M (-60%), Estimated Weekend $26M, Estimated Cume $104M

2. The Help (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW (Wed opening) [2,534 Theaters] Friday $7.5M, Estimated Weekend $22M, Estimated Cume $32M

3. Final Destination 5 - 3D (New Line/Warner Bros) NEW [3,155 Theaters] Friday $7.3M, Estimated Weekend $18M

4. 30 Minutes Or Less (Sony) NEW [2,888 Theaters] Friday $4.5M, Estimated Weekend $13M

5. The Smurfs (Sony) Week 3 [3,427 Theaters] Friday $3.7M, Estimated Weekend $13M, Estimated Cume $101M

6. Glee - 3D (Fox) NEW [2,040 Theaters] Friday $2.8M, Estimated Weekend $7M

7. Cowboys & Aliens (DreamWorks/Universal) Week 3 [3,310 Theaters] Friday #7 $2.1M, Estimated Weekend $7M, Estimated Cume $80.8M

8. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros) Week 3 [2,635 Theaters] Friday $2.1M, Estimated Weekend $7M, Estimated Cume $55.3M

9. Captain America (Marvel/Disney/Paramount) Week 4 [2,835 Theaters] Friday $1.9M, Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $156.2M

10. The Change-Up (Universal) Week 2 [2,913 Theaters] Friday $1.9M (-60%), Estimated Weekend $6M, Estimated Cume $25.5M

The Smurfs now pulls handily away from the mega-budget Cowboys and Aliens. (When people don't want to see your hybrid Western-Space Opera, you cant stop them.)

Meanwhile, as of Thursday, 14th place Cars 2 had collected $185.5 million domestically, 15th place Winnie the Pooh stood at $24.9 million and 16th place Kung Fu Panda 2 was at $163 million.

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Sixty-Nine Years Ago ...

Disney's fifth animated feature (but the second put into development) was released.

On Aug. 13, 1942, Walt Disney's animated feature Bambi premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York. ...

Mel Shaw once told me how he and a design team moved into an apartment building next to the Hyperions Studio and began work on the picture after Snow White went into release. Mel said he worked on designing different color patterns for sequences of the film. Story development was slow, and the strike in 1941 slowed the feature down further. If was finally released nine months after Pearl Harbor.

Bambi, of course, was the last the of pre-war features. I recall sitting in a story meeting in the late seventies when Frank Thomas talked about attending one of Bambi's sneak previews with the boss:

"We were all down near the front, watching the movie, watching how it played with the audience. The picture got to the sequence where Bambi's mother is killed, and Bambi wanders through the snow, calling out "Moother! Mother! Where are you?" ...

And suddenly a voice up in the balcony sing-songs: 'Here I am, Bambi! Heere I am!'

We all freeze. I look down the row of seats. And Walt is hunched down, seething." ...

Bambi was the last of the studio's expensive, pre-war features. It failed to make its money back on initial release, but became a perennial winner in the long cycle of re-issued classics that followed. It went into the black during the 1947 release, and today stands at $267,447,150 in theatrical gross, making it #47 on the all-time (adjusted for inflation) movie list.

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Friday, August 12, 2011


... from the Glendale campus.

The feature is down to the last few weeks of production/animation. Early buzz is positive, so we will soon see how DWA's second release of the year performs at the global box office.

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So Maybe It IS Permanent

The format leaves me a little cold, but the stats say the world (at least right now) feels otherwise.

Overall, 3D made up 19.3% of the global box office, up from 8.6% in 2009.

Worldwide box office revenue from 3D screens more than doubled last year to $6.1 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 2009, reflecting the increase in the number of 3D releases and the rapid build out of 3D screen in theaters. ...

I can take 3-D or leave it. These days, mostly I leave it.

I've seen enough dimensional cinema to know it's occasionally pleasurable. I enjoyed the sweeping camera moves through London and snowy English countryside in Zemeckis's Christmas Carol. And I like a lot of the 3-D work embedded in DWA's animated features.

But most of the stuff reminds me of pop-up books that move, flat planes in front of flat planes in front of flat planes. Color films mimic the hues of real life. Dimensional movies, however, even the good ones, are not particularly close to the way most carbon-based life forms view reality.

For that reason, I'm not entirely sure 3-D will sustain itself over time. I think that audiences will grow tired of it, particularly if they have to pay an extra three to five dollars at the box office.

Now maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I would have, back in 1928, whined how talkies were a passing fad, except I don't think so. Sound added a familiar dimension, just like color did. 3-D just seems kind of ... I donno .. weird. And it gives me a lovely dose of eye strain.

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A "TAG Interview" Heads Up

To let you know:

We now have two lengthy artist interviews completed, and you can expect them to pop up here early next week and early the week after ...

The goal, as previously stated, is to get one interview up on El Bloggo every seven days. Sadly, interviews fall through, regular work intervenes, and I'm pulled in too many directions to get to the tasks of questions and answers. (I don't count the brief Walt Peregoy interview from Monday, with its awful acoustics, as actually counting as a bona fide interview.)

But at the moment I'm a bit ahead, so the run of interviews will continue. Hope you find them satisfactory.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Disney TVA In The Frank Wells Building

Disney Television Animation has been parked inside the Frank Wells Building on the Burbank lot for a goodly number of years now, but that's ending. Said a staffer:

"We're out of here the middle of September, going over to Sonora in Glendale. A bunch of lawyers will be getting the nice window views of all the trees. Nobody's happy about it, except it is nice to have a job ..."

A couple of other artists mentioned how Phineas and Ferb crew will be going on hiatus while the wait continues for the dynamic duo's new-season pickup.

"Everyone on the show has been working their butts off for the past year -- doing the movie at the same time the series was in work. And now people are having to take hiatuses and they're not super pleased."

I said I found it hard to believe there wouldn't be new episodes coming along, since the show is a major hit.

Disney Channel's original movie Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension averaged 7.6 million in its Friday night premiere ... [The feature] was the most watched original movie of the year among total viewers as well as kids 6 to 11 (3.4 million); and tweens 9 to 14 (2.6 million). ...

With numbers like that, and Chairman Iger touting it to financial analysts, anyone seriously believe there's not a whole lot of extra P and F installments on the horizon? But in the meanwhile, artists wait ...

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Remembering Cornelius

Animation veteran Dave Brain writes of Corny Cole:

It will take a lot of different people writing a lot of individual remembrances to render a complete picture of what Cornelius Cole did in his professional life in art. I say art and not just animation because seeing Corny draw and paint and sculpt, I asked myself why he was working in animation studios for. But the fact that he was, changed and broadened the look of animation art.

That’s undeniable ...

The fun began for me when I had just been promoted to animator at Murakami/ Wolf/Swenson Studio, and assigned to follow Corny’s design and layout on a car engine cleaning product commercial. Corny’s paintings of an engine part-strewn landscape, rendered in sludge-like blue and brown with an irregular, thick black line drawn with twigs from a tree had sold the concept ... and it had to be animated that way. I couldn’t do the in-betweens with a twig, so Corny let me use a sharpened popsicle stick. Corny kept the spot on his reel for several years.

The only Oscar-winning short I ever worked on was following Corny’s design and layout. A few years later, Corny and I were doing some pro bono teaching down in South Central L.A. where a drawing workshop had been started by Frank Braxton, an animator who had subsequently fallen ill. When the comedian Flip Wilson sold a TV network an animated special project, Fritz Freleng pulled Corny in to design and direct the show. Corny brought in three of his workshop students to design and draw the backgrounds. These young men produced some beautiful, unique and authentic drawings of their own neighborhoods that built the mood of the show really effectively. One background was 12 feet long and Corny cut, panned and trucked on it for several minutes of the show. Corny gave me lots of great personality layouts, and doing the animation was pretty easy.

Corny did so many remarkable looks for hand drawn animation. I wish some compilation of them could be made. I’d like to see the Log Cabin Spot he did for Bob Kurtz at Filmfair with Alan Zazlov animating again. And "The stormy sea" sequence in the middle of Chuck Jones‘ The Phantom Tollbooth with Emery Hawkins. And all those rococo characters in Richard Williams’ Thief And The Cobbler.

Later in his career, Corny did several battle sequences for a National Geographic show about the Roman Empire, working again with Bob Kurtz. This assignment had the 2-frame x-dissolve animation system Corny liked to use. Corny often said that he was the worst in-betweener Chuck Jones ever hired, and this quick-dissolve system got Corny partially past that onerous task. Corny didn’t concern himself much with snap, overshoot and hold-pose animation. I remember a carpet commercial he did through his own company, Corny Films, that had a sophisticated caricature of an upscale female shopper, twisting and turning in the air as different carpets rolled past her. Corny’s quick-dissolve method gave the action just the dreamlike mood that was needed.

I never had a chance to see the work he did on the feature production Little Nemo following the Windsor McCay-designed character. Bill Hurtz directed the project, done for an Asian studio.

In those years, Corny and His wife Dawn raised four children in a comfortable oak and ivy-covered, Spanish-styled home in Benedict Canyon. Dawn died while their kids were young adults. Then, just as Dawn had, Corny’s kids took care of Corny's day-to-day needs.

The kids eventually found lives and pursuits of their own ... and Corny found his second wife, Linda.

When Corny wasn’t working on animation assignments he was doing fine art. It was personal expression work at a large size with elegant scale and deep, rich, full-palette color. I remember a show he had in a large space near Universal City. The paintings were 6 X 6 feet or larger. The subject was partial visions of his youth: The beach. Surfing with his twin brother. Fearsome images of police and military actions being manipulated by political figures, lots of grayed blues, greens and purples, impasto strokes drawn into with dark brown and gold line, perspective in some areas, flat graphic in others, finely noted anatomy at some points that then retreated into the ether of the paint.

There was also a few video monitors showing linear human figures in animation walking, flying, folding into lumps and unfurling into new figures. Corny told me he was talking to a gallery owner about a New york show. I don’t know if that show happened.

After Corny and I taught together, we taught drawing separately in many places. I learned that Corny had a workshop on Van Nuys Boulevard and I took some visiting Irish film students there, along with my daughter Megan, who was 15 at the time. Sometimes the class drew from the nude model and sometimes Corny would tie broomsticks, gourds and such at angles to each other with lengths of rope cord and scarves off a hatrack to simulate the physical way parts of a living body hinge to each other. Corny set Megan up on the floor to draw in front of the model stand. Over the 6 or 8 weeks we attended Corny would occasionally say a word or two to Megan or do a small addition on her work. Toward the end of our time that summer Corny said to me, “Megan is really making some progress. Have you been working with her?"

“No, Corny,” I answered, “ You have.”

Corny drew every day that he could. That’s why he liked to teach. It put him in a drawing situation. He liked to share what he had learned. He liked to encourage everyone who strove to draw better. He spoke gently, positively. It was wonderful that he was able to teach so many years at Cal Arts.

Corny was a handsome man with a generous smile and strong features. He dressed ... comfortably. He had a good wool sports coat, slacks, polished shoes and a turtleneck sweater when he needed it. But his day in, day out uniform was sandals, old chinos or levis, a faded Hawaiian shirt. In the winter there was an old army field jacket and, always, a wide brimmed and well worn straw hat. He was never visibly overweight and, as he grew older, he grew more slender.

Those wonderful years and the fun I had moving around Hollywood and the Valley animating on this project and that, and every now and then working with Corny, ended as the 1980’s proceeded. I would visit with him now and then, or see him at an animator-attended event. My last real visit with him was at his fixed-location trailer on the hill above the junction of the 118 and 210 freeways in Sylmar.

We sat in beach chairs with the hazy San Fernando Valley spread below us. He was well established at Cal Arts at this time. The trailer was loaded with piles of artwork to be culled and selected for shows while the rest would be put to a storage facility.

That didn’t happen. The Sylmar Fire the next year took 90% of Corny’s art and all his planned film material. Corny was most concerned, when I spoke to him, about the cats living with them that disappeared. He wished he knew for sure that they were alive. They must have escaped, he thought, because they didn’t find any remains in the trailer.

Corny’s youth, his years at Chouinard Art Institute and his ascension to the top of animation design are someone else’s story to tell, as are his later years teaching at Cal Arts.

He is gone now from our lives, but, not from our happy memories. If it helps, envision Corny, with his cats rubbing his legs, seated on the edge of a cloud, drawing some of the best sketches of the angels around him that they’ve had done in quite a long time.

Corny at Cal Arts, 2009 -- courtesy of Morgan Kelly.

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