Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last Night's Membership Meeting

As promised, there was lengthy discussion at TAG's membership meeting regarding uncomped overtime ...

I gave a brief history of the problem: Shorter schedules and longer scripts, the reluctance of some members to request authorization for o.t., people taking work home and working without pay. Falsification of time cards.

I said some of my remedies for abuses had been going to studios after-hours to see who was working; meetings with crews about tight deadlines and then talking to the producers and show runners about adjusting schedules; meetings with Human Resource staff about overtime abuses.

Some suggestions from members:

* TAG should meet with crews at the start of a show and lay out overtime rules.

* Get show-runners and story editors to cut scripts to the right length so production board artists aren't boarding extra panels that then get cut in editorial. (I said I didn't know why this wasn't done more, since it was an easy fix.)

* Adjust schedules by a day or two when it's needed by artists.

* Installing time clocks. (This last wasn't regarded highly.)

Sharon Forward spoke about eye strain and possible damage that comes about from long hours drawing on the Cintiq. She talked to equipment suppliers who said they didn't know if the Cintiq resulted in eye damage or not, as there had been no studies done on the subject. Sharon suggested that artists who work on the Cintiq should take breaks every hour or two so their eyes can rest, turn down the brightness of their Cintiq screens, and wear yellow-lensed glasses to counteract the blue light from the computer screen.

Question: If you work on a Cintiq or equivalent platform, does it cause eye problems for you?

After the meeting, I talked to a production board artist who worked 10-12 hour days Monday through Friday. (He works on-call, so he isn't compensated for additional hours during the week. He used to work weekends -- which should be compensated at time-and-a-half, but he received no money for those hours either. He no longer works on weekends.)

Click here to read entire post

Festivities at Disney's Florida Cartoon Studio

A wee bit of nostalgia: Here's a shot of the Disney Florida Animation Studios, brought to you from the collection of Carl Bell.

It's the opening ceremony of some big, sparkly building at the Disney-MGM Studio in Florida, back in the go-go eighties. Roy Disney is officiating in the back there, with Ward Kimball (in the black ball cap) Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas.

Also a lot of balloons.

And down front is Mark Henn, Barry Temple, Dave Stephan, and two animation artists whose names I should know but don't. (Arrrgh.) ...

The Disney Feature Animation facility in Orlando was a nifty little studio that, at its peak, wasn't so little.

It started as a small production shop attached to an amusement park attraction. Nothing fancy. Early on, it produced some Roger Rabbit shorts and did a bit of support work for the features being produced in Burbank, California. Its staff and ambitions were small.

Over time, both grew. Disney Animation Florida was creating its own features in the latter half of the nineties (Mulan, Lilo and Stitch.) By that time, Burbank was giving support. But after Brother Bear was rolled out, the studio was shuttered, and a large and talented staff went its separate ways. My Peoples, the CG-hand-drawn feature that was in mid-flight at the time of the studio's closing, was never completed.

Over the years, I hopped down to the Florida Studio quite a lot. There was always a great vibe in and around the place, with lots of tropical sunlight streaming through large windows. The artists working there were enthusiastic about their work. Disney Animation Florida might have been a sideshow to the Burbank operation, but it was a facility that produced quality product.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gaping Hole?

The New York Times tells us (after looking at a certain on-line video):

... Speaking at Local 80, [MPIPHP administrator David Wesco] put the pension financing shortage at $190 million. Increased health expenses, he said, would require an additional $180 million to stay even with current benefits. About $75 million would be needed to keep the reserves at a safe level of six to eight months.

Mr. Wescoe is speaking of a three-year shortfall for the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan of $445 million.

That kind of money is nothing to sneeze at, but it's not like we haven't forded this kind of stream before. There was a "gaping hole" three years ago. The way it was filled then was:

1) The producers chipped in more money.

2) The Health Plan was "redesigned." (Meaning that participants chipped in more money by assuming more of their own medical costs.)

3) Benefits were cut.

4) Reserves were reduced.

To a greater or lesser extent, similar routines have been going on for years in IA-AMPTP negotiations. There is X amount of dollars on the table, our mother international strives to squeeze out a few bucks more, and then the money is placed where it's most needed. Sometimes that means wage bumps; sometimes heftier benefit contributions.

And sometimes the cost projections turn out to be overly optimistic, and adjustments are made mid-flight. (More cuts; more contributions.) All these "Town Hall" meetings have been held to inform the IA membership of where the cash has been going, and how much is needed, which is a good thing. Knowledge is power.

The New York Times article seems a bit alarmist to me, but the Gray Lady doesn't know the negotiating history of the producers and IATSE. If the paper had more backward-looking knowledge, it would see that variations on this "fill the hole" dance have been done before.

Click here to read entire post

The Mouse Ain't Stupid

Walt's Place is locking in the low rates while the locking is good.

... [I]t’s easy to see why Disney is joining the pack of companies looking to sell debt. The company says in a prospectus filed at the SEC that it expects to raise $1B from global notes that mature in 2014 and pay an annual interest rate of 0.875% ...

Now is the time to be refinancing the house, acquiring long-term debt, etc. Disney, Fox, Viacom and others understand this.

It's almost like getting free money.

Click here to read entire post

Cable Cartoons: Up, Down, Sideways

The Reporter and Journal have various bits of good and bad news for Nick, Disney and Cartoon Network.

... Viacom’s Nickelodeon and Time Warner’s Cartoon Network have seen ratings declines among children between the ages of two and 11, while Walt Disney’s networks have shown diverging trends. ...

For Nickelodeon, Nielsen's data shows that 969,000 kids between the ages of two and 11 watched in September, down 11 percent from the year-ago period. ... Cartoon Network averaged 479,000 preteen viewers between Aug. 29 and Nov. 20, down 12 percent from the year-ago period. ... Disney XD averaged 149,000 in the period, down 1 percent, but Disney Channel has drawn an average of 924,000, up 5.9 percent.

The Hub, a joint venture channel of Hasbro and Discovery Communications, said its audience among kids 2-11 rose more than 50 percent to 46,000 compared with the year-ago period. ...

Nick's numbers have been sliding in the last couple of months, and Viacom topkick Philippe Dauman says he can't figure out why that would be. (I donno. Fewer little eyeballs clued to the flat screen, maybe?)

Nickelodeon has been producing more c.g.i. shows of late, and I don't know if that could have something to do with the falling numbers. But I do know that a decade ago, when Sony was making a push with more computer generated half-hours, it didn't result in a bunch more people watching the snazzy, 3-D shows than the traditional hand-drawn ones. Sony ultimately went back to the less-expensive pencil and paint-brush format.

I've long thought that making and broadcasting c.g. shows doesn't necessarily result in higher ratings. Kid viewers don't care if an animated show is computer generated or not, especially if they're three, four and five. In fact for some, it's kind of off-putting. They just want the half-hour to be colorful and fun-nee.

Of course, maybe it isn't the computer-generated graphics that are the problem, but less than totally entertaining content. Chilling thought.

Click here to read entire post

The Carl Bell Interview -- Part II

Carl returned to Disney Feature animation on February 3, 1988 ... exactly thirty years after he first sat down at a Disney desk. (That's him on the far left, remembering his time with Bob Clampett -- note the puppet. The others: Lori Noda, Jerry Brice, Tom Sito, JIM van der Keyl --in caricature -- and Brian McKim, who is holding Jim. Thanks to David Nethery for all the idees.)

TAG Interview with Carl Bell

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Carl worked on a long string of features from Disney's Second Golden Age. As the studio shifted to more digital work at the end of the 1990s, he hung up his pencils and light board and cantered off to retirement. He relates that he has plenty to do without the nine-to-five thing getting in the way.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Carl Bell Interview -- Part I

Carl Bell enjoyed his 41-year career in animation, and looks back on his animating gigs for Chuck Jones, Ralph Bakshi, and Bob Clampett (among others) with great fondess. But he probably wouldn't have gotten into the animation business in California if an animation icon hadn't pointed the way ...

TAG Interview with Carl Bell

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

When Carl was a young Canadian artist, he journeyed to New York City and had an audience with animation great Bill Tytla, who told him he should go to Europe to study the great art masters, and then journey to Los Angeles.

"That's where most of the animation business is, so that's where you should be."

And so, shortly thereafter, began Carl Bell's long and happy work time in the cartoon biz.

Click here to read entire post

The Second Day of Ralph Hulett’s Christmas

This snow-covered pine is reminiscent of the Eyvind Earle style. Mr. Hulett began painting holiday cards in the late 1940s. His day job was creating backgrounds for animated features at Walt Disney Productions. His methods for creating Christmas cards (of which there were many) were eclectic: He used oil paint, watercolors and even stencils to get the effects he wanted. Hulett painted many of the cards on his lunch hour at Disney, sometimes using paints and materials from the background department. (Happily, the statute of limitations on pilfered art supplies long ago ran out. Who knows? Maybe he paid for them.)

Click here to read entire post

General Membership Meeting Tomorrow

Just to remind people, The Animation Guild has a meeting of the membership on Tuesday, November 29th ...

The address is 1105 North Hollywood Way, Burbank, 91501. Time is 7:00 p.m. (The calendar on the website says "9:00" but that's ... uh ... wrong.)

We'll be talking about overtime, wage rates, and upcoming negotiations.

We encourage you to attend.

Kaplan Add:

The Calendar on the website has been updated to reflect the proper time.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dancing Apes

Magilla Gorilla was a Hanna-Barbera staple in the go-go sixties. Here we have animation poses of the twinkle-toed ape from the talented pencil of Irv Spence. ...

Add On:

Irv Spence was a veteran MGM animator who jumped to Hanna-Barbera when Joe and Bill got the operation running. (Other drawing of Mr. Spence can be viewed here and here and here.)

These drawings come, naturally enough, from the extensive animation library of the Mega Collector.

(Kindly note: As I post this, I realize there is a middle drawing missing from the series ... that I will put up tomorrow. Drawing 41. So why do I put this up NOW? Because I'm impatient.)

Add On: And the missing post is now UP.

Click here to read entire post

Box Office Receipts in Foreign Lands

... Where animation continues to roll along:

... Arthur Christmas drew $11.9 million from some 4,000 screens in 24 markets, lifting its early foreign cume to $22.3 million. ... The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, flew past the $200-million foreign gross total mark over the weekend ($207 million). ... Second weekend of overseas play [for Happy Feet 2] generated $10 million from some 3,700 screens in 27 markets, lifting the early cume to $14 million. ...

Puss In Boots, which generated a total of $9 million overall on the weekend at 1,097 venues in 13 markets. ... Real Steel, the sci-fi-action vehicle starring Hugh Jackman, drew $5.1 million on the weekend in its eighth round of foreign release in 45 markets. ... Disney’s The Lion King 3D, $67.1 million ... Fox’e Rise of the Planet of the Apes, $306 million ...

So there seems to be market oomph for mo-cap, cg animation, hand-drawn animation, and the myriad hybrid stuff. Which means there are ongoing employment opportunities for those with the requisite skills.

(Disney will be turning more of its hand-drawn feature catalogue into 3-D long-forms. Beauty and the Beast, converted to dimensional cinema before Lion King, will now get a wider release in the New Year. Money talks.)

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mojo Tracks DWA Box Office

Box Office Mojo tracks DreamWorks Animation's Fall features.

Domestic Grosses

Madagascar 2 (2008) -- $180 million

Shark Tale (2004) -- $160.9 million

Megamind (2010) -- $148.4 million

Puss In Boots -- (2011) -- $130.9 million

Compared to the other DreamWorks cartoon features above, Puss ranks at the bottom of the stats, but is still above Bee Movie and the Aardman co-production Flushed Away. (Aardman co-productions seem to have rough sledding at the U.S. box office, witness Arthur Christmas's current rollout.)

One thing to keep in mind about the swashbuckling kitty: PIB is only about 28% of the way through its domestic theatrical run. All the other candidates had theatrical lives of 14-16 weeks. Puss in Boots is now in week #4.

And though the cat had an opening half the size of Madagascar 2, it dropped a mere 3% in its second weekend, while Mad plunged 44.5%.

So Puss has a ways to travel, and will probably end up ahead of the middle of the pack by the time all ticket receipts are counted. And of course, there is still foreign box office to tally up. Expect 55-65% of the final total to originate from there.

Click here to read entire post

Andy Serkis Regarding the Mo Cap Circus

Mr. S. expounds on the early days of performing on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and working with Weta animators ...

... and how the process has evolved, and what it's like today.

I didn't know Serkis had been working with the same group of animators and animation techs for the last dozen years.

Being plugged in and "networked" doesn't hurt in helping people get jobs. Actors included.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Middle Kingdom's Cartoon Business ...

... seems to be under-performing:

The [China] State Administration of Radio Film and Television announced in early summer that in 2010, domestic animation studios produced 220,000 minutes of cartoons. It subsequently called China the world’s biggest producer of cartoons on TV ...

Yet during the summer movie season from July 8 to Aug. 11, five animated features – "Legend of the Moles – The Frozen Horror," "Seer," "The Tibetan Dog," "Legend of a Rabbit" and "Kui Ba" – were released in theaters. All were box office flops.

Nobody in the U.S. has heard of these Chinese features. But apparently only a chosen few in China know much about them, either. (As that wise old American philosopher Sam Goldwyn once said: "When people don't want to go see your movie, you can't stop them.")

As former Disney supervisor Kevin Geiger pointed out in October, China's protectiveness of its film industry and focus on large public-private animation companies dooesn't seem to be helping the industry happen in a big way:

... DWA's “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has caused a great deal of soul-searching in China. Many here have asked why the Chinese animation industry is seemingly incapable of taking such a creative turn with its own culture, and have wondered when a Chinese animated film will achieve such success in the West ...

So far, the answer appears to be "not soon." But China isn't stupid:

... Dreamworks Animation SKG Inc, producer of hit movies such as "Kung Fu Panda", is in talks to set up a joint venture studio in Shanghai as early as January next year to produce animation and design theme parks, Caijing Magazine reported, quoting government sources.

The joint venture, to be established in the first quarter of next year, would be formed by Dreamworks Animation and a consortium of Chinese companies ...

A wise Chinese philosopher named Hu Jintao once said: "When you can't beat your competitors, do a strategic alliance with them. And see what you can learn."

Words to live by.

Click here to read entire post

Animated Cars Not of Pixar

The Times of New York discusses the automobiles in Tintin.

... The movie, like the book it is based on, takes its automobiles seriously, so the fleeing coupe ... is a faithfully recreated 1937 Ford V-8, animated to reflect the actual car as well as the unique style of the artist ....

“The version in the movie is actually quite referential to the physical car,” said Jamie Beard, the animation supervisor for the film, referring to the Ford featured in the trailer. “Hergé used a very specific two-door model, the trunk back, which is actually a slightly rarer model of the V-8 Tudor. The color that he used, the turquoise blue, is actually one of the standard V-8 colors, but he’s done his own Hergé spin on that and adjusted the colors ever so slightly.” ...

The Times also undercuts the "mo-cap isn't animation" meme:

... The widely anticipated movie, a 3-D animated feature with A-list credits — Steven Spielberg directed and Peter Jackson served as a producer — is to be released on Dec. 21. ...

If the New York Times says The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is an animated feature, who are we to say otherwise? Either way, I'm interested in seeing it, even if 89.7% of the American population has no idea who the Boy Reporter is.

Click here to read entire post

Goodbye Silver Disks

The Mouse hops on the Band Wagon.

Disney Launches YouTube Streaming Rentals, Including Pixar and DreamWorks Titles

... Google announced Wednesday that Walt Disney Studios has partnered with YouTube as the latest rental partner on the streaming video hub. ...

Once upon a time, my father-in-law had shelves and shelves of VHS tapes (remember those?), all arranged alphabetically. More recently, people have their DVD or Blu-ray collections. But those seem to be going away, just as VHS disappeared fifteen or twenty years ago.

For the studios and entertainment labor unions, this presents a bit of a problem. Corporate cash flows ... and resulting contract residuals ... are mostly dependent on lots of little silver disks being purchased and popped into home-viewing devices. Getting everything from "the cloud" floating through the internet cuts into all of that.

Streaming movies is a new source of cash, of course, but so far the new river of moolah doesn't replace the money all those little silver disks provided when America was buying them in bulk ... just a few short moments ago.

Technology develops as it will, and drags the marketplace along with it. And players who like the status quo have to grit their teeth and get with the new realities. Otherwise they get left on the side of the road.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Box Office

The Nikkster informs us that three animated features reside in the Top Seven.

1. Twilight Saga’s Breaking Dawn Part 1 (Summit) Week 2 [4,066 Theaters] Wednesday $12.5M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $58M

2. The Muppets (Disney) NEW [3,440 Theaters] Wednesday $7.3M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $50M

3. Happy Feet Two 3D (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,606 Theaters] Wednesday $3M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $23M

4. Arthur Christmas 3D (Sony Pictures) NEW [3,376 Theaters] Wednesday $2.8M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $22M

5. Immortals 3D (Relativity) Week 3 [3,120 Theaters] Wednesday $2.2M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $15M

6. Jack & Jill (Sony) Week 3 [3,438 Theaters] Wednesday $2.1M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $15M

7. Puss In Boots 3D (DreamWorks Animation/Par) Week 5 [3,005 Theaters] Wednesday $2M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $15M

8. Hugo 3D (Paramount) NEW [1,277 Theaters] Wednesday $1.6M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $11M

9. Tower Heist (Universal) Week 4 [2,474 Theaters] Wednesday $1.4M, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $10M

10. The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) Week 2 [390 Theaters] Wednesday $1MK, Estimated 5-Day Holiday $8M

If the figures hold, the kitty in the hat will be head-bumping $140-142 million when the weekend comes to an end. And the new contestants HappyFeet 2 and Arthur Christmas will be performing okay, but certainly no blowing anybody's socks off.

Add On: The Times reports that the puppets and doing well, but the big, Christmasy animated feature, not so much:

... The weekend's biggest disappointment so far is "Arthur Christmas." Sony Pictures' animated film, made in collaboration with Britain's Aardman Animations, took in only $4.3 million its first two days in theaters. The well-reviewed film, which cost approximately $100 million to produce, will gross about $15 million by Sunday. ...

Sony just can't catch any updrafts with its bull-bore, animated offerings.

Click here to read entire post

On the first day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas ...

Here on Turkey Day, we begin another Christmas season*, and another series of Christmas card designs by Ralph Hulett. This year's images are scanned directly from original art rather than from cards. These and many other designs will be featured in our annual Gallery 839 show that begins a week from today and runs through December 28.

* Or maybe we should consider that Halloween is now the launch date for the holidays. Who knows?

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Cornucopia

I haven't been paying attention, but I guess cartoons are abundant on my t.v.

... [T]his weekend, we can collapse on the couch in front of no fewer than five new, mostly holiday-themed television cartoons. Add broadcasts of the films “Horton Hears a Who!” (NBC, Thursday) and “Shrek the Third” (ABC, Friday), and prime time lives up to Fox’s Sunday-night boast: animation domination. ...

With, of course, more animated specials -- both old and new -- coming in December.

I'm happy that the powers behind the Big Desks have figured out that holiday animation makes our fine conglomerates Big Money. (Much like other kinds of animation.) You won't find any Burl Ives revival on the live-action side of cable or broadcast television, but his voice-work in stop motion animated specials are with us still.

And likely forever.

Count me as one who wants to see as much television animation occur as possible, just like I want to see as many awards for animation as possible. It's especially good if the awards -- like the specials -- are televised. Because it tends to hoist animation's profile and profitability.

And makes more employment happen.

Click here to read entire post

Five Mickeys

One more art piece from Mega Collector. ...

Interesting story about this one: Mega saw the Mickeys advertised on an art sales website, and recognized it as being done in the middle thirties by Fred Moore.

"I know Fred's drawing style, and knew right away it couldn't have been done by anyone other than Fred ..."

Happily, the seller had no idea who drew the Mickey studies, and so Mega got the drawing for a good price.

Moral: When you've got more knowledge in a negotiation than the other guy, you usually come out okay.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Huck and Yogi

From our companion and true amigo The Mega Collecter comes this Hanna-Barbera storyboard from the 1959-1960 period ...

As Mega describes it, this is a short board for an interstitial. Neither Mega nor I know who drew this collector's piece. But the work is a good example of the clean, minimalist style of storyboards in television animation's first "Golden Age." No mini-layouts here! Just straight-ahead, character stuff.

We will be displaying other jams and jellies from M.C. in the near future.

Click here to read entire post

Animation Vs. "Animation"

The Reporter ... behind a subscription wall ... has this:

Steven Spielberg's motion-capture smash poses a real challenge to the five-year reign of Pixar movies.

Pixar's Animated movies have had a prize-winning run at the Golden Globe awards, but this year that run could very well come crashing to an end -- and all because of an intrepid young reporter called Tintin. ...

In some ways, the Globes plunking down Tintin in the middle of Pixar and DreamWorks animated features bothers me. We're comparing apples to oranges, right? One is motion capture and the other is "pure" animation, correct? No question about it.

Case closed.

Except that the well-known animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? It has motion capture in it. Back in the 1930s, of course, they called it "rotoscope," wherein live actors are filmed, the frames of their performances then blown up onto phtostatic paper that is -- by happy circumstance -- the size of hole-punched animation paper, and voila! With a few pencil tracings and costume adjustments, we have mocap, 1930s style!

Snow herself gets the rotoscopic/mocap treatment ... with heavy, heavy tweaks and rescaling. The Prince gets minimal animation adjustments as he is transferred from live-action frame to paper to painted cels without a lot of enhancements. (The Hyperion Studio was running out of time and money, so Ms. White's love-interest, who's only a bit-player anyway, is close to pure motion capture. And looks it. And animators griped about it for decades.)

But the larger point is: Motion capture has been embedded in animated movies for freaking years. (Snow White. Gulliver's Travels. Cinderella. Anastasia and most of the later Don Bluth catalogue. So how is Tintin so very much different?)

The argument that Spielberg is doing all motion capture, and 100% motion capture doesn't count as animation is a fine one, but there are animators altering characters and changing performance timing in the new extravaganza, just like in 1937. So what do we call that?

And if we take the position that motion capture doesn't pass muster because there's too high a percentage of it in the "animated" movie, that seems ... I donno ... sort of arbitrary. (I mean, 32.5% is okay? But if the percentage goes up to, say, 66.6%, that's beyond the pale? Who are we kidding?)

The problem is, there's no clean and easy answer. Mocap performers want to be considered on a par with their live-action counterparts, but there will always be some guy at a computer altering what they do, so I have doubts any of the folks who wear scuba outfits with little cameras in their faces will ever cop an Oscar for "Best Performance." And animators are outraged that mocap is sullying the temple of "pure animation," even though there has been defecations going on in the Holy Place for years.

The best solution is, make up your own definition. If you believe that a mocap feature isn't actual animation, I get where you're coming from, and urge you to picket the Globes ... or the Academy Awards ... or whatever. If those organizations have the temerity to include The Adventure os Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn with Cars or Kung Fu Panda, off with their heads! And if you believe that Steven S. is doing an animated feature, then demonstrate in the opposite direction.

Me, I think it's a tempest in a small paint bucket, but I respect your right to be outraged ... and to behave accordingly. Just so long as you don't taze or pepper spray anybody.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Next Animated Release

We've had Puss In Boots, followed by Happy Feet Deux, and now comes Arthur Christmas.

The Christmas film marks a new partnership with Sony for the stop-motion animation studio, which suffered a split with DreamWorks over creative differences and the poor showing of 'Flushed Away.' ...

Sony Pictures Animation and British animation house Aardman ... have a lot riding on the success of the 3-D CG animated movie. ... Although pre-release tracking on the film suggests it could have a soft opening in the U.S., the movie has been well reviewed and is already doing brisk business in the United Kingdom ...

AC had a bit of pre-production ... and all the rest of its production ... rendered at Sony ImageWorks in Culver City. It's been percolating along there for the last nineteen months. Every time I stuck my head in one of the offices, there were sunny smiles all around from the Brit staff, and remarks about how smoothly it was sailing through the ImageWorks buildings. (There were varying reports from other sources, but the picture hit its scheduled end dates and is now out in Great Britain. So it's all good.)

But the cloud on Arthur C.'s horizon is that movie box office has been soft, and animated features soft along with it. The penguin movie didn't have a strong debut, and Puss in Boots, though it's held well week to week, is losing theaters and steadily deflating. So now comes Arthur C., sledding along with high approval ratings and a strong opening in the United Kingdom.

Will it play stateside? Will it have a gang-buster opening? We'll be finding out, starting tomorrow.

Click here to read entire post

Recap: CTN 2011

We've just finished putting away the boxes and materials from this weekends CTN Animation Expo. Once again, Tina Price and the Creative Talent Network have outdone themselves in organizing and staging this special event.

As we mentioned previously, we were fortunate to have been placed close to the entrance to the hall. This gave us the opportunity to be one of the first tables visited by the attendees who entered the hall.

We spoke to students, enthusiasts, members, and many more. Topics ranged between what the union does to how to enroll in the TAG 401k. We look forward to continued participation of this must-attend animation event.

Please enjoy some pictures that we took wandering the exhibition floor.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Storytelling and Pirates

I happened to watch the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides this weekend, courtesy of the little silver disk. (Now out on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD versions. I saw the flat variety; outside of the principals thrusting swords at the camera, I don't think I was deprived of much.)

The picture's got everything: intrigue in the British court, treks through jungle swamps, swordfights galore, a beautiful and saucy female to entice Captain Sparrow, one action sequence close on the heels of another ...

It's a veritable treasure chest of visual splendors, which is the series' stock-in-trade. The whole 137 minutes is entertaining in its way, but not unlike watching a colorful, fast-moving parade: interesting (if frenetic) characters, plenty of flash, but minimal emotional involvement. One sequence passes before our eyes, then another. None of them seem to be heavily connected to the set-piece of ten minutes before. We're there to be dazzled, not emotionally invested. And story coherence is way down the list of PC's priorities.

Contrast all the pyrotechnics of Pirates 4 with any good animated film and you immediately see the difference: Dumbo's mother isn't a plot device, but an emotional fulcrum for the entire movie. Woody changes his attitude toward Buzz Lightyear; we're never sure what Sparrow's attitude toward Angelica even is. The Dwarf's actually fall in love with Snow White (and we know it)*, Captain Jack has nothing but insouciant one-liners for everyone he encounters. When the only love story that resonates, however faintly, is between two minor characters, you know there are some structural problems.

Tides exists to extend a lucrative franchise. Not deepen our understanding of Jack Sparrow and his shipmates.

* Even the 71-year-old, black-and-white pirate saga "The Sea Hawk" has more coherence and emotion than "On Stranger Tides," even as it shares the sword play and sailing ships, the British court double-crossings and hair-breadth escapes.

Click here to read entire post

Pre-Holiday Foreign Derby

The vampries, to nobody's surprise, frolic a Number One. But animation is still bopping along.

... No. 2 on the weekend was Sony-Paramount’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in 3D, which grossed $21.7 million from 13,039 screens in 53 markets. A China opening via Paramount posted $7.4 million from 7,030 locations. Total foreign gross comes to $187.6 million ...

Happy Feet 2, opening in Mexico and four smaller markets, was $2.6 million from 969 sites. It was No. 1 in Malaysia ... Real Steel has grossed a total of $159.9 million overseas thus far. Its seventh weekend registered $6.9 million from 42 markets. It ranks No. 5 on the weekend. ... Disney’s The Lion King 3D grossed $3.6 million in its 15th weekend on the foreign circuit in 40 markets, pushing its overseas cume to $64.6 million. ... Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, $304.9 million ...;

The seasonal family title Arthur Christmas, opened No. 9 in Germany ... Early cume is $9 million. ... DreamWorks Animation’s Puss In Boots is playing just five offshore markets, but has managed to roll up a foreign cume of $53.1 million

Puss has a worldwide accumulation of $175 million to date. Whether it reaches that total domestically (I doubt it) remains to be seen. If pre-existing gross ratios continue, the cat will double its U.S.-Canadian grosses before the turnstiles stop twirling.

Meanwhile, Lion King is up around $161 million globally. Happy Feet the Second seems to be softer than HF the 1st.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Animated Linkage

The Reporter handicaps Oscar prospects for various animated features.

Creator of DangerMouse passes on, (and John Hambley eulogizes him.) ...

The question is asked: Will this be the last year for the Motion Picture Academy's "Best Animated Feature" category? (Obvious answer: No.)

Hong Kong's Next Media Animation loves its New York City crime stories.

DreamWorks Animation with optimistic prospects ... and the gloom and doom side. (We think it hits the $150-$160 million domestic marker, gut now knows?)

Some early tub-thumping for Pixar's Brave (and the longer trailer is out Tuesday.)

Story Master Mark Kennedy writes of creating believable worlds in animated features.

Hit Fix catalogues possible contenders for the Animated Shorts Oscar race, and comes up with 45 candidates.

Have a glorious Sunday, and return to work refreshed.

Click here to read entire post

Pre-Turkey Horse Race

The Aussie feature under-performs.

... Happy Feet Two, got off to a slower-than-expected start domestically, grossing an estimated $5.9 million on Friday for a projected weekend gross of $22 million to $24 million ...

And the Nikkster breaks things down ...

1. Breaking Dawn Part 1 (Summit) NEW [4,061 Theaters] Friday $72M (including $30.2M midnights), Estimated Weekend $140M

2. Happy Feet Two (Warner Bros) NEW [3,606 Theaters] Friday $5.9M, Estimated Weekend $22.5M

3. Immortals (Relativity) Week 2 [3,120 Theaters] Friday $3.8M (-74%), Estimated Weekend $13M, Estimated Cume $53.5M

4. Jack And Jill (Sony) Week 2 [3,438 Theaters] Friday $3.5M (-65%), Estimated Weekend $12.5M, Estimated Cume $41M

5. Puss In Boots (DreamWorks Animation/Par) Week 4 [3,415 Theaters] Friday $2.5M, Estimated Weekend $12M.

Happily, Puss In Boots is holding its own, and will likely be around $123 million by the close of the weekend.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, November 18, 2011

Florida's New Animation Studio ...

... has its work cut out for it. Since the animation studio's mother company is climbing up a steep hill.

... DD sold about 4.9 million shares to investors at $8.50 per share today. By the closing bell, the share price had fallen to $7.15. Back in May, DD said it hoped to raise as much as $115 million, a tough order for a company that posted a net loss of $45.2 million last year. And it didn't help when the company announced a net loss of $112 million for the first half of 2011 ...

Beyond the lacklustre IPO, there might be another, larger mountain beyond that first one. The animated feature marketplace is a wee bit crowded just now, so the company's first offering had better be peachy dandy. Audiences can be hard-nosed and fickle. A weak effort might be problematic.

Just ask the Weinstein brothers.

Click here to read entire post

2011 CTN Animation Expo: First Day

Today was the first day of this years Creative Talent Network infamous Animation Expo. The conference, now in its third year, has become a favorite for animation enthusiasts, experts and employers. Held at the Burbank Airport Marriott, the line of people eager to experience this animation-centric event wrapped around one side of the building as the ceremonial ribbon cutting took place.

TAG was fortunate to be placed close to the entrance to the exposition hall. We're just to the left as you walk in. We look forward to two more days of speaking to animation enthusiasts from near and far. If you're planning to attend, be sure to stop and say HI!

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3-D Loonies

Matt O'Callaghan showed me this Sylvester and Tweetie extravaganza a few months ago. It's terrific.

... A new Looney Tunes short starring Tweety and Sylvester will debut Friday ... "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat" [based on a song featuring Mel Blanc] comes on the heels of Warner Bros. Animation's three Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner 3-D shorts ...

"If you listen to the song, it is just a sweet duet," said O'Callaghan. "But there is nothing indicating a narrative or the Warner Bros. sensibility. You start working out gags and then you start drawing. Then you have to back into the gags and figure out what lyrics are going to lead up to that moment."

The cartoon is around two-thirds the length of a standard-issue short, but well worth seeing. I even liked it in 3-D, and I'm not crazy about 3-D.

Click here to read entire post

Good News, Bad News

Due to Thanksgiving and the shortened week, no TAG interview will be appearing next week ...

On the brighter side, because it's the start of the holiday season, Ralph H.'s Christmas cards will start making their Yuletide appearance.

Click here to read entire post

Kress and McDuffie Honored

Two gifted men, both departing too soon, were honored by the Animation Writers Caucus last night:

... “This year, animation lost two talented, hard-working people who have given much of themselves and their talent to our field,” said AWC chair Craig Miller. "Dwayne McDuffie was a talented writer and creator of comics and animation who worked hard for others, particularly for minority writers. Earl Kress was a writer whose career included both feature and TV animation and hard work on behalf of all animation writers as a member of the WGA Animation Writers Caucus and the Animation Guild Board of Directors. Both were people I was glad to call friend and colleague, and whose efforts, it can truthfully be said, made all of us the better for them." ...

As I've said before, Earl was one of the first people I met when I entered the animation business in 1976. He was a writer for Disney Features then, and over the course of four decades I came to know Earl's passion for cartoons, also for writing and bettering the working lives of professionals in the animation business. (You can find more details about the AWC event, and Earl and Dwayne's accomplishments, here.)

Click here to read entire post

Working Until You Drop

A sobering survey from our friends at Wells Fargo:

The concept of a “retirement age” is going the way of the typewriter..

• A quarter (25%) of middle class Americans say they will “need to work until at least age 80” to live comfortably in retirement

• Three-fourths (74%) of middle class Americans expect to work in their retirement years, including 39% of all respondents who will need to work to make ends meet or maintain their lifestyles, while 35% say they will work because they want to, rather than out of financial need.

• Among middle class Americans age 40 to 59, 54% say they will “need to work,” compared to 34% of those age 25 to 39. Accordingly, only 25% of those between the ages of 40 and 59 say they will work in retirement because they “want to,” versus 45% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 39. ...

This new reality isn't hard to believe, especially after you dive into a new Stanford Study on our shrinking Middle Class.

... In 2007, the last year captured by the data, 44 percent of families lived in neighborhoods the study defined as middle-income, down from 65 percent of families in 1970. At the same time, a third of American families lived in areas of either affluence or poverty, up from just 15 percent of families in 1970. ...

None of this should be a surprise to anyone paying attention. We live in a different universe than we did four decades ago.

Then, we had a large manufacturing base, robustly funded schools, a more progressive tax code. America was still the dominant manufacturer in the world, with the rest of the globe straining to catch up. We were the dominant, post-World War power because we were large, untouched by the war, and had a vibrant manufacturing base with a huge advantage because our competitors had been bombed to rubble.

Now, other countries have not only caught us, some are close to lapping us. Not pretty.

I'm not one of those who think we're necessarily doomed to heartache and failure. Sixty years on, the big advantages are gone, so we'll need to shore up our sagging educational system and play to our strengths. (High productivity and workplace flexibility high among them.) Nationally, we need to make smart choices as we chug into the future.

And the lessons to be learned in the here and now? Nothing that happens to us on an individual level can be separated from the larger, economic context. If we don't have a high-level education, we tend to be screwed. If we don't work in an industry with decent wages and benefits, we have fewer decent, day-to-day life choices. (Nice house, nice neighborhood, top-flight schools for the kids.)

And if we don't live below our means and save for retirement, we will likely have a less than optimum life-style during the final decades of our lives, and end up working until the Reaper waves us home.

Click here to read entire post

Peregoy, He Does Show

For those Peregoy fans in Southern California and the fabled San Fernando Valley, Walt will be having a show tonight:

Walt Peregoy Show

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 -- 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Home of Patty Ray

4100 Troost Ave.

Studio City, CA 91504

Mr. Peregoy, as many know, was a background artist and designer at Disney Feature, Hanna Barbera and many other studios. He is also a dynamic painter, with studies like this:

Also this:

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November DreamWorks

I spent the morning at DreamWorks Animation, hauling around my bag of 401(k) bric a brac asking the perennial question: "Wanna Four Oh One Kay book? ... Wanna Four Oh One Kay book?" ...

In the midst of the traipsing about, I fell into conversation with a staffer working on The Croods who said:

"The picture's halfway through production. Lots more sequences in work. It was slow for awhile as they pulled sequences back. The feature has always looked good, but now the story is coming together. It's much tighter. They've trimmed stuff that meandered and wasn't working.

"And the crew goes to 'work in progress' screenings. They want us to give suggestions, and we do. They're good about getting input, and they act on a lot of it. The next time we see the picture it's 'Ah, they cut that slow part out, good! They used our notes!'"

On my way out, I ran into two long-time staffers from Sony Pictures Imageworks/Animation (now at DWA) who told me that The Smurfs was the only big-time success for the entire Sony organization this year. This might be true, but I enjoyed Moneyball, and hope that it edges into the black before all revenue streams are exhausted.

In the afternoon, I stopped by Cartoon Network, where employees said that two series have been shuttered. (Since I haven't seen the death announcements on the Internet, and since staff has been treated to a round of 'Keep our secrets secret' talks and videos, I won't say which two they are.)

Add On: Regarding DWA, there was this from two days ago:

DreamWorks discovers the "Holy Grail" ...

Real-time rendering of animation is now possible, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told an audience at the Techonomy conference this morning ... In the most complicated aspects of its process, the company can now run at 50 to 70 times faster than it did before, Katzenberg said. Everyone does a breathtaking amount of waiting and this will eliminate that.... With the new technology, DreamWorks will simplify from 12 [stops on the production line] to less than six. ...

Click here to read entire post

Entertainment Tax Incentives

Artwork by Steven E Gordon.

Click the link for his site, or the above image for a larger view.

The latest news from the realm of entertainment tax breaks is that London and Michigan have reaffirmed their commitment to tax incentives designed to lure production to their corners of the world. Entertainment tax incentives are all the rage these days. People are convinced that without them, Hollywood will find more "lucrative" pastures to host production work.

What astounds me is how little tax payers understand where the incentive money is going and how much they believe those incentives are actually helping their cities.

The basic premise of the tax credits sounds logical: incentivize Hollywood conglomerates making the films to come to your locale, and seed an industry that wasn't previously there. Films are made all the time. Bringing the production work to your constituents means more employment, more local revenue, and happier voters.


But, once one region benefits from paying Hollywood to play inside its borders, other regions take notice. They initiate incentives that offer more than their neighbor to win the next contract. Then, the other state takes notice and does the same.

.. and so on, and so on.

Every state in our nation now has some kind of incentive. Each state is vying for the same piece of the hollywood pie and by working against each other. Who is really benefiting in the race to be the place with the biggest kick-back? More importantly, who is paying the studio to be there?

Another important factor? The labor force that is brought in to do the work. Production companies regularly bring workers from other states when they make their movie in IncentiveLand. This is prevalent in the visual effects industry. VFX shops have opened satellite locations in areas that offer tax incentives so they can be awarded jobs that pay the hollywood studio a tax credit for having the work done at that location. These satellite locations are staffed mostly by artists from elsewhere as the demand for work done exceeds the amount of local talent available.

Los Angeles born visual effects artist David Stripinis tweeted on the anniversary of his working in London:

Two years ago today I left Los Angeles for what I thought would be one year. Now I don't think I'll ever get back. #fuckYouSubsidies

Regional tax incentives, paid by the local population, don't kick-start a local entertainment industry. Instead, these incentives drain municipal coffers to lure Hollywood studios in to temporarily squat in their provinces and make with the Movie Magic. Artists and craftspeople are flown in by production companies eager to be paid by the local population to do their work.

Then, when the work is done, they fly back to their lives and families in lands across the globe.

I'm reminded of the movie line from a supercomputer who tried to figure out the best way to win a Global Thermonuclear War

[It's] a strange game. The only winning move is not to play ..

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Left Eye

Veteran storyboard artist Sharon Forward relates a cautionary tale ...

I’ve just returned from the land of the blind and I can see!

My journey started four weeks ago. I woke up Monday morning and went into work. In this miserable economy, having a job in our field is indeed a blessing, so driving in, I dismissed the funny looking black squiggles in the upper left part of my left eye. Got to my cubicle, turned on my Cintiq and started working on a storyboard, staring intently into the light of the Cintiq as I worked.

Later that day, my friend poked her head into my cube. I took one look at her and exclaimed, “Carin-Anne! Your head is covered with calligraphy!”

“Call the doctor now,” she firmly stated. And I did.

Got a referral and an appointment for the next day. Saw the opthalmologist. He didn’t seem too concerned. He wanted to see me in a week or so. I scheduled an appointment for Thursday, Oct. 13th, and went in to work. I worked all that week with the annoying black squiggles in my eye.

The following Monday, Oct. 10th, I could not see much out of the eye. The squiggle was gone, replaced by the blurriest of blind spots covering my field of vision. Still went into work, but found it easier to wear an eye patch over the eye. But my husband, Bob, was concerned. We did some tests that night. I covered my good eye and tried to ‘see’. I could not make out faces or how many fingers he was holding up. I was only 3 ft. away from him. At one point he walked out of my line of vision, but I did not track him. “Get back to the doctor tomorrow,” he said, worriedly.

The doctor saw me first thing--I walked in at 8:30 am. He declared I had a vitreous hemorrhage, and referred me to a retinal specialist who saw me immediately. The specialist did many tests, including ultrasound, but saw nothing. Too much blood. He wanted to see me in three days.

Went back to work, with patch on eye (working on a pirate show just made it look cool.) Went back to the specialist on Friday, Oct. 14th. He still couldn’t “see” anything back there. I’m sure he was concerned, but took no action. He wanted to see me in a week. I went back to work, driving with a patch, and thought nothing of it.

My crew and friends at work were curious and concerned. I just explained it was a vitreous hemorrhage, would pull up the patch and demonstrate how I couldn’t see their face. I just shrugged it off. But they persisted in their concern. And it made me wonder...

More than one coworker wanted to know if it was from the Cintiq. Sitting nine hours a day 14 inches away from the illuminated drawing tablet started me wondering too. At the end of the day I got concerned enough to call for a new referral, just to get a second opinion. I got a referral to doctor in West Hills. I set up an appointment as soon as I could.

The doctor was young, energetic and seemed to love what he did. He examined me, and did an ultrasound of my eye. Bob peered over his shoulder at the image. Both he and the doctor leaned back and were very quiet for a minute. ‘This is very serious,” the doctor said. “When was the last time you ate?”

“I had lunch a couple of hours ago.”

“You need surgery immediately. Unfortunately we will have to wait until first thing in the morning.”

He scribbled a few more notes down and looked up. “We’re going to try to save your eye.”

It was then I realized how much trouble I was in. “Save my eye?” I was in shock.

The surgery took a couple of hours. They sucked the vitreous humor out of my eye (mine was filled with blood). Then the doctor lasered the torn retina. It was huge and he was amazed that the retina had not detached completely. If it had, I would have gone blind. Then he did some cryosurgery and finally filled my eye with a special gas bubble-- like filling a balloon with air.

Once the surgery was over, the doctor came out to talk to my husband. The doctor was beaming. He felt he had been able to get to it just in time. But with a caveat: I had to stay immobile, face down for two weeks. TWO weeks. And I did exactly that. The second week he allowed me to stay in a modified face down position. As the gas bubble in my eye started to dissipate, my own natural fluid filled in my eye slowly. The first week I saw nothing, but by the second week I could make out shapes, light and colors! Finally the bubble disappeared altogether, and I could ‘see’.

On November 9th the doctor gave me the good news: my retina had reattached completely. There was some permanent damage to the lower peripheral vision, but my central vision was restored!

I couldn’t stop crying. I was so happy. Instead of going through the five stages of grief, I was going through the five phases of joy. Bob smiled patiently as I made all my confessions; promising to be a better person, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. Seems silly, but this was a transformational event for me, and it put my life in perspective big time. In addition to acting like Saint Sharon of Chatsworth, I have been doing a small amount of research--enough to make me wonder if we are all guinea pigs in this digital world of LCDs, CRTs, LEDs, refresh time and electromagnetic radiation.

The fluorescent light inside the monitors gives me pause for concern for all of us. Correlation is not causation, but if the LCD screen is fluorescent-lit, it may affect our eyes. Here’s what I found researching online, specifically from the following website:

‘With natural, real sunlight, the spectrum is distributed fairly equally between the visible regions. UV is something like only 12% of the total. The rest is visible. The problem with fluorescent light is in order to make it bright (sorta like "sunlight") they must use a great deal of green and blue. "Full spectrum" uses a huge amount of visible blue.

What it does is peak at an incredibly high level. Sunlight has approximately a level at 225 of visible blue and fluorescent has over 1000. The problem is, our eyes have developed to operate and see things visually at the range of 225 and fluorescent light over stimulates the eye to produce the same effect indoors.

The retina of the eye is best stimulated by "blue." I have in my possession only a fraction of animal/insect research that proves visible blue damages the retina at a level that is not easily seen on routine eye examination. In the studies, if the exposure was short, then there would be repair by the eye. If the exposure is long-term, there is permanent damage.’

So each of us needs to absorb as much information as we can about these “tools” we’re using, compare notes, side effects and, most importantly, get help immediately if you experience any black squiggles that suddenly appear in your field of vision. This is blood. You need to take action.

Lastly, I am not diabetic and do not have high blood pressure. These are additional concerns for the health of our eyes. With 30 years doing storyboards for animation, I am not naive--expecting perfect visual acuity. We have always needed to be proactive with our health. Before computers we had to use light tables that gave similar potential eye strain and complications.

3-D artists have render time, and usually they can take breaks, and much needed breaks at that. The rest of us may not realize how important taking breaks really is. My computer automatically “saves” every 20 minutes. This might be the ideal time to stand, move, stretch and rest your eyes. In addition, there are yellow tinted “Gunnar” glasses that can be purchased to ease eye strain. This applies to editors, game designers as well as animators.

I don’t want anyone to ever go through what I experienced this past month. And I consider myself lucky. So now you know what I’m thankful for this holiday season. And Happy Holidays to each and every one of you!.

Click here to read entire post

The Bert Klein Interview -- Part II

After high school, Mr. Klein leaped full-time into the animation business. (Attending Cal Arts was an option, but the pay was much better working as a layout artist on the t.v. cartoon The Critic.) Television, however, was only his first stop ...

TAG Interview with Bert Klein

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Disney soon came calling, and Bert found himself working on The Lion King and the string of Disney animated features that followed.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Uncomped

To add to Friday's thread:

I was saying that overtime without overtime payments has been going on a long time. But I've seen artists combat it in the following ways ...

1) I've seen departments at different studios work collectively to make sure a) Everybody took breaks at a set time; b) Everybody left at the prescribed quitting hour; c) Nobody worked over without authorization.

2) The Animation Guild has gone into studios and grieved for unpaid work. This involved the business representative getting confirmation that employees were working after hours without payment. (Sometimes this happens, sometimes not.)

3) The business rep has held meetings with departments and taken issues they have to producers of the show. Adjustments in scheduling were made.

Some General Operations

* The more unemployment there is, the more abuses creep into the studio environment. The less unemployment there is, the fewer abuses occur. (Call this "The magic of the market.")

* When employees act collectively they tend to have more leverage. (I'm not referring to "union action" here. I'm referring to groups of employees behaving like unionists and pushing back together -- most times without the union involved.)

So what else can be done?

Change your department's culture. Don't let peers work extra hours gratis.

Report unpaid overtime to the business agent. He'll take action in a variety of ways, after first strategizing with the reporting artist.

Come to the next General Membership Meeting on Tuesday, November 29th. At 1105 N. Hollywood Way. We'll be expounding on this subject.

Click here to read entire post

Seeking Blue Sky

The Nikkster tells us:

.... Universal Pictures has expanded its commitment to [Illumination Entertainment] by acquiring the French animation unit of Mac Guff Ligne. ...

“In acquiring an animation studio located half way around the world, we are evolving our filmmaking model; one that is creating entertainment despite borders, boundaries and languages,” Meledandri said in a statement. ...

A pity Mr. Meledandri isn't setting up a studio in Los Angeles, but it is what it is.

This isn't that different from the purchase of Blue Sky by Fox. A decade and a half ago, Fox purchased a little commercial C.G.I. house that did quirky, innovative work. While producing the first Ice Age, Fox tried to sell Blue Sky Studios, but changed its mine when favorable reactions to the feature-in-progress started to roll in.

Mac Guff Ligne has already produced two features for Illumination Entertainment, and now becomes Illumination's designated animation studio. So Paris becomes a newer player in big-time animated features, and the power circle of mainstream cartooning grows larger.

Click here to read entire post

The Bert Klein Interview -- Part I

If you've listened to many of these interviews, you know many animators, directors and designers were bitten by the animation bug early in their lives. Bert Klein is much the same in that regard, but he does have one difference with his peers ...

TAG Interview with Bert Klein

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

His passion and talent were such that he managed to become a working professional in the cartoon industry while still in high school. At the time, he was a student in Rowland Heights High School's animation program, he was also working at Film Roman, juggling text books with pencils and animation paper.

His career progressed rapidly from there ...

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Armistice Day Foreign Derby

The Boy Reporter has fallen from the Top Slot:

... Relativity Media’s Immortals decisively claimed the weekend’s No. 1 box office spot on the foreign theatrical circuit, grossing an estimated $37.1 million. ... Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn emerged the weekend’s No. 2 title on the foreign theatrical circuit ... Since it opened overseas on Oct. 26, the 3D motion capture animation ... has flown past the $150-million mark ($159.1 million). ...

Some other titles with much animation include ...

... No. 4 title was Disney’s Real Steel, which elevated its foreign cume to $147.5 ... Disney’s The Lion King 3D opened No. 4 in Germany, and generated $4.8 million overall in its 14th weekend overseas in some 40 markets. International cume stands at $58.6 million. Still playing just four offshore markets and collecting $4.5 million on the weekend from 1,220 locations was DreamWorks Animation’s Puss In Boots, which has claimed via Paramount a total foreign gross to date of $48.1 million.

Toting up the scorecard, worldwide totals for Lion King in the Third Dimension are $158 million, and Puss in Boots has collected $157.1 million, with most of the cat's foreign revenues still to come in.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Going Samarai

I didn't realize the director of this weekend's Number One movie has his sights set on a Cartoon Network property:

At the Monday premiere of Immortals, [Tarsem] Singh revealed his secret wish: to helm a live-action version of Samurai Jack. ...

“I love Samurai Jack. I would love to direct that.” He said it’s the epic style, pace and art that he admires.

“It’s brilliant. The speed, it embraces where it comes from. I find that comic strip films are halfway grounded. They don’t play my chord. But I love Samurai Jack. I love the animation," ...

More and more, animated features and live-action features are melding together. Tintin, Planet of the Apes, Avatar and Kung Fu Pandas I and II. You've got animators working on all of them. Even J. Edgar, a most old-fashioned bio pic, has a sizable Visual Effects crew.

So why shouldn't Tarsem Singh do a live-action version of a t.v. cartoon? One way or the other, there will be a boatload of animation in it.

Click here to read entire post

Getting Crowded

Animated feature films are racking up sizable money in all parts of the globe. It's not surprising then, that new entrants are getting into the marketplace:

... Legos will make a film for the big screen. Warner Bros. will be producing the movie. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, directors of "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," will write and direct, and Chris McKay, director of "Robot Chicken," will join on as co-director.

Warner Bros. is the only large entertainment conglomerate that doesn't have its very own feature animation house. Disney has two. Sony has SPA coupled with Imageworks. Universal has Illumination Entertainment. And Paramount, of course, has just opened its own animation division.

As for Warners, it shuttered its animated feature divisions soon after Quest for Camelot, Iron Giant and Cats Don't Dance underperformed at the box office.

Warners has one robust television animation studio (or two, if you count Cartoon Network), but it's still lacking in the feature area. Maybe that's why it picks up distribution for animated Penguin and European toy movies.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hallway Conversation

A veteran storyboard artist (who's half out of the biz doing something else) stopped me today and said:

You aware that storyboarders are doing long animatics now? And having to put in lots of extra drawings? There's way more work and the schedules haven't changed! ...

I replied that I was aware of these things.

And that I'm up-to-date on artists taking work home on thumb drives to complete assignments gratis. And staying late at the studio to hit the schedule. And doing lots more drawings than storyboard artists did, say, twenty years ago. (We'll call this "The tyranny of the digital story reel.")

I said that lots of people complain about it, and I always offer to leap in and file a grievance. And most everybody says "Uh, no. I don't want to risk my job."

I explained that non-paid o.t. has been a problem since the day I walked into the business representative's position and saw it percolating at Tiny Tunes, back in 1990. (Then, it was layouts on paper that weren't being compensated.) But I also said that I know a studio department today that sticks together and never does uncompensated o.t. (and the studio goes along), while others at the same facility work uncomped overtime all the freaking time. (Everyone makes their choices.)

He nodded ... and moved down the hall.

This story is similar to anecdotes rolled out here previously, but sometimes it's good to repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

Click here to read entire post

Early Weekend Tally

And the Nikkster (big surprise) has the early returns.

1. Immortals 3D (Relativity) $28M estimated weekend from 3,112 Theaters for debut

2. Jack And Jill (Sony Pictures) $25M estimated weekend from 3,438 Theaters for debut

3. Puss In Boots 3D (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) $22M estimated weekend from 3,903 Theaters for Week 3

4. J. Edgar (Warner Bros) $18M estimated weekend from 1,901 Theaters after opening Wednesday in limited run

5. Tower Heist (Universal) $15M estimated weekend from 3,370 Theaters for Week 2

If the figures hold, then Puss will be looking at a roughly 33% drop from week 2 to week 3 ... a nice, gentle decline.

And next weekend, Happy Feet 2 dances into the marketplace, and we'll get to see how the cat does then.

Click here to read entire post


The Reporter notes:

... Rosa, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi animated short from Spanish comic book artist Jesus Orellana, ... is getting attention from the tech and geek sites, and in the short time it’s been online (less than 24 hours), it has crossed over into the mainstream, hitting even USA Today. ...

ROSA from Jesús Orellana on Vimeo.

I see the younger kid playing video games that look similar on his game console, but this seems a bit more stylish. Perhaps Final Fantasy has returned with force.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Europe's #1 Movie

Before I stagger off to bed, here's my question: Does this newer trailer make you want to rush out and see the Boy Reporter?

I haven't made up my mind. But I suspect I'll be goggling at the Spielberg/Jackson collaboration at some point, although probably not wearing 3-D glasses. (Flat screen for me.)

Click here to read entire post

Dimensional DreamWorks

DreamWorks Animation's CTO Ed Leonard sat down earlier today at the GigaOM Roadmap conference in San Francisco and spoke of many things ...

Watch live streaming video from gigaomroadmap at

... Leonard admitted that some of Hollywood’s 3-D releases in recent months have been duds. “There’s been some stuff that has hit the market that has been less than great,” he said diplomatically. Unfortunately, 3-D is a much more sensual experience, which can include very physical side effects when you watch a bad movie. “With “3-D, you are really like: I don’t feel that good,” ...

Although I think DWA makes some of the best 3-D going, I still mostly avoid it. My tribe loved Puss in Boots, but we watched it in the flat version. The goggles, the moving View Master, not for us.

Leonard also talked about the deep development slate of DWA product that is now lined up on the studio runway. Ten to fifteen projects at any one time, usually three or four in production and another ten in various stages of development. Jeffrey K. and associates aren't fooling around.

Click here to read entire post

Happy Mouse

Having a good three months would lift anyone's spirits.

... It was a robust quarter all around for Disney, with operating income in every major division climbing by double-digit percentages. After parks, the strongest performer was Disney’s television business — ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC — with a 20 percent increase in operating income, to $1.46 billion. ...

Disney’s movie studio fell short of its performance in the previous year and losses at the company’s video game and Internet division mounted. ... [There were] strong ticket sales for “The Help” and “The Lion King 3-D.” But “Cars 2” did not meet expectations and most of the studio’s quarterly operating profit came from merchandising sales.

So a hand-drawn feature surprised with its robust re-issue cash flow, and a new c.g. release underperformed. A shame.

But it's always good to remember that the House of Mouse is a large and diverse mansion with many rooms and a lot of interlocking parts. Cars 2 might be a relative weakling at the box office, but it generated (and generates) a lot of merchandise sales for another division. And let's not forget how newer intellectual property (the animated features) feeds new rides and shows for the very profitable amusement parks.

Add On: Disney plans to dribble around the unfortunate labor troubles in one of our big time sports:

With the National Basketball Assn. lockout dragging on for 134 days, Walt Disney Co. Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo sought to allay concerns about how the labor dispute might effect the company's lucrative ESPN cable sports network. ...

As for myself, I would like the lockout to end soon. But Big Business is not overly fond of labor unions, so who knows?

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hasbro Prospers

During this week's sprint through various animation studios, I talked to a t.v. animation executive who complained about having a tough time finding qualified artists. I noted that the current growth of television animation might have a lot to do with it, since almost every studio seems to be ramping up and adding staff. For instance:

... [T]he October ratings of The Hub, in which Discovery Communications is Hasbro's partner, in the kids 2-11 demo where ... found its best total day viewership and tripled ratings over the year-ago performance of what was then known as Discovery Kids. ...

Lots of artists tell me that work is more plentiful than one ... two ... or three years ago. I can't think of any television animation studio that's shrinking. Disney TVA now occupies two floors of the Sonora Building in Glendale, and two floors in the Yahoo Building near the Bob Hope Airport. Nick occupies four different buildings in Burbank. Warner Bros. Animation -- a ghost town three years ago -- is now bursting at the seams, with one of its shows moving out of Warner Ranch due to lack of space.

So it's nice to see Hasbro gaining success in Cable land. The more animation producers that prosper, the better it is for animation artists searching for work.

Click here to read entire post

End of the Winning Streak?

The L.A. Times asks:

Oscars 2012: Is Pixar's animation winning streak over?

... [J]udging from a recent interview [John Lasseter] gave to the New York Times, in which he called “Cars 2” a “great movie,” he's in denial about just how badly Pixar stumbled with its last film. ...

[T]he reviews for “Cars 2” were abysmal, with the film earning a lowly 38% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. ... It didn’t stop lots of people from seeing the film, but it is bad news for Pixar’s chances of winning the Oscar for animated feature, a category Pixar has won four times in a row and six out of the last eight. ...

I haven't seen Cars 2, so I'm hardly in a position to judge. Maybe the feature is brilliant, despite the lackluster reviews. Maybe the critics on Rotten Tomatoes are way off base.

But I did see the Oscar winner Toy Story 3 last year, also most of its competitors. And while I liked TS3 a great deal, I thought How to Train Your Dragon was better. Considerably better. But Pixar's brand counts for a lot, and when the ballots were counted, the Emeryville studio walked away with the little gold man.

Should the Oscar have gone to some other deserving party? Was justice done? Put twenty film critics in a room and have them argue the topic, there would likely be no consensus. And in this corporatist age, the Oscars are a commercial enterprise anyway, one more ceremony offering shiny statues in an era crowded with Golden Globes and "People's Choice" Awards. So maybe in the end, it doesn't matter.

But if the L.A. Times is to be believed (and why should it?), Cars 2 will have a hard time even getting a nomination this time around. Me, I think the nomination is in the bag. The Times also believes that John Lasseter is in denial about his latest directorial effort, but come on already. John is just being a good, professional filmmaker.

Very few directors worth their salt ever say: "Yeah, that last picture of mine sucked." It would incur the wrath of the conglomerate that paid them big money to make the thing, and isn't what most directors believe about their latest creations anyway. (Outside of Mr. Spielberg bemoaning 1941, I can't recall a major director confessing to turning out a turkey. Nobody but nobody does it close to release time.)

Lastly, the Times seems to think that Mr. Lasseter can't be an effective overseer of animated features if he's so wrong-headed about his own work. I would submit that one less-than-great feature isn't indicative of anything, except that John Lasseter is human, and capable of making a not-great film. Based on what I know of projects moving down the pipeline under his watch at Walt Disney Animation Studios, John remains an effective top-kick who is greenlighting solid, entertaining pictures. Money making pictures.

What more, really, could any fine conglomerate -- especially the Walt Disney Company -- want?

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Yo Yo

Puss in Boots underperforms, DreamWorks Animation stock goes down. Puss over-performs, and the stock ....

... leapt more than 10 percent after "Puss in Boots" nabbed its second weekly box office crown with a surprisingly strong $48 million in global ticket sales. ... The movie has now raked in $114.5 million, worldwide.

The marketplace is fickle, is it not?

Click here to read entire post

The Linda Miller Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Linda Miller

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

While animating on the sparrow and Widow Tweed in The Fox and the Hound at Disney, director Don Bluth abruptly resigned his position at the studio. Animators John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman quit Disney's at the same time, and the following day, Linda Miller was the first of a dozen animation employees to tender resignations and join Mr. Bluth on the independent animated feature The Secret of NIMH. ...

Afther NIMH, Ms. Miller spent a decade working as directing animator and story artist/writer on a half-dozen animated features including An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven and Rockadoodle.

In the early nineties, Linda departed Bluth-Sullivan before it went out of business to work in other parts of Cartoonland. She is today a designer for Disney Television Animation.

Click here to read entire post
Site Meter