Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Secret Guidelines

Per the Business Review:

[Pixar's] "group of guys" drafted a set of "secret story guidelines," as Andrew Stanton describes them, to help guide them internally against the prevailing winds in the animation world at the time. [This was the early 1990s.]

* No songs

* No "I want" moments

* No happy village

* No love story

* No villain

Which is all well and good. But The Guidelines have been violated by Pixar numerous times since they were drafted, don't you think? (The grasshopper in Bug's Life sure seems like a villain to me.)

The thing about stories? The memorable ones are organic, not mechanistic. To make a set of rules that should be slavishly followed kind of limits creative possibilities. So maybe the best approach is to make your rules, then proceed to break them.

Because good stories go where they need to, rules or no rules.

Click here to read entire post

Albuquerque Closing Now Official?

... at least, it's now hit the news.

A company official said Wednesday that Sony Pictures Imageworks will not renew its lease in Albuquerque when it expires in July.

The Albuquerque facility integrated very successfully with the studio’s Culver City base and made significant contributions to such productions as “I Am Legend,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “G Force,” “The Green Lantern,” “The Smurfs,” “Men in Black 3,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the official said in an email. ...

Sony Pictures ImageWorks set up its Albuquerque outpost in 2007, when New Mexico offered tax breaks and hearts ... plus the economy ... were joyful and bouncy.

The company, we're told, is shifting willing volunteers to Vancouver, Canada. (The pursuit of tax incentives never ends.)

As always, the question of "Is all the work going away?" looms up like a thunderhead. I tend to think the answer is the same that it's been for the two decades I've been doing this:

Some of it will, much of it won't. There is a large talent pool in Southern California, and companies tend to set up shop where they can tap into large talent pools.

In any case, Sony ImageWorks Culver City will be shedding staff as some of their visual effects jobs wrap up.

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The Maiden Effort

As reported round and about:

... Paramount Animation is ready to make their first movie. At a recent investor meeting Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman was quoted as saying, “We will be releasing a SpongeBob movie at the end of 2014, which will serve to start off or be one of our films that starts off our new animation effort.” ...

When David Stainton was still PA's top-kick, the word that filtered back to us was that the new feature animation unit was taking feature pitches from various sources.

My guess is, the unit without Stainton is still doing that, but in the meantime, they've decided to let the world know they're going with a proven commodity until an original property gets a greenlight.

It's interesting that the studio is touting Sponge Bob as it's first feature, since a Sponge Bob feature preceded it. But hey. If they want to steal Nickelodeon's thunder, it's all one big happy conglomerate, innit?

Paramount has been in and out of the feature animation business for a loong time. Among the feature projects -- outside of the DreamWorks Animation slate -- that the studio has financed and released:

Gulliver's Travels (1939)

Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)

Charlotte's Web (1973)

Heidi's Song (1982))

Bebe's Kids (1992)

The Rugrats Movie (1998)

Rugrats in Paris (2000)

The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)

Rugrats Go Wild (2003)

Sponge Bob Square Pants Movie (2004)

Besides Disney, Paramount has been the movie company that's had a hand in animated features for decades and decades. Until now, however, they have always had the films done by third-party suppliers. (This goes back to the Fleischer Studio in the 1930s.)

How much of the new feature product they will ultimately create themselves, remains to be seen. Certainly Stainton's resignation is a bump in the road.

Add On: And YouTube has now taken the short down. Hardly a surprise.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012


This isn't earth-shattering news, but still ...

Over the past two decades Warner Bros. Animation has made numerous successful shows based on DC Comics characters, from Batman: The Animated Series to Teen Titans. ...

Now Cartoon Network looks to give DC a permanent place on their network with the DC Nation block of programs. ...

As I say, not exactly news, but I bring it up here because for years Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. Animation continuous non-co-operation irked hell out of me.

I could never figure out why, for more than a decade, Cartoon Network distributed little Warner Bros. Animation product. I get that one is "Turner" (and reports to Atlanta for its marching orders), and one is "Warners" and reports to the Main Lot in Burbank, but come on already. Both cartoon studios are part of the same monster conglomerate, so why the hell not have them work together and strengthen each other?

Whenever I brought this revolutionary idea up to various Time-Warner suits, the response would be:

"Yeah, well. There are different chains of command here, Steve. And the chains don't intersect or overlap. They don't support one another's products."

Until they do.

Now Cartoon Network airs WB Animation's handiwork (and has for awhile.) Now the two animation arms ... I donno ... bolster one another. Which makes sense.

If you're a big, fat monster conglomerate, wouldn't you want your widespread moving parts to be greater than the sum of their whole?

Sadly, the answer too often is:

"Not if you're a corporate climber guarding your turf. Because it's not enough that you succeed, your rivals must fail."

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Below the fold, the winner of this year's Academy Award for Best Animated Short.

Inspired in equal measures by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation), award-winning author/illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. Morris Lessmore is old-fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was produced by Moonbot Studios of Shreveport, LA.

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Dreaming Downward

DreamWorks Animation has had better quarters.

DreamWorks Animation profits plunged more than 70 percent in its fourth quarter to $24.3 million, or $0.29 per share, with "Shrek" spinoff "Puss in Boots" failing to living up to the box office might of its predecessors.

“Although 2011 was a very successful year for Dreamworks Animation at the box office, it did reveal some challenges for the industry as a whole,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of DreamWorks Animation, said on a conference call with analysts.

Katzenberg cited the weaker than expected DVD and Blu-ray sales of "Kung Fu Panda 2" as part of the reason for the sluggish quarter. ...

It's not enough to have robust box office. When the sales of the little silver disks fall off, you have problems.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Early Hyperion

Dick Lundy, Tom Palmer, Johnny Cannon, Dave Hand, Burt Gillett, Wilfred Jackson, Bert Lewis, Walt Disney, Les Clark, Ben Sharpsteen, Norm Ferguson, Floyd Gottfredson, Jack King. In front of the studio with early merchandise items, circa 1930.

This is a different angle of a pretty well-known photographic setup, from Hans Perk via Tom Sito.

(If Ward Kimball had been at the place then, he would have acquired one of those stuffed Mickeys and saved it in mint condition for the next seventy-two years.)

Hans Perk writes:

This is the very first Hyperion building, from 1926. It would effectively block the left entrance to the Gelsons' parking lot. A small hallway in the center, on the right Roy's office, with I&P behind it. On the left Walt's office,... and the animators behind it, like in Dave Smith's article in Funnyworld, except without Ub Iwerks. This building would have six feet added to the front very soon after this picture.

Like Mr. Sito, I had never seen this specimen before. (Maybe it's generally known, I donno. Just not by me.)

Click here to read entire post


Brother Kaplan and I were out today pitching in at this event:

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Teamsters Local 399 organized picket lines Monday morning outside the Burbank production office of Original Productions, the producer of the Spike TV show. “1000 Ways to Die” has become the latest flash point in an effort by Hollywood's leading unions to extend contracts to the rapidly growing cable TV sector. ...

We picketed all morning and part of the afternoon. There will be more picketing tomorrow and beyond.

Reality TV is one of the areas that every union and guild is looking to organize. There's been some success, but everybody knows there needs to be more. Maybe that's why SAG, the WGAw, and the Teamsters were out on the line today.

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DWA Short

"Three Diablos," the short on Puss in Boots DVD release ....

I'm not sure it's supposed to be up on YouTube, so it might not be here long. The thirteen minute adventure was created in Glendale, CA.

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Satan's Retirement Calculator

Here, late at night, are a few choice words about retirement savings (and how to withdraw from same) from Dr. William Bernstein:

Most of you have seen the nifty retirement software available from the likes of Vanguard and T. Rowe Price which provides the mathematical muscle to help you plan your retirement. Input your retirement age, expected lifespan, required annual income, rate of inflation and investment return, and hey presto, you find out that to avoid a golden years diet of Alpo you need the GDP of the average Central American republic. ...

Problem is, it may quite possibly be worse than that. These calculators all make the same erroneous assumption -- that your expected rate of return is the same each and every year. ... It turns out that if you have rotten returns in the first decade [of retirement] you will run out of money long before reversion to the mean saves your bacon in later years.

... If you can be ... flexible and spend a fixed percentage of your nest egg each year, then you can indeed keep your entire retirement stash in stocks and spend 5% annually. Just remember that your stipend will likely fluctuate wildly over the decades of your retirement. Keep a few cans of Alpo in the cupboard if you decide to go this route.

You're going to discover that to get into retirement in 21st century America, you're going to need a few things.

1) The cash flow (and iron discipline) to save 10-25% of each week's paycheck. (Always remembering to diversify, diversify, diversify.)

2) Luck that the markets start rocketing up as you near retirement. (Pray for a repeat of 1982-2000.)

3) The ability to moderate your life-style enough in your senior years to live on Social Security, annuities/pensions and your retirement stash until they plant you in the local cemetery.

These things sound like long-shots, but they're really not if you start planning and saving in your twenties and early thirties. When you have the luxury of time, building a cash hoard for the distant future is not super difficult. But if you start on your, say, fifty-fifth birthday, the challenge will be more difficult.

(Read both of Dr. Bernstein's articles on this subject, since he's got some simple but graphic charts that point out the dangers of withdrawing too much and putting away too little.)

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Oscars

Which animated feature wins at tonight's Oscar fest? Methinks it will be


We'll see if I'm right.

(Since the internet connection at the casa is going slower than 90s' AOL dial-up, we'll also see if I can get online later to comment on my wondrous prediction. ...)

Add On: Not much of a surprise about the win, considering the momentum it had. Co-writer James W. Byrkit says this:

“Three years ago, it would have been the most ridiculous thing to talk about an Oscar for ‘Rango. ... We were bracing ourselves for critical dismissal, and hoping for at a least a small cult following.

The picture did passably well at the box office, and critics liked it. Early on it was the animated feature to beat, and the picture ended up with an aura of inevitability by Academy Awards time.

Click here to read entire post

Voice Director

The Reporter notes:

... [Oscar nominee Chris] Miller will reprise his role as Kowalski the penguin in DWA’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which opens June 8.

The director also lent his voice to his feature Puss in Boots, playing the roles of Little Boy Blue and one of the guards. ...

Several weeks ago when I inverviewed Mr. Miller, I intended to ask him about his voice work. But during the course of our conversation, it slipped my mind. (Drat!)

I don't know how long the tradition is for feature animation directors to give voice to animated characters, but back in the 1970s, Disney veteran (and feature writer) Larry Clemmons voiced Gramps the swamp turtle in The Rescuers.

(Larry was also a talented voice director. He was adept at getting performances out of seven and eight-year-old actors on The Fox and the Hound. Watching him coach and coax the kids into solid performances on the recording stage was a thing of beauty.)

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The World Box Office

... Not counting the Land of the Free.

Dwayne Johnson and all them dinosaurs continue to rule.

In a largely slack weekend on the foreign theatrical circuit, Warner Bros.’ Journey 2: The Mysterious Island maintained its No. 1 box office status for the third consecutive weekend by collecting $18.5 million from 8,500 screens in 48 offshore territories. ...

Animation continues to truck right along, although there are no fresh releases. Totals for cartoon features:

Foreign Take

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $201.6 million

Puss in Boots -- $383.5 million

The Adventures of Tintin -- $295.4 million

The worldwide totals for each is: Alvin $330,483,000; Puss $532,733,000; Tintin $372,342,071.

One interesting factoid. Two decades ago, high-grossing Beauty and the Beast collected roughly half its box office domestically, the other half overseas.

Today, however, foreign box office is a much bigger deal. All the above features collected only 20% to 30% of their box office nut from the U.S. of A. The other 70-80% came from abroad.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

April Contract Negotiations

It appears we will be negotiating a new Animation Guild contract in April ...

We were contacted by the AMPTP several days ago, and arranged to meet in the middle part of the month. This is, of course, tentative, because:

The IATSE-AMPTP negotiations for a new basic agreement will be happening the third week of March. as always with these things, there is no guarantee that those negotiations will be done by the time our dates roll around.

This would likely bump our dates back, since the IA negotiates the health and pension benefits in the contract, and TAG negotiates terms specific to our local contract. As long as I've been around, we don't sit down to talks until health and pension pieces are finalized.

(The IA and producers exchange contract proposals early next week, with the first three weeks of March earmarked for local and general negotiations. There will be twenty-three IA locals negotiating first, then the Basic Agreement talks will happen. These are al under the umbrella of "Basic Agreement Contract talks*.")

As for us, TAG sent out an e-mail and contract survey about contract proposals to active TAG members last week. We'll be collating the results, drafting proposals, and forming our negotiating committee over the next month or so.

* The Animation Guild was kicked out of the Basic Agreement's bargaining unit back in 1982, when the producers decided we were overly frisky with strike activity. We've negotiated separately ever since.

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Your Leap Year Box Office

Your Nik and mine provides us with the early numbers.

1. Act Of Valor (Relativity) NEW [3,039 Theaters] Friday $9.4, Est Weekend $27M

2. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (Lionsgate) NEW [2,132 Theaters] Friday $6.3M, Est Weekend: $17.5M

3. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 3 [3,038 Theaters] Friday $3.2M, Est Weekend $9.7M, Est Cume $101.9M

4. Safe House (Universal) Week 3 [3,052 Theaters] Friday $3.1M, Est Weekend $10.3M, Est Cume $96.6M

5. Journey 2 3D (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,350 Theaters] Friday $3.0M, Est Weekend $12.5M, Est Cume $77.2M

6. This Means War (Fox) Week 2 [3,189 Theaters] Friday $2.8M, Est Weekend $9M, Est Cume $33.2M

7. Ghost Rider 2 3D (Sony) Week 2 [3,174 Theaters] Friday $2.3M (-66%), Est Weekend $8M, Est Cume $36.3M

8. Wanderlust (Universal) NEW [2,002 Theaters] Friday $2.5M, Est Weekend $7M

9. Gone (Summit) NEW [2,186 Theaters] Friday $1.7M, Est Weekend $4.6M

10. Secret World Of Arrietty (Disney) Week 2 [1,522 Theaters] Friday $1.1M, Est Weekend $5M, Est Cume $14.2M

It appears that the magic of Jennifer Aniston has dissipated. Happily, Arriety has managed to remain in the Top Ten.

Add On: The weekend finishes about as predicted:

Navy SEALs Pic 'Act of Valor' Tops Chart With $24.7 Mil . Tyler Perry's "Good Deeds" follows with $16 million; Jennifer Aniston-Paul Rudd's "Wanderlust" and Amanda Seyfried thriller "Gone" falter at No. 8 and No. 9, taking in $6.6 million and $5 million.

So there it is in a nutshell (or two.)

In the meanwhile, Arriety hangs on to #10 with an accumulation of $14,660,000 and a mere 30% drop. Downlist, Alvin and the Chipmunks has earned $130.4 million, Tintin stands at $76.9 million, and Puss in Boots owns $149.2 million.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

The John Carter Chronology

So a week ago, the Nikkster plants her standard snark-tipped harpoon in the side of Disney's March 9th release:

‘John Carter’ Tracking Shockingly Soft: “Could Be Biggest Writeoff Of All Time”

Hollywood is in a tizzy over the early tracking which just came online this morning for Walt Disney Studios‘ John Carter opening March 9th. “Not good. 2 unaided, 53 aware, 27 definitely interested, 3 first choice,” a senior exec at a rival studio emails me. ...

And the narrative is set: "The picture's a bomb!" ... "Rich Ross is going down!" (etc.) And in lemming-like fashion, a spate of unflattering articles appear.

Around Hollywood, Disney’s quarter-billion-dollar 3-D epic John Carter holds a dubious renown: it’s the film with Avatar-size ambitions that’s being greeted sight unseen as the next Ishtar.

... [H]eads have already started to roll right out of the Team Disney building and onto Dopey Drive in Burbank. In January, Disney Studios worldwide marketing chief MT Carney, who arrived with much fanfare in 2010 from the New York advertising world, was out after a string of failures ... Meanwhile, at studio commissaries around town, the long steak knives are already out for Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross, who’s managed to make more than a few enemies ...

Also, too:

'John Carter': Disney Scrambles to Save its $250 Million Gamble

... Observers also have taken aim at the studio's decision to drop "of Mars" from the title, arguing that the property loses definition and scope without it. Insiders say the title change was hotly debated a year ago when the word "Mars" was verboten in the wake of Disney's March 2011 bomb Mars Needs Moms. ...

But then, the picture gets its L.A. premiere.

... "We made a f---ing great movie in John Carter," said star Taylor Kitsch. "It's such wasted energy if I worry about what a million people I don't know are going to think. I'm excited for people to enjoy the journey."

... During the afterparty, producer Jim Jacks ... approached Disney production chief Sean Bailey to say how much he was taken with the movie. "Taylor makes a great John Carter," Jacks told Bailey, adding that he also liked how Stanton solved a tricky ending with something he thought was "better than the book."

Reaction on Twitter has been positive: "John Carter is much better than you're expecting it to be. A lot not shown in the advertising," wrote Peter Sciretta of Slash Film soon after the premiere. "Lynn and Taylor were great. You'll love Woola and will leave hoping they'll make a sequel." ...

Although no reviews have (yet) cropped up on Rotten Tomatoes, some unauthorized -- and positive -- critiques have materialized on the web.

... [U]nlike Avatar, there is some real meat to this story. A Princess of Mars (the book it was based upon) really invented the action-adventure genre, and you can definitely see it here. I had a great longing to return back to the world that John Carter was transported too, much more than I did in Avatar. While both movies have an impeccably rich world surrounding the story, I felt much more invested in what was going on. The movie is fairly long (2h 15m or so) but the story moved everything along at a brisk pace. They also spend a surprisingly decent amount of time on Earth in the beginning, which was definitely nice to see ...

On the other hand, an anonymous poster down below weighs in with this:

Saw the film the other night. Boy-- it's really bad. Indistinguishable from every other overproduced fx bore out in the last few years -- except this one is also very amateurishly made. It really is hard to keep track of all the characters that look alike, but after a few minutes I just stopped caring. The fight scenes, in particular, are poorly staged. But it's the writing and acting that drag it down. Only saving grace is that I got free tickets.


I haven't the foggiest idea how the epic will perform. Judging from the clips, the picture owns some scope and energy, but whether people will like the desert landscapes, and whether enough of the world's population will turn out to make Carter a money spinner is really anybody's guess.

I won't gift you with mine, because it's probably wrong.

The only prediction I'll make is, John Carter will earn more at the world box office than the last Mars feature that Disney released. You know, the one about Moms?

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Animated News Corp.

Rupert and his minions don't just do prime time broadcast cartoons, there is also this:

[FX] announced Thursday that the animated spy comedy Archer has been picked up for a fourth season, as its current run continues to build in the ratings. ...

Say what you will about Fox, it believes in animation. And though Archer isn't done locally, or is covered by us, it has encouraged the cable network to try more animated series.

You can never have enough animated shows populating the cable and broadcast universe.

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Job Action

The IA will be putting up picket lines soon:

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Teamsters Local 399 will stage a large rally outside the Burbank headquarters of Original Productions on Monday morning in support of crew members from the TV series "1000 Ways to Die."

"This is about healthcare, this is about safety and dignity in the workplace, and it's part of the IA's ongoing campaign to support workers in the all genres of TV,'' said Mike Miller, director of motion pictures and television for IATSE.

The union represents about 30 crew members who were fired from the show on Thursday after attempting to unionize. ...

We were briefed on the events of the past few days:

* Fed up crew demands to go union.

* Company says "ixnay."

* Workers go on strike.

* Company goes to work finding replacement workers.

We were briefed on this oncoming strike at a Business Agents' meeting today. Apparently, Original Productions is not interested in compromise or accommodation. O.P. is mostly interested in fighting. So the IA has said: "Okay, game on!"

As you may have noticed, it's a tough time to be a working stiff, hold up your wooden bowl and ask for "more" in the manner of Oliver Twist. Companies, no matter how profitable they might be, are not in the mood to give much of anything. No matter how justified their employees might feel in demanding additional money and better working conditions.

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Anime to Live-Action

One of our fine trade papers reports that the comic and anime Bleach has been grabbed by Warner Bros. for a full-bore, live action feature ...

Probably the 75 million comics circulating in Japan had something to do with Warners. And you have to admit: a kid who can see dead people is certainly commercial.

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Handicapping the Short Subjects

Time reviews the animated candidates for The Little Gold Man.

... This category is a remnant of the 1930s and ’40s, when “an evening at the movies” meant just that: a three-hour-plus banquet of two features, a newsreel and a few cartoons that were often the best things on the program. Except for Pixar, which grooms its prospective feature-film directors by letting them start small, Hollywood studios don’t support cartoon-shorts departments any more. ...

Henry Luce's magazine has a little of the above wrong. Walt Disney Animation Studios also grooms directors by doing shorts. And Warner Bros. Animation has produced a string of new theatrical shorts over the past couple of years.

So at least two of the majors are still in the short subject game.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Left Wing Bilge

... polluting the minds of our children:

During his Tuesday night show, [Lou] Dobbs dubbed Disney’s Arrietty and Universal’s Lorax “insidious nonsense from Hollywood,” then he announced: “Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children.”

Arrietty, about four-inch people who “borrow” what they need from normal-sized humans, encourages class envy and redistribution of wealth, according to Dobbs, while Lorax is just another example of environmental radicalism. “So, where have we all heard this before?” Dobbs asks after showing a clip from each of the two films. ...

I know, Lou! I know!

You want insidious, I'll give you insidious:

But then, what would you expect from two well-known Hollywood Lefties like James Stewart and Frank Capra? Happily, their yuletide ode to liberalism tanked at the box office and was never heard from again.

(They had the audacity to attack the banks. The banks! Who only do good in the world, as we all know. This indoctrination crapola has been going on for a looong time.)

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David Stainton Resigns

As a commenter below ... and Reuters ... notes:

David Stainton, president of Paramount Animation, resigned on Wednesday for personal reasons.

Stainton joined the fledgling animation unit in October after 17 years at Disney, where he once served as president of its feature animation division. ...

Mr. Stainton was on board for five months. As a development artist who had worked with Mr. Stainton at Disney said to me recently:

"I can't figure out why Viacom would hire Stainton to do their feature work in the first place. I was never impressed with him when we were both at Disney. When he left for the Paris studio I was happy to see him go ..."

Mr. Stainton started at Disney Features in development, moved to the Mouse's Paris studio, then returned to head up DisneyToon Studios and ultimately, the feature division. He stepped down when Robert Iger brought in Ed Catmull and John Lasseter to head up the division, but had an office in the Frank Wells Building until (presumably) the end of his Diz Co. contract.

His quick departure comes as a surprise. Perhaps he did leave for personal reasons, and we've got the dynamics wrong. But less than half a year? That's a remarkably short tenure.

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The Dave Brain Interview -- Part 2

You have your choice of video of the whole interview above ... and the audio of the second half of the interview below. Enjoy.

TAG Interview with Dave Brain

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

One of the memorable parts of Dave's career was being among the first employees at Disney Television Animation ...

Dave remembers those first Disney TVA years as hectic but enjoyable. A new division was being built from scratch, and Dave found himself working as a supervisor on a number of Diz TVA shows, including Duck Tales, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, among others.

Now retired from the business, Mr. Brain today teaches college.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kimball Trace?

Certainly not! Kimball drew!

But Kimball wielding a pencil isn't what is going on here. We're talking about a new (and not cheap) township in central Florida named "Golden Oak at Disney World Resorts":

... References to Disney history and lore can be found throughout Golden Oak, including the naming of our community. ...

The inspiration behind the names of Kimball Trace is equally fascinating.

This charming village neighborhood was named in honor of Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney's original team of animators and artists known as the "Nine Old Men." During his 38 years with Disney, Kimball brought to life many memorable Disney characters including Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio" and Tweedledee and Tweedledum in "Alice in Wonderland." An Academy Award winner, Ward was also an accomplished jazz trombonist and fellow enthusiast of backyard railroads. ...

But would Ward be an enthusiast for million dollar McMansions on 1/2 acre plots of reclaimed Orlando swampland?

"Betty, I don't think we're in San Gabriel anymore ..."

Quite definitely not in San Gabriel. This is Diz Co. super-charging earnings by putting a bit of Disney World to work, carving a few high-priced residential neighborhoods out of its Florida acreage.

And the name "Golden Oak?" That refers to 900 acres out in Placerita Canyon near the California city of Santa Clarita.

The Disney Co. is building soundstages on the property now, but it's been held by Disney for over half a century, and used as a location for Hollywood movies during most of that time. Part of the original Parent Trap was shot there, along with episodes of Bonanza, Francis Ford Coppola's early feature Finian's Rainbow, and the musical 1776. Also scores of other motion picture delights.

But a new Beverly Hills near the Magic Kingdom? Why the hell not?

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The Dave Brain Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Dave Brain

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Dave Brain jumped into the animation business in the 1960s, when most of the enchilada was split between the animation department at Walt Disney Productions and Hanna-Barbera ...

Dave started his career at the House of Mouse, and interacted with Walt on two occasions. The first was on the front lawn of the Animation Building, and the second was getting encouragement on an outside film Dave and some of his compatriots were making. Dave talks about these things (and more) in the first part of the TAG blog interview.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, February 20, 2012

Digital Abe

Abraham Lincoln, reconstituted.

... [A] small team of New Media students have spent literally hundreds of hours researching and recreating Honest Abe for their undergraduate research project.

The five-person group, working under the direction of Assistant Professor Christopher Oakley, are constructing a photorealistic and animatable 3-D digital version of Lincoln based on photos, biographical information, and some life casts of the President's face and hands.

"This is something I've been waiting to do for 25 years," says Oakley, an avid Lincoln fan who used to work as a 3-D character animator for Disney. "Fortunately, these students were excited to jump in on it." ...

A dozen years ago, I told a group at a local college that new movies with Gable, Cagney, and Bogart were on the horizon. Hasn't really happened because synthetic is still synthetic, and not the genuine article. And many audiences don't seem to accept the "almost real but not quite" aspect of digital recreations.

But you never know. Technical strides are rapid and steady. Just because computerized versions of human beings make my skin crawl, doesn't mean that others won't clasp the technology to their hearts. And it's still a great learning tool.

H/t to President Emeritus Tom Sito for the heads up on this.

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Piracy Depression

Not Captain Jack Sparrow in a black mood, but theatrical losses due to pirates on the internet:

... Film piracy has a very little impact on box office results in the U.S. but likely cuts into studio profits overseas depending on the time lag between a film’s American debut and rollout overseas. Those are the surprising conclusions of an extensive study titled “Reel Piracy: The Effect of Online Film Piracy on International Box Office Sales.” ...

The study also concludes that since the advent of piracy software BitTorrent in 2003, the longer the lag time between a film’s release abroad compared to its U.S. opening, the greater the depression in box office receipts. ...

So I guess the solution is for studios to release movies the same day around the globe.

The sad reality is, there will always be crooks ripping off the content creators. It was happening a century ago, and it still goes on. Of course, new technologies provide bandits with newer ways to steal, but thievery is a constant through time.

There are still counterfeit DVDs, but that problem is slowly taking care of itself as more of the world's population accesses "the cloud" and the little silver disks begin to go the way of vinyl LPs.

Click here to read entire post

Live Action to Animation

Here in the modern age, it's a two-way road between cartoons and those entertainment bits with live actors in them. Gore V. has performed the trick with Rango, and now director Shawn Levy is sticking his toe into the animation biz ...

... [Kong] is an animated movie for Fox Animation and it’s a retelling of Kong as a family animated comedy… It’s in script stage; so no it’s not yet at the point where you’re doing those animation tests. It’s moving forward in that Fox Animation really likes it, I really like it, I think that when Fox Animation gets it right, almost always through Blue Sky, they get it really right. I’ve got a couple with them, and that’s the one that I think I’m the most bullish on.” ...

And who can say Mr. Levy isn't right? Since he's got a highly commercial track record and plenty of leverage. If he wants to make cartoons part of his portfolio, then there are plenty of large companies who would be eager to work with him. Because the man has been right far more often than wrong.

(Fox, as per usual, is the only network madly developing a variety of animated projects and seeing what sticks to the broadcast wall. Pity the other networks don't have the wits to do the same.)

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Taxing Competition

There seems to be a kind of tax break meme going on, from the sub-continent:

Budget 2012: 10 years tax holiday required for animation industry, says FICCI ...

... to Germany:

[Aardman] has hinted that tax breaks on the Continent could lead to the production of its latest TV show being moved to Germany.

About 40 new jobs are to be created thanks to a new animated TV series called Ploo, but one of the bosses at the home of Wallace of Gromit has warned that just a handful are likely to be in Bristol. ...

... to Vancouver, British Columbia:

... American companies are lured by a local tax break of 17.5 percent and various other incentives tailored to attracting special effects and computer animation projects in British Columbia. ...

The favorable tax terms serve as a magnet for what is now a thriving industry, which works on some 250 films each year and provides employment for about 30,000 local workers. ...

The style of our fine, entertainment conglomerates (and allied companies) is to find the best tax and exchange rate and dive right in.

And afterwards, when circumstances (and tax incentives) change, to just as quickly pull up stakes and move on to the next bargain. Such is the way of today's movie industry titans. For both production-production and post-production.

Click here to read entire post

Your Foreign B.O.

And the box office rolls on in foreign lands.

... [F]oreign theatrical circuit experienced a listless weekend, ... Journey 2: The Mysterious Island [held] to No. 1 status for the second consecutive weekend... No. 3 was Fox’s reissue in 3D of 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, which grossed $10 million, lifting its offshore cume to $37.1 million.

... Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol propelled its foreign gross total to $461.9 million ... Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked [has a cume of] $197.9 million ...

Global box office for The Adventures of Tintin comes to $371,840,071 (80% overseas.) Worldwide b.o. for Puss in Boots is now $522,476,000 of which 71.5% is from beyond our shores.

Over the past decade, foreign box office has grown like topsy. I can remember when a 50% total from abroad was considered utterly fabulous. Now 65% or 70% isn't unusual. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Three Years Ago Today ...

... was the first full day of the stimulus thingie:

We put this up because, you know, besides covering animation we're also a labor blog ... and the video above is about job loss and job creation.

I'm one of those who believe the stimulus didn't work as well as it could have because it was under-powered. But of course, nobody knew how deep the depression was in February, 2009. The negative numbers -- shrinking GDP and rising unemployment -- were half of what they ultimately turned out to be.

And I know that, three years farther on, one of the memes out there is that the stimulus "failed," so it's useful to look at charts and numbers. And this video has a lot of them.

If you're a "fresh water" economist out of the Friedman-University of Chicago school, you believe that Keynesian economics has been discredited, is old hat, and that "nobody takes it seriously anymore," (etc.) But I fall into the Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Dick Nixon camps. They were all practicing Keynesians, and I'm a Keynesian too.

Now, let the snark-filled attacks and political mudslinging begin! ...

Click here to read entire post

Trying Something New

Naturally there have been endless articles already, but The Atlantic says:

[The Simpson's showrunner Al] Jean told us about the very unusual guest for episode 500: Julian Assange. Currently under house arrest Britain and fighting extradition to Sweden, the WikiLeaks founder recorded his cameo over the phone.

"That was a first," Jean said. "But we've never had a president on. Maybe that's why I was so excited about having Roosevelt this season."

That would be Teddy. In this season's second episode, ... [t]he show features a guest appearance by, yes, Theodore Roosevelt. Sort of. Kind of. They used archival audio of the president's voice to create the impression that TR and Bart Simpson met.

As usual, the article focuses on the writing staff. Not so much as a mention of the artists, some of whom have been with the show eighteen and twenty years.

Click here to read entire post

Presidential Derby

Now with caramel-coated Add On

Early results for the long weekend show one animated entry:

1. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [2,958 Theaters] Est Friday $7.1M (-53%), Est 4-Day Holiday $29M, Est Cume $90M

2. Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance 3D (Sony) NEW [3,174 Theaters] Est Friday $7M, Est 4-day Holiday $25M

3. Safe House (Universal) Week 3 [3,121 Theaters] Est Friday $6.5M (-52%), Est 4-Day Holiday $26M, Est Cume $80M

4. This Means War (Fox) NEW [3,189 Theaters] Est Friday $5.1M, Est 4-Day Holiday $18M

5. Journey 2 3D (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,500 Theaters] Est Friday $4.4M (-33%), Est 4-Day Holiday $26M, Est Cume $59M

6. Chronicle (Fox) Week 3 [2,556 Theaters] Est Friday $2M, Est 4-Day Holiday $10M, Est Cume $53.5M

7. Woman In Black (CBS Films) Week 3 [2,559 Theaters] Est Friday $2M, Est 4-Day Holiday $8M, Est Cume $46.6M

8. Star Wars 3D (Luscafilms/Fox) Week 2 [2,655 Theaters] Est Friday $1.9M (-78%), Est 4-Day Holiday $10M, Est Cume $35.9M

9. Secret World Of Arrietty (Studio Ghibli/Disney) NEW [1,522 Theaters] Est Friday $1.5M, Est 4-Day Holiday $8M

10. The Grey (Open Road) Week 4 [2,107 Theaters] Est Friday $800K, Est 4-Day Holiday $3.7M, Est Cume $48.6

The Nikkster tells us:

... Disney had very low expectations for its latest Studio Ghibli toon out of Japan. But even if The Secret World Of Arrietty looks like this long weekend’s big flop, Friday will be the highest opening of a Ghibli film. ...

Add On: The Times tells us:

... "The Secret World of Arrietty" failed to crack the $10-million mark at the box office this weekend, [but] the film still had the biggest opening of any of the anime films Walt Disney Studios has released in the U.S. ...

Click here to read entire post

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Budget

Do we care?

On Thursday, Andrew Stanton refuted claims that his upcoming sci-fi opus John Carter went over budget. Following an article by Kim Masters that ran in the Jan. issue of THR's print magazine as well as online which stated his film’s initial $175 million price tag ballooned to a rumored $300 million, Stanton told reporters that those reports were "a complete and utter lie."

Of course, Disney hasn't released a budget for the picture, so who knows if John Carter of Mars is "over" or "under?"

And in the scheme of things, it doesn't matter a rap anyway. Studios cook production books as a matter of course, all the freaking time. They did it on pictures I worked on. They did it a half century ago. They will do it a half century from now.

The only thing that really matters is if the movie that hits theaters on March 9 makes money or not. If it's a smash hit, overruns will hardly matter. If it's a flop, the fact that Mr. Stanton came in "on budget" won't stand him in good stead.

At the end of the day, it's about the moolah. And how much of it flows into corporate coffers.

Click here to read entire post

Pirates Tub-Thumping

I've walked past the big posters for this new Aardman epic the last three times I've visited the Sony Pictures Imageworks facility ...

With the exception of Chicken Run, the Aardman product tends to under-perform stateside. I've no clear idea as to why, but maybe it's due to Brit humor not translating well to American audiences when it travels across the Atlantic white caps.

Certainly Arthur Christmas was far better received by the critics than the box office. Whatever the reason for the weak showing, perhaps The Pirates! Band of Misfits will have a happier ending when it rolls out on March 30th. ...

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, February 16, 2012

At the Diz

My morning was spent at the Riverside Drive Hat Building. The word on Wreck-It Ralph is ...

"Animation has been going full bore. Lighting and finaling are getting ready for big ramp ups. There's going to be new people hired next month. ..."

"They had a screening in the hat's first-floor theater yesterday. Iger and Rich Ross were there. They missed some of the lines because of the laughter. There's a lot of gags in it, a lot of referencing of newer video games. The consensus is that the story works and its funny. Now we just have to get it made. This is one of the shortest schedules we've had. ..."

I asked if there was any worry that the video game references could date the picture in ten or twenty years. Nobody is concerned about that. They want it to be a hit next Fall when Ralph gets released.

(There's a Wreck-It Ralph display in the building's entrance hall. So you want to see character sketches and some artwork, just talk your way past the gate guard on Riverside Drive and feast your eyes.)

Click here to read entire post

The TAG 401(k) Plan

Since we're on an investment roll ... here's a handy tutorial -- narrated by moi -- of The Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan.

I'm in the midst of 401(k) enrollment meetings today. After the Cartoon Network meet ended, a couple of us fell into conversation about animators making a living in the biz.

I mentioned how most of the long-timers* at Disney (the Nine Old Men and others) didn't make huge salaries week-to-week, but made good salaries steadily over a looong span of time. This is really the secret. If you can manage to work most of each year, and live below your means, you should be able to sock money away for retirement.

And actually enjoy some sort of retirement, rather than being a greeter at the local Wal-Mart.

* Many long-timers received stock options. This made people rich, but others who didn't get those benefits ended up comfortably well off, too.

Click here to read entire post

DWA in Shanghai

As various outlets report:

DreamWorks Animation and two state-owned Chinese media companies, Shanghai Media Group and China Media Capital, will unveil a landmark joint venture on Friday, the Financial Times reported.

The partners will construct a studio facility in Shanghai to develop film, TV and live stage productions for the Chinese market, according to the report. ...

Jeffrey K. and associates are branching out. T.V. 3-D. Now China.

All of which is fine with us, so long as they keep making features in Glendale.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cartoon Ratings

... on the t.v.

... Adult Swim programming—including Family Guy and Robot Chicken — accounted for 14 of the top 50 telecasts for the week on basic cable among adults ... The #1 television network among boys, Cartoon Network once again ranked as the #1 television network--broadcast & cable--in early prime time (7-9 p.m.) among all boys (2-11, 6-11, 9-14) 18-34 ...

Robot Chicken (Sunday, 10 p.m.) continues to chart solid double-digit delivery gains among targeted young adult and young male demos. ...

The pattern in cartoon cable networks has been: Cartoon series fall a bit. Execs panic, order up live-action, which does even worse. Cable network orders up more animation. which pulls the fat out of the fire.

... Adventure Time (Monday, 7:30 p.m.) ranked as the #1 telecast of the WEEK among boys 6-11 on all TV

The success Viacom allowed to get away must rankle execs at Nickelodeon. They had AT in their wheelhouse, since it had been produced as a network pilot under their "shorts program." But the powers-that-be declined to greenlight it to series, and Fred Seibert shopped the series elsewhere.

Cartoon Network came to the pilot's rescue and did a series order. Next thing you know, Adventure Time is a hit and (I'm guessing here) Nick execs are gnashing their rectums.

No corporate higher-ups like to be shown to be "wrong." But somebody in the Viacom hierarchy was clearly wrong about AT. Let's hope that no heads were lopped off for this screwup.

Click here to read entire post

The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan and the "Individual Account Plan"

This morning I attended a seminar on "Target Date Retirement Funds," (which, if you don't know, are investment instruments designed for working stiffs saving for retirement. They are most often found in 401(k) Plans.)

The Animation Guild has a full roster of Vanguard Target Date Retirement funds in its own plan, but the question has come up:

"What about the Individual Account Plan in the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan? How much money can animation employees find in there?

Below, a few answers ...

1) The total value of Individual Account Plan (IAP) assets, minus liabilities, totaled $2,299,532,364 at the start of 2010.

2) There were 70,964 participants.

3) The IAP had total income of $446,158,451.

TAG employers now pay contributions into the IAP that total 6% of minimum weekly contract rates, plus 30.5 cents for every hour worked.

Without going into a long list of Animation Guild minimums, the above rates mean that most employees who work for a year will see between $4800 and $5500 flow into their Individual Account Plan between January 1 and December 31.

IAP assets have grown at an 8% to 9% clip over the past twenty years. Assets are invested conservatively, with the plurality of the money in bonds, and the balance in stock, real estate and "alternative investments."

A couple dozen investment managers orchestate plan investments under the direction of Plan trustees. (Evenly divided, per Senators Taft and Hartley, between our fine, entertainment conglomerates and participating unions.)

Anecdotally, I can tell you that a bunch of TAG members have between $300,000 and $500,000 in the combined IAP and TAG 401(k) Plans.

(You can find additional info about Motion Picture Industry pensions at this earlier TAG blog post.)

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


A lot of artists in the Disney Yahoo will be happy about this:

Disney Junior has picked up it's animated hit, Jake and the Never Land Pirates for a third season.

Disney Junior Begins Production on Animated 'Oki's Oasis' Starring Mandy Moore (Exclusive) The show, which ranks as the channel's (and cable TV's) No. 1 series among boys aged two - five, will reach 100 episodes, senior VP of original programming and gm of Disney Junior Worldwide, Nancy Kanter, announced. ...

The trend in recent years has been to shrink episode orders. There was a time when 65 half-hours for a moderately popular show was ho-hum ordinary. Then the numbers started to fall. And fewer shows had big orders.

So it's nice to see a tv cartoon that gets extended. Congrats to the hard-working crew.

Click here to read entire post

Chasing Tax Credits

As Blue Sky Studios moved to Connecticut for tax credits, so Sony ImageWorks New Mexico leaves for Sony ImageWorks Canada. Which leads to this:

The newly formed Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment has joined a growing number of animation companies to call on the Government to introduce tax credits to help the industry remain competitive.

Under the Animation UK banner, a host of animation firms are lobbying to get the same production tax breaks as seen in countries including Canada and Ireland. ...

Another name for "tax credit" would be "tax subsidy." There's really no difference between handing some businesses free money to set up shop in your state or your nation, and giving them a tax credit.

And I'm not here to piss and moan about it, but when guvmint cash flows get tight, nations and states take the "tax credit" away. And then the previously-favored company hot foots it to the next haven. It's a never-ending hunt for cash.

And it sometimes ends badly,

Click here to read entire post

The Groening Chair

The New York Times announces that Matt Groening has endowed a chair in animation at UCLA.

As if getting his familiar signature on “The Simpsons” wasn’t enough of a distinction, Matt Groening has now added his name to a chair in animation at the University of California, Los Angeles, for which he has donated the Mr. Burns-ly sum of $500,000, the school announced on Monday.

Mr. Groening, the artist and creator of that long-running animated Fox series (which celebrates its 500th episode on Sunday), will be the namesake of the Matt Groening Chair in Animation at the U.C.L.A. School of Theater, Film and Television. The endowment will “allow visiting master artists to teach classes” and “bring working professionals with wide-ranging expertise” to work with students, the university said in a news release.

An alumnus of the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., Mr. Groening also gives an annual gift of $50,000 to U.C.L.A. that is used to support students who create short animated films with socially conscious themes.

Click here to read entire post

Don't Think So

Mark Harris makes points I've heard before:

... {T}he proper reward for an animated movie that is judged one of the year’s best films but not the best should be exactly the same as for any other movie — a Best Picture nomination. A separate award feels redundant in a great year — and worse than that in an off year. ...

I understand where Mr. Harris is coming from, and I appreciate his sentiments. But the real-world point he misses is, if animated features don't have their own category -- no matter how good they are -- they will never win the The Little Gold Man for "Best Picture."

The Academy as a whole, dominated by live-action filmmakers, would never elect a "mere cartoon" to the Big Prize. Ever.

I wonder if Mark sees this?

Click here to read entire post

Monday, February 13, 2012

Battling Trademarks

Our fine, entertainment conglomerates wrestle over public domain material.

In October, Warner Bros. very quietly filed a trademark registration on "The Great and Powerful Oz." ...

On Wednesday, an examiner at the United States Trademark Office suspended Warners' trademark attempt because Disney had come first. ...

Although Baum's book and accompanying illustrations are in the public domain, judges at the 8th Circuit last year decided to give Warner Bros. "character protection" under its copyright on the 1939 film starring Judy Garland. In the case, which concerned a company that attempted to sell film nostalgia merchandise, the appellate circuit ruled that it would be hard to visualize these characters without watching the movie ...

And so on and so forth.

When the Constitution was written, copyrights lasted a bit more than a quarter of a century. Now they go on for almost a hundred years.

Why, you ask? Because big companies have managed to bribe and strong-arm congress to making the copyright laws longer... and longer ... and longer still.

Why creative works should be owned by corporations in the first place escapes me. But congress voted that it could be so back at the dawn of the twentieth century, and here we are. A shame that copyrights can be owned by entities other than humans, since last time I checked, companies don't breathe, or urinate, or expire of old age.

It's also sad that copyrights can outlive authors (although Samuel Clemens wanted copyrights to be eternal. Of course, he didn't have Viacom and News Corp. in mind when he advocated eternity.)

Let us face it: Mickey Mouse will fall into the public domain around the time the sun reaches its red star phase.

Click here to read entire post

Odds On Favorite

The media narrative on Rango is getting pretty well fixed.

Verbinski and his motley crew (with the help of some heavyweights at ILM, who themselves were wading into new waters) made the year’s weirdest and best animated film ...

In other words: "The small renegade band pulls it off."

Pretty irresistable legend and myth, and I keep seeing it in different places, so I think the thing is taking hold. I'm all for renegades, but I'm not sure this qualifies.

I would like to see one of the DWA offerings take the Little Gold Man, but if it ends up being Mr. Verbinski and his crew, bully for them.

Click here to read entire post

The TAG 401(k) Plan

I spent the day in a Trustee Meeting for TAG's 401(k) Plan. A few factoids regarding the Plan (in continuous operation since April, 1995): ...

Total Assets -- $149 million

Total Participants -- 2250

Top Five Funds in Plan

1) SAGIC (bond fund)

2) PIMCO Total Return

3) Select Indexed Equity

4) EuroPacific Growth

5) Gabelli Small Growth

What's remarkable to me is that none of the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds are in the Top Five, even though they're the lowest cost options in the Plan.

The Vanguard funds cost participants from 17 to 19 basis points in administrative costs. (That's less than one fifth of a percent, if you're wondering.)

The next least costly option is Northern Trust's Select Indexed Equity Fund (a large cap domestic stock mutual fund that's the Plan's third most popular.) It costs 21 basis points (just over a fifth of a percent.)

Whenever I'm out in the studios, I have a bag of 401(k) books slung over my shoulder. So if you see me and want to enroll, just ask for a book. Enrollment deadlines are the first of each month.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Batting 1000

I had no idea.

When it comes to Academy Awards nominations, American-based licensing and film distribution company GKIDS is three for three. Since its founding in 2008, GKIDS has received an Oscar nod for every film it has released.

The three-person film outfit picked up two nominations in the best animated feature category this year for its movies "Chico & Rita" and "A Cat in Paris."...

GKIDS president and founder Eric Beckman believes "Cars 2" and "Tintin" were passed over because the business model for animated films is changing. "There's a hole in the market. These big studios release their expensive tent-pole films with over $100 million production budgets, but audiences want to see interesting, beautiful different types of animated movies ..."

It's pretty to think so, but when you strip away the hype and wishful thinking, audiences want to see the tent-poles. Which are also the big splashy 3-D productions. Which are also the movies that make half a billion dollars. And sell lots of toys and games.

Just saying.

Click here to read entire post

Middle February Foreign Derby

Despite various meltdowns in foreign lands, the box office, she chugs along.

... Journey 2: The Mysterious Island claimed the No. 1 spot with a relatively modest take of $25.5 million. ... Foreign gross total for Journey 2 ($74.7 million) is tracking 67% ahead of the comparable figure logged by the film’s 2008 predecessor Journey To The Center Of The Earth ...

On the animation, Puss in Boots collected $4.1 million for a foreign accumulation of $373.5 million. (Worldwide, the pic has taken in $522.2 million.)

Click here to read entire post

Rango Again

There's a trend here.

At the BAFTA Awards held Sunday at the Royal Opera House in London:


The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn - Steven Spielberg

Arthur Christmas - Sarah Smith

*WINNER: Rango - Gore Verbinski

So we can now predict a lock on the Little Gold Man?

Click here to read entire post

Drawing With Parkinson's

Auction TODAY!.

The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association hosts "Living Artistically with Parkinson’s Disease," a champagne brunch art exhibit & silent auction on Sunday, February 12th, from 11am to 2pm. ...

This one-of-a-kind exhibit will feature works of art – painting, drawings, photography, sculpture, and music – created by celebrated artists who have Parkinson’s Disease. Artists include Jorge Lacost, James Tim Walker, Herb Rosenkrantz and many more. Gallery sales from the exhibit and silent auction/raffle will directly benefit the artist and the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association in it’s efforts to provide support and education locally. ...

Lots of unique pieces by Warner Bros. artists (and others). The exhibition runs until February 1th at the James Gray Gallery, , Bergamot Station Art Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building D4 in Santa Monica.

Contact Parkinson LA for more information.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Fair" and "Unfair"

The Economist offers an example.

Suppose I'm a surgeon pulling down six figures. Perhaps doing my fair share is to pay 33% of my income in taxes. But, hey, wait! My sister, who could have been a surgeon, chose instead to make pottery in a little hippie arts colony. She makes only as much as she needs to get by, works relatively short hours, smokes a lot of weed with her artist friends, and pays no federal income tax at all! If paying 33% of the money I make saving lives is doing my fair share, then it's hard to see how my sister—who could have been a surgeon, or some kind of job- and/or welfare-creating entrepreneur—is doing hers. But if she is doing hers, just playing with clay out there in the woods, benefiting next to no one, paying no taxes, then clearly I'm doing way more than my fair share. Which seems, you know, unfair. ...

Years back, the Animation Guild was in the middle of a contract negotiation. TAG's negotiating committee was expending a lot of time and energy trying to get the usual suspects -- Warner Bros., Fox, Disney, and the rest -- to revamp the contract to include residual payments. But all the parties on the other side of The Table kept saying "No." Over and over again.

When the negotiating committee repaired to the caucus room, participants complained about how stubborn and unfair the companies were being. How unjust it was that animation story creators didn't receive mail box residuals like the DGA, SAG, and the WGA. This went on for several months, and along about month four it dawned on me:

There is no fair, there is no unfair, there is only what you have the ability/leverage to get.

In 1960 and 1961, Hollywood unions were successful in negotiating residuals after years of proposing them. They went on strike over the issue, and the Hollywood studios, not yet monster conglomerates, couldn't afford a long work stoppage. So they (grudgingly) agreed.

Please note that residuals came about not because it was "fair," but because labor had the juice to secure them.

Weeks ago, a gay member who had married his Significant Other in New York (where the state legislature voted that same sex marriages were fair and legal), complained to TAG that the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan doesn't recognize his union because the MPIPHP follows federal law which declares same-sex marriages are unfair and illegal.

Because as we all know, only men and women can be married to each other. (Except when it's been otherwise.)

And there is now --as reflected in the long quote up top -- a lively back-and-forth over who should pay what in taxes. When I was in shorts and high-topped tennis shoes, Ike had the top marginal income tax rate pegged at 90%. Today, Barack Obama want's to push the top marginal income tax rate from 35% to 39.5%. And is greeted with bellows of outrage.

Is Eisenhower's tax bracket fair? Is Obama's unrealized 39.5% unfair? I would submit that, despite the screams of various politicians, neither is one thing or the other, but products of the political dynamics and pressures of their times. (Is Mitt Romney's income tax rate "fair?" Depends who you ask. But it's what's legally allowed.)

What I have come to understand is that "fair" and "unfair" changes from one individual, group or time period to the next. When a politician natters on about "fair," he is usually selling his vision of how he -- or more likely the interest group paying him -- wants things to be.

Tune out all the propaganda, and you begin to figure out that most things from the mind of Man are arbitrary, and everything is temporary.

Click here to read entire post

Dimensional Re-Releases

Three Dimensions are working out well for studios:

Opening Day Grosses

Lion King 3-D -- $8,919,921

Phantom Menace 3-D -- $8,650,000

My guess is that Titanic 3-D will do much more than all right when it comes to an AMC near you. Because everyone will want to see the young Leo in Moving View Master.

And of course audiences will want to see the falling bodies and the ship breaking in two. I can't wait.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, February 10, 2012

End-of-Week Studios

Today at Film Roman, staffers were in the process of shipping a few new shows, and artists I saw were either A) drawing madly or B) kicking back a little because their crunch was over. ...

About Simpsons episodes, New York Magazine has noted: The annual Halloween “Treehouse of Horror” anthologies have been especially strong. ...

Today I was told:

"We put more crowd scenes and more production into the Halloween shows. There are four animation timers on the Halloween shows. They always want the episodes to be extravaganzas and the budgets are higher ..."

Which is something I didn't know (probably because I don't pay close attention.)

People at Film Roman/Starz assume the 25th season will be the last (I'm not as sure), followed by another movie. (That seems a sure bet.)

Earlier in the week at DreamWorks Animation, I counted five animated features* being animated inside the Lakeside Building. (The Croods, Guardians, Madagascar, Turbo, How to Train Dragon Deux. And I probably missed one. DWA does not lack for projects.)

A story artist filled me in on the twists and turns of story development on the feature she's been working on. (Revisions, sequences changed and/or dropped, continuity challenges. Just like always. And no, I'm not going to mention the specific feature. The same tales I heard yesterday I also heard twenty-one years ago, regarding Aladdin. Then, they reworked big pieces of the movie in about a month. Story artist were ... ahm ... stressed.)

* Some of these features are also being worked on elsewhere.

Click here to read entire post

The Short-Month Derby

Now with butter-flavored Add On.

Deadline does its early numbers number:

1. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [2,958 Theaters] Estimated Friday $15M, Estimated Weekend $39.2M

2. Safe House (Universal) NEW [3,119 Theaters] Estimated Friday $14M, Estimated Weekend $38.6M

3. Star Wars 3D: Phantom Menace (LucasFilm/Fox) NEW [2,655 Theaters] Estimated Friday $9M, Estimated Weekend $23M

4. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros) NEW [3,470 Theaters] Estimated Friday $6.5M, Estimated Weekend $24.5M

5. Chronicle (Fox) Week 2 [2,908 Theater] Estimated Friday $3.6M (-58%), Estimated Weekend $12M, Estimated Cume $39M ...

For the week through Thursday: Beauty and the Beast in Three Dimensions exited the Top Ten (with $45.6 million), Steve Spielberg's two films (War Horse and Tintin) have collected coin in the mid $70 millions, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked has earned $128.5 million.

Add On: The Nikkster updates her totals:

1. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [2,958 Theaters] Est Friday $15.5M, Est Weekend $39M

2. Safe House (Universal) NEW [3,119 Theaters] Est Friday $15M, Est Weekend $38M

3. Star Wars 3D: Phantom Menace (LucasFilm/Fox) NEW [2,655 Theaters] Est Friday $8.5M, Est Weekend $22M

4. Journey 2: Mysterious Island 3D (Warner Bros) NEW [3,470 Theaters] Est Friday $6.5M, Est Weekend $21M

5. Chronicle (Fox) Week 2 [2,908 Theater] Est Friday $3.5M (-59%), Est Weekend $11M, Est Cume $39M

6. The Woman In Black (CBS Films) Week 2 [2,856 Theaters] Est Friday $3.4M (-58%), Est Weekend $11M, Est Cume $36.1M

7. The Grey (Open Road) Week 3 [2,801 Theaters] Est Friday $1.3M, Est Weekend $4.5M, Est Cume $42.4M

8. Big Miracle (Working Title/Universal) Week 2 [2,133 Theaters] Est Friday $952K (-59%), Est Weekend $3.5M, Est Cume $13M

9. The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) Week 13 [1,581 Theaters] Est Friday $900K, Est Weekend $3.5M, Est Cume $70.7M

10. One For The Money (Lionsgate) Week 3 [2,056 Theaters] Est Friday $725K, Est Weekend $2.2M, Est Cume $23.6M

Add On Too: The weekend finishes on a high note.

... The Vow opened to a sizable $41.7 million, followed closely by Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds action-thriller Safe House with $39.3 million. ...

Thus far, box office cash and fannies in the seats are up 11% over 2011.

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Respect for Marriage

The Animation Guild's Executive Board has voted in favor of the following:

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE endorses the Respect for Marriage Act and urges Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act ("DoMA"), because DoMA adversely impacts our gay and lesbian members' health and pension benefits. ...

Generally speaking, the Animation Guild doesn't endorse a lot of candidates or legislation. But in this case, the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan follows federal law (DoMA) which negatively impacts our members.

The law as it stands doesn't negatively impact heterosexual married couples, but does damage to same-sex couples; they have to jump through more bureaucratic hoops and wait longer for health coverage than heteros.

Personally, I've always thought the Defense of Marriage Act was stupid. I never thought my marriage needed defending by the Feds.

In any event, the Guild's executive board has now made its position known, which I think is a good thing. I've seen the pain DoMA has caused, so the sooner it's thrown into the dustbin of yesterday, the better.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

No More Lunch Times!


A Republican State Representative in New Hampshire has found a way to create a new front in the war on workers, proposing a bill that would repeal the state’s law requiring that workers get a 30-minute lunch break after five hours of labor.

State Rep. J.R. Hoell (R), a supporter of libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) for president, told a New Hampshire General Court committee this week that he believes the law is unnecessary because it is in employers’ interest to treat workers well, according to The Concord Monitor. ...

I think we should go further than that.

Let's abolish safety laws, since it's in an employer's interest to keep workers safe.

Let's abolish food safety laws because, gee whiz, it's in the food producers' interests to, you know, not have icky food.

In fact, now that I think of it, bank laws are stupid. Because it's in a bank's interest to stay solvent. (And if one overreaches and goes bankrupt, it will have to suffer the free-market consequences. Oh, wait! ...)

But now allow me a counter-argument, from personal experience.

Back in the prosperous nineties, I got into an argument with a Disney exec who took exception to my complaints about employees having a "working lunch" from twelve to noon one. When I pointed out that if Feature Animation was making the merry workers attend a meeting, then it wasn't really "lunch."

Her response was: "But we're supplying food!"

(A second exec finally conceded my point that it wasn't really a "lunch break.")

So, when I run across an Ayn Rand disciple who maintains that things will be much better if we just got rid of all the rules and regulations and let our fine conglomerates (and everyone else) pursue their enlightened self-interest, my answer is always monotonously the same:

Uh ... no.

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Not Rumplestiltskin

They've had a project at Walt Disney Animation Studios that I haven't uttered a peep about. But Disney animator Patrick Osborne says:

We’re finishing up a rather exciting project [titled "Ppaperman"] at Disney in the next few weeks. It’s been keeping me pretty busy and away from this blog. The short, Directed by John Kahrs will be heading out there sometime next year.

We’re very proud of this one and can’t wait to show the world. ...

They should be proud. Because the look of it is terrific, and unlike anything else out there.

I've had the good fortune to be shown clips of the piece referenced above for the last several months. Nobody can tell me when it will be released, but I imagine that the Mouse won't sit on it very long.

Watch for it. (Rope of Sand references the project here.)

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Brian Boylan @ Gallery 839


opens Friday, February 10 * 6 pm

Gallery 839 Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Homeric Homage

One of our entertainment trade papers celebrates the Yellow Family:

"The Simpsons came from the old world of television ... Fox was an upstart, it was just the big three networks and The Cosby Show was still dominant. And now, 23 years later, we’re living in this world of 650,000 channels and literally nine cake shows. And yet The Simpsons is still with us. It’s probably the only real bridge from the old world of media into the new world of media." ...

-- Conan O'Brien

Fox, strangely enough, is the only network that has built prime-time animated shows into franchises. Kudos to Fox.

Today I was up at Starz Media, home of The Simpsons animation staff, and an artist who's worked on three different Fox cartoon shows told me:

Working on Seth's shows are all right, but I think I like it here better. At Fox Animation, the writers are all on site, and more of the energy and attention goes to them. Here, we're in a different building from the writers and producers, and it's all artists and directors. And it feels different.

"Administration gives you more of their attention. They ask if you need something, if they can make the process better for you. That never happened to me at Fox. The artists were always several notches down in the pecking order." ...

There are staffers on The Simpsons who have been with the show from the beginning, and others who have been on board for seventeen, eighteen and nineteen years. To work on a single show for decades is unprecedented. And almost all of the long-term staffers know how lucky they are, and remark on it.

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Rango Award March Continues

The Annies, now Viz Effects Society awards.

"Rango" was the big winner at Tuesday night's VES Awards, winning four awards from the Visual Effects Society for its effects, character creation, created environment and virtual cinematography. ...

So Rango is a shoo-in for The Little Gold Man in the "best animated feature" category, right? How can it end any other way?

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Wood Print Animation

The Chinese have an entrant in the Berlin International Film Festival.

Young Chinese artist Sun Xun's latest wood-print animated film, "Some Actions Which Haven't Been Defined yet in the Revolution," has been nominated for competition in the Berlinale Shorts section in the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival (BIFF). ... [I]n the past 14 years, no Chinese animation short has been screened at the festival.

"After so many years of absence, it's really exciting for Chinese animation to be entering the Berlin International Film Festival again," said ShangArt Gallery, which promotes Sun's works. ...

I searched the intertubes for a clip of the short, but didn't find one. The still frame, however, looks intriguing.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

DreamWorks Animation's Animated Video Games

The company is doing bit of licensing:

D3Publisher has secured the ... rights to develop and publish the video games based on the upcoming DreamWorks Animation feature films Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Rise of the Guardians in 2012 and The Croods in 2013. ...

I'm so old that I can remember when DreamWorks, youthful and full of ambition (and residing on the Universal lot), had its own video game division.

The year was 1996. And the developers were up on the top floor of an office building on Lankershim Boulevard (with feature animation trainees directly below) -- just up the street from the Black Tower. Back then, DreamWorks was many things: live-action movies; live action television shows; animated television shows; animated features.

On top of which, they were making video games.

What a difference sixteen years make. Here we are in 2012 and DreamWorks as originally conceived is no more. The live-action feature division is now housed at Disney (after earlier residing at Paramount. The movie studio once envisioned to rise near the coast at Playa Vista was never built.)

Live-action television shows are no more, while animated shows -- mostly spin-offs of the features -- are farmed out to sub-contractors.

The video games? The development group on Lankershim Boulevard is long gone, and the division long since shuttered. Licensees get all the action now.

On the brighter side, the feature animation part of the business became its own corporate entity, with two separate studios in California and a satellite facility in India. And all the founders are rich.

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I ... am VFX Soldier

Tonight marks the 10th time the Visual Effects Society has gathered to present their awards for achievement and recognition. As I was sitting by Twitter eagerly awaiting news of results, this caught my attention:


Good day for a reminder that we all need to be @VFXSoldier 's, fighting to improve conditions for #vfx artists

Most of my recent conversations regarding unionization of visual effects end up in a discussion of why organizing is important. Usually, this begins by discussions of the Hot-Button topic of the day (Health and Pension plans, job protection, globalization, etc) but always end up in a dialog about the purpose of collective action and why standing together and organizing should be important to all artists.

At the core of the work relationship between artist and employer, there is a symbiotic relationship based on need. Shop Owners *need* artists for their experience, skill and talent. Artists *need* shop owners for their ability supply employment by successfully bidding on (or creating) work. This basic relationship is mutually beneficial and co-dependent. As long as the shop owner has work, the artists will keep working .. and as long as the artists keep applying their skill, the shop owner will be recognized as successful and continue to get work.

Union contracts like ours use the collective leverage that comes from the above mentioned core relationship to establish boundaries against owners seeking profit at the expense of artists. Our contracts set standards and conditions that artists have input in drafting. Effectively this resets the artist/owner relationship back to that core where both sides stand on equal footing with regards to the items stipulated in the contract.

Artists not only have to talk about this, artists have to stand up and demand this. There are precious few shop owners I know that are willing to open their hearts to unionization. Organization has to come from within and eventually be demanded by artists.

Artists need to learn what the union is, what it can do, and why collectively they are a dominant force in the industry. While we are able to talk to that, the message spreads more effectively and is better understood when it comes from within the community. None has done a finer job of this than the anonymous artist known as VFX Soldier.

For his efforts in maintaining and contributing to his blog, and discussions across the internet, his identity is constantly sought out. Jeff Heusser's tweet tries to tell us, the identity of VFX Soldier isn't important, his message is. Jeff also understands that in order for the industry to stop using artists as a means to speed up the race to the bottom, we all have to identify with VFX Soldier and stand for the same cause.

I've been questioned countless times by artists, friends and shop owners if I am VFX Soldier. While I can not say I am the blog author, I hope you start to say with me "We are all VFX Soldier. I Am VFX Soldier."

(if you are interested in the pin pictured at the top of this post, email me and I will try to find one for you)

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