Sunday, September 30, 2012

Animation's Arc

This is sort of hard to believe, but here it is.

... Ice Age 4 overtook its predecessor to rank as the biggest animated release of all time internationally. It remains on course to cross $700m thanks to a $7.8m number one debut in Italy on 906 screens that accounted for the lion’s share of the $8.7m weekend from 1,055 in four markets. Ice Age 4 now ranks as the eighth biggest international release in history. ...

Funny thing about the Ice Age franchise. When the first one was being done, Fox was trying to sell Blue Sky Studios. Rupert's minions had gotten burned with the output from their Phoenix studio, and they thought they were heading down the chute with their CGI picture about woolly mammoths.

But clips from that first feature received positive (rhapsodic?) reaction in Europe, and Fox decided to hang onto Blue Sky after all. Then Ice Age Uno made big bucks, and lo, the executives who earlier had cold feet about the project were fighting to take credit.

There is nothing at all new about that Hollywood story. It's been repeated many times over the decades with both live-action and animation. However, as regards feature-length cartoons, here's what is different:

In the '40s, in the 50s, in every decade to the 1990s, Disney made money from animated features and every other corporate entity fell on their faces when attempting to duplicate the Disney formula. The Fleischers made a profit with Gulliver's Travels, then the box office debacle Mr. Bug Goes to Town killed off their Miami studio. Thereafter, the number of competitors Walt Disney Productions Feature Animation had was zero.

Until the rise of Pixar, nobody but the Mouse was able to make long-form cartoons a profit center. (DreamWorks Animation's first release The Prince or Egypt eked out a $218.6 million worldwide gross. Not awful, but a long way from the box office of Aladdin and The Lion King.)

In the '90s, everybody but Disney flamed out with hand-drawn features. And ultimately, even Disney stopped making big money on them. Contrast that performance with what goes on now.

DreamWorks Animation has produced blockbuster CG animated features.

Blue Sky has produced hit CG features.

Illumination Entertainment, new to the club, has had hit CG features.

Walt Disney Animation Studios (aka Disney Feature Animation) has created hit CG features.

And now Sony Pictures Animation/Sony Pictures ImageWorks, after years of swings and misses, has at last hit a home run with Hotel Transylvania.

It seems almost anybody can jump into the animated feature genre (CG division) and come up with a money-maker. (The Weinstein brothers might be the exceptions here.) However, there seems to be certain rules. When producing an animated feature, you need to:

1) Have funny characters (animals are always good.)
2) Stay away from mo cap (although "the devil's rotoscope" is okay when mixed with live-action.)
3) Keep the plots simple and the personal stakes of the lead characters high.
4) Have a funny sidekick (maybe two.)
5) Avoid an overabundance of annoying songs.
6) Always build to a big climax, five minutes before end credits.

Three or more years ago, the media was warning that "there were too many animated features" and the glut of product would drive down profits, but that hasn't happened. We now have a record number of companies finding success in theatrical animation, and it points to only one onrushing reality.

There will be more, not less animated features as we march deeper into the 21st century.

Click here to read entire post

Animation's Prosperous Foreign Derby

As Hotel Transylvania prospers on the domestic circuit, so does HT and several others rake in coin beyond our shores ...

Sony Pictures Animation premiered Hotel Transylvania at 1,700 screens in 13 markets, and drew $8.1 million overall on the weekend. ...

Ted was buoyed by three openings, and registered $9.1 million in all on the weekend ... Foreign cume for [Ice Age: Continental Drift] comes to $693.9 million [$8.7 million the last two days] -- making the family film the highest-grossing animation title ever to be released on the foreign circuit. ...

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted continues to chug along, generating $6.1 million on the weekend at 1,514 locations in 28 markets. Overseas gross total now stands at $422.7 million. ... Pixar’s Brave pushed its foreign cume to $281.9 million thanks to a $5.2 million weekend in its 15th overseas round ...

[Lastly]: Disney’s Finding Nemo 3D, $10.2 million.

What's striking is how consistently well animated titles do around the world. Note some of the global accumulations:

Brave -- $515,588,000
Finding Nemo 3D -- $46,675,000
Ice Age: Continental Drift -- $852,981,000
Madagascar 3 -- $638,647,174
Click here to read entire post

Saturday, September 29, 2012


To Genndy ... to SPA (Sony Pictures Animation) ... and to SPI (Sony Pictures ImageWorks ... non-signator though it may be.) ...

So all the director changes, all the creative tug-of-wars look to have paid off:

Hotel Transylvania may turn out to be Sony Pictures Animation’s biggest all-animated box-office hit ever. According to studio estimates, the $85m-budgeted Hotel Transylvania — with the box-office-boosting assistance of 3D surcharges — took in $11m at 3,349 North American sites on Friday, Sept. 28, and is expected to gross near $40m by Sunday evening. ...

If so, that’s about $10m more than early Friday estimates indicated; it’s considerably more than the amount earned by the previous Sony Pictures Animation all-animated domestic box-office champ, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; and it means that the terrible domestic box-office drought may have come to a close. Hotel Transylvania could even end up boasting the most successful September opening ever at the domestic box office.

Making an animated feature ... even one that's not a blockbuster ... is difficult (like slinging fifty-pound chunks of concrete day after day.) So it's nice to see HT exceed expectations by a wide margin.

Not only does it speak volumes about the picture and its dedicated crew. But it points to the strength of animation as a crowd-pleasing, story-telling medium.

(The picture above? It was cribbed from one of HT's fine animators.)

Add On: We can say that the new 'toon overperformed by a wide margin:

In a sizable victory for Sony, 3D toon Hotel Transylvania debuted to an estimated $43 million -- the biggest opening since The Dark Knight Rises and the top September bow ever. It's also the best performance to date for the studio's animation unit.

Click here to read entire post

The (Late) Box Office

So here we are on Saturday morning, and there seems to be nothing much to report about box office. (What the hell is wrong with the internet, anyway?) So to start things rolling, here are the important stats from Thursday:

Finding Nemo (3D) -- $32.4 million

The clown fish is in the sixth position, in 2,904 theatres. I would expect it to drop as new weekend entries push older contestants out of the Top Ten.

However, Box Office Mojo handicaps the weekend:

Looper is going to have a tough time reaching $20 million, first place will likely to go to animated movie Hotel Transylvania, which is opening in 3,349 theaters. ...

BO Mojo Forecast
1. Hotel Transylvania - $25.8 million
2. Looper - $16.1 million
3. End of Watch - $8 million (-39%)
4. Trouble with the Curve - $7.7 million (-37%)
5. Won't Back Down - $7.6 million

By Sunday we'll know which is the Top Dog.

Add On: So I'm guessing that we'll see a bunch more animated features in the years to come, as HT breaks through for Sony Pictures Animation in a BIG way. (And it's been a long time coming.)

1. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) NEW [3,349 Runs] PG Friday $11M, Weekend $39.5M

2. Looper (Sony) NEW [2,992 Runs] R Friday $6.8M, Weekend $19.2M

3. End Of Watch (Open Road) Week 2 [3,083 Runs] R Friday $2.3M (-48%), Weekend $7.6M, Cume $25.9M

4. The House At The End Of The Street (Relativity) Week 2 [3,083 Runs] PG13 Friday $2.3M (-49%), Weekend $7.3M, Cume $22.4M

5. Trouble With The Curve (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,212 Runs] PG13 Friday $2.3M (-45%), Weekend $7.2M (-50%), Cume $23.4M

6. Pitch Perfect (Universal) NEW [335 Runs] PG Friday $1.7M, Weekend $4.9M

7. Finding Nemo (Disney) Week 3 [2,639 Runs] G Friday $1.0M, Weekend $4.0M, Cume $36.5M

8) Won’t Back Down (Walden/Fox) NEW [2,515 Runs] PG Friday $920KM, Weekend $2.6M

9. Resident Evil 5 (Sony) Week 3 [2,381 Runs] R Friday $810K, Weekend $2.7M, Cume $38.5M

10. The Master (Weinstein Co) Week 3 [856 Runs] R Friday $787K, Weekend $2.6M, Cume $9.5M

Click here to read entire post

Fighting the Sin That Starts with "G"

Diz Co. battles against slots and blackjack:

Walt Disney World has spent nearly $2.5 million on almost exclusively GOP candidates and groups in Florida so far this election cycle in an attempt to stop casino gambling. So says the Orlando Sentinel after a review of state records showing Disney’s political contributions ...

Whether or not you're thrilled that the Mouse is funding Republicans in the sunshine state, I guess I get it. They're not keen on the competition of big fat casinos in the Miami area. ( Isn't Vegas pretty much "Disney World for Adults?")

If the Democrats were against this evil sin, I would wager that the Walt Disney Company would be showering them with money.
Click here to read entire post

Friday, September 28, 2012

Clear Sailing

No surprise, but the new owners pledge new life for Digital Domain.

... Galloping Horse America, a division of a Beijing media company, and Reliance MediaWorks, part of the Indian conglomerate Reliance Group, [bought] Digital Domain's visual effects studios in Venice, Calif., and Vancouver, Canada, for $30.2 million.

The deal closed Thursday and effectively removes Digital Domain from a potentially protracted Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by its parent company in Florida this month. That filing caused the near-shutdown of the company's new animation building in Port St. Lucie, Fla., laying off most of its 320 workers. ...

No clear word about what happens to the Florida animation studio, and whether it follows the earlier Fleischer studios (and Disney Animation Florida) into oblivion.

We'll have to wait and see.
Click here to read entire post

Right to Work!

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution brings us news:

... Bento Box said Thursday that it was working with city and state officials to train dozens of artists and designers to staff the northwest Atlanta studio. The California-based company said it hopes to have 200 employees at the studio within three years.

“We really see Atlanta as a great place to engage the talent in Georgia,” said Scott Greenberg, the company’s co-founder. “We’ll be a part of the community, and we intend to do a lot more work down there.” ...

We've known about Bento Box's Georgia outpost for a bit of a while now, and funny thing.

Though we have a contract with BB in Los Angeles (our bailiwick), the Atlanta studio is in Right To Work land, and we're informed that the pay they are offering in peach and magnolia country is way less than here on the Left Coast. In fact, we recently got an agitated call from an artist down there.

... They offered me a job, called and offered, but the pay is low. So low, in fact, that I can't live on it, and I turned them down. I don't know how people can survive on what Atlanta studios pay ...

Beats us. Maybe they're still living with Ma and Pa.

Bento Box Los Angeles isn't offering union wages out of the goodness of its heart. It's paying union rates because we had a bit of leverage and used it to secure a union contract. (It helps that California is not a right to work state. Yet.)
Click here to read entire post

Thursday, September 27, 2012

At DreamWorks Animation

I spent part of my day at DreamWorks Animation, and got to see a bit of test footage for Me and My Shadow, with hand-drawn animation (the shadow) merged with everything else (the CG characters, CG furniture, CG walls, etc.) ...

As a staffer told me:

"We're doing the rough hand-drawn animation in-house, with several animators from Disney. The computer program molds their animation around tables and chairs. There's a 'POV' software program that enables them to draw over a blocked area of the CG animation, and it works well." ...

I watched part of a half-finished sequence, and the hand-drawn and CG elements are pretty seamless. There are still a few minor kinks, but the stuff has a fresh, spontaneous feel. If the story matches the process, DWA should have another winner.

Click here to read entire post

Collateral Damage

So the visual effects part of Digital Domain gets salvaged, but what about the animation division?

... Directors and producers Chuck Williams and Aaron Blaise, still “devastated” by the sudden shutdown of the new animated feature studio, have put in a bid on rights to “The Legend of Tembo,” the animated feature that was to have made Digital Domain’s name. ...

“We want to make our movie,” Williams said. “One-hundred-twenty people worked on it for two years. Early tests showed it was fabulous—Disney quality, just like we promised.”

... FTI’s Michael Katzenstein portrayed Digital Domain’s foray into the business of producing animated films as the very expensive and elaborate folly ...

“Tembo,” he complained, absorbed $13 million of the company’s money, helping to trigger financial and human tragedy.

Williams and Blaise disagree. Special effects is a thin-margin service business, they say. The real money is in animated features, with nine out of 10 that get wide release in the U.S. turning a profit. ...

I don't know how much of what Mr. Williams and Mr. Blaise tell us is the gospel truth, but if you're going to launch a feature animation studio, it's good to have ...

1) A story to develop. Something with marketable characters and "hooks."

2) A story crew that knows what it's doing.

3) Multiple projects lined up behind the first one so your knowledgeable story crew has things to work on after the first one, so you don't have to lay talented staff off.

4) Enough money in the hopper to see you through production and distribution. (Illumination Entertainment did this; Imagi did not.)

Many believe the above to be easy. It's not, but it is doable with the right mix of talent. You have to know what you're shooting for and have the ability to hit the inside rings of the target. There is also an element of luck involved. You make the third or fourth penguin movie to hit the silver screen (Surfs Up), and you might have problems at the box office, no matter how good your penguin movie is.

Williams and Blaise are right that animated features can make the company that creates a good one a lot of money. But that company has got to have steely nerves and patience. Also deep pockets. Because it's easy to fall off the high wire, and the fall can be a long one.

Click here to read entire post

Box Office Handicapping

Puts HT on top.

Hotel Transylvania should easily claim the No. 1 position with a solid debut of around $35 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys -- though Sony Pictures, which is distributing the film, is expecting a softer opening of between $25 million and $30 million. ...

I'm betting that Genndy's feature will be at the high end of estimates, rather than the low. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Turtle Rescue

That's certainly the hope.

On Saturday morning, Nickelodeon will take the lid off a slicker, hipper version of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," the latest effort by the children's network to combat a dramatic ratings plunge.

Over the past year, Nickelodeon has lost 28% of its young audience, according to ratings firm Nielsen. ... "I can't think of another instance in television history in which a network that has been so dominant for so long has fallen so far and so fast," said Todd Juenger, media analyst with investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. ...

There have been a lot of changes in the exec lineup at Nick over the past eighteen months, so the company knows it has ... ahm ... issues. And along with new personnel, some administrative attitudes have changed, because I now get accompanied by a guard when I walk through Nick's Burbank studio. (They must be concerned I'll shoplift a Cintiq.)

But the artists and the show-runners are great, and the company appears to have stopped sitting on its (now vanished) lead and thrown more new ideas and concepts against the proverbial wall. As the Times says, there are more projects and production money now sliding through the pipeline, and that should help in righting the ship.

The historic reality of animation is, no entity stays on top forever. Disney was a powerhouse before it wasn't, and Cartoon Network went through a ratings slump before clawing its way back to prosperity. The Disney Channel might be on top today, but wait a year. Nick could come roaring back. They're shelling out cash for new and higher grade product, so I think today's status quo will change.
Click here to read entire post

Fox-DreamWorks Animation Marriage

From our friends at the Reporter:

On Aug. 20, DreamWorks Animation announced its new long-term distribution deal with the Fox film studio. But sources say there was more behind-the-scenes drama in the making of the pact than either side has chosen to reveal. Those with knowledge of the situation say Fox parent News Corp. discussed a potential purchase of DWA at a price that would have included a premium on the company's market valuation of a little less than $1.5 billion.

I've thought for a long time that, despite denials, Jeffrey was looking for a rich purchase deal, wherein DreamWorks Animation would be bought by one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates. Trouble is, in September 2008 the financial meltdown happened and kind of turned everything in Hollywood (and elsewhere) inside out and upside down.

Corporations are now a lot tighter with a dollar, top* to bottom, and so DreamWorks Animation is still an independent studio. Will Fox purchase DWA at some point in the future? I think the odds are good if DreamWorks' pictures perform over the next several years. Jeffrey and his company are hard chargers -- always have been -- and I think that might give Rupert and his minions pause, but in the end, box office grosses talk.

* When we say "top", we of course don't mean CEOs and Chairmen like Sumner R. and Robert I. and the rest of the select few at the highest elevations. The money spiggots are never screwed shut for those folks.
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


From the Washington Post (and the "Whaaa?!" file):

After a controversial call by a replacement referee led to a Green Bay Packers loss on Monday night, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called for the return of the NFL’s regular unionized officials, who have been locked out by the league’s owners.

“After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs,” Walker wrote on Twitter early Tuesday.

The irony here is that Walker made national headlines last year when he pushed to strip Wisconsin’s public employees of their collective bargaining rights. But Walker sounded less enthusiastic about the outcome of the NFL’s hard-line stance against its unionized workers. ...

Here's the thing about labor unions. They help people who don't run venture capital firms earn enough money to live a dignified existence when they are 1) raising kids, and 2) retired in their old age.

A few years back, a Hong Kong animation company named Imagi set up shop in Sherman Oaks, California. The company soon discovered that the artists it wanted to employ refused to work for Imagi because ... (drum roll) company wasn't offering the benefits and wages the artists wanted.

Imagi wasn't union.

The company ended up coming to TAG and asking for a contract so it could get the staff it needed to create its product.

It's kind of the same deal with the referees at those NFL games. The owners can hire stumblebums, and put striped shirts on them, give them whistles. But having the right outfits and acoutrements doesn't make the stumblebums professionals who know what they're doing.

Maybe it would be a good move for fans to stop attending games until the real referres are returned to work, no? Because in solidarity, there is strength.
Click here to read entire post


It's been a rare couple of weeks. People have called, come into the office, and communicated by phone and e-mail about their struggles in the biz:

I have been slowly breaking into the biz of animation since I graduated in 2009. I kill myself almost everyday looking for work and I always come up empty-handed. I got lucky at [blank] last year and worked on a new show for 5 months. After being laid off I feel the same thing is going to happen: 3 more years of looking for work so I'm quitting the boarding business and starting my animation studio.

I have tried soooooo hard to break into the union but I feel let down by the community, it's all about themselves, and emotionally, I'm done with it. ...

I talk to people on a semi-regular basis who are struggling to get a toe-hold in Cartoonland and earn themselves a living. But let's face it: CL can be a cruel, uncaring business to plunge into if you are:

1) Don't sport the right skill set.
2) Tick off the wrong people.
3) Get into animation at the wrong time. (Like for instance when the number of jobs is shrinking; like when there's a big technology shift and you've bulked up on the wrong classes at university.)
4) Don't play well with others (related to 2, above.)
5) Don't meet deadlines.


In the years I've been doing this, I've seen everybody who could hold a pencil get jobs (this was the nineties, when demand way outstripped supply.) And I've seen qualified people work for that industry break and never quite crack the egg. (This was the 2000s ... and sometimes now.)

The saddest (and most frustrating) artists I encounter are ones who have the experience and chops to get quality jobs, but have built reputations of unreliability that keep show runners and producers from hiring them. I've had more than one prospective employer who's said to me:

[Artist X]? Sweet guy, and one hell of an artist, but I gave him a project to do last year and he didn't deliver, just completely let me down. And I can't afford to give him another chance. If he louses up, it's my ass. ...

We all build our careers and reputations one building block at a time. We screw up a storyboard or layout, we don't turn something in by Friday, it comes back to bite us. I once told an artist who had a reputation for prickliness, who was proud that he "never took crap from anybody," that if he insisted on burning bridges to be careful that he didn't have to march back over them later, because they wouldn't be there.

The river below can get deep and cold and wide.

Click here to read entire post


Tartakovsky's voice at the Voice:

"I hate realism. In America especially, we're very narrow-minded as far as animation goes. There is only one kind of movie, and that's that big, family-oriented, four-quadrant, please-everyone kind of film. But if I wanted realism, I'd watch a live-action movie. Those lines are being blurred every day. When I go to see a movie, especially an animated movie, I'm going to escape. The more realistic it is, the less believable it is."

Pretty sure G.T. wouldn't have much interest in directing a mo cap feature. Click here to read entire post

Monday, September 24, 2012

When in Doubt, Go to Portland

Perhaps Mr. Selick is finding light at the end of the tunnel.

Henry Selick is in discussions with Laika to finance his stop-motion feature recently shut down by Disney (with newly appointed chairman Alan Horn deciding to take a $50 million write off, reportedly because the tone was too dark and the production was moving far too slowly).

But obviously if they can work it out, this would be a win-win for Selick and Laika.

I'm pulling for Laika and Henry to make this work. We need a dark picture. And there was a talented bunch of stop-motion animators on the shuttered feature that should be working. Full time. Click here to read entire post

But Was There a Guild?

And did the artists work uncomped overtime?

A new study of cave art across France – in which animals appear to have multiple limbs, heads and tails – has found that the paintings represent a primitive attempt at animation, the Daily Mail reported. When the images are viewed under the unsteady light of flickering flames they appear to move as the animals they represent do in real life.

The researchers also believe that prehistoric relics previously thought to have been used as buttons were actually designed as thaumatropes - double sided pictures that can be spun to blur the images into an animation.

The startling findings are reported by archaeologist Marc Azema of the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail and artist Florent Rivvre in ‘Antiquity’.

Azema, who researched Stone Age animation techniques for 20 years, has identified 53 paintings in 12 French caves which superimpose two or more images to apparently represent movement. ...

Granted, it's an older story (animal paintings with extra legs), but the research paper is new. Click here to read entire post

Variety Going Green

Media, ever-changing media.

The L.A. Times informs us that Penske -- the owner of Deadline Hollywood -- is making a hard run at Daily Variety:

Penske Media Corp., the owner of Deadline and six other online properties, is now the leading bidder for Variety, ... according to two knowledgeable people not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The company, led by Jay Penske, the 33-year-old son of automobile magnate Roger Penske, could close a deal to purchase the paper in the next three weeks for around $30 million ...

But the most interesting wrinkle (to me) is that most of the purchase is being financed by Shamrock Capital Advisors, a private equity firm that began life in 1978 as the private investment company of Roy E. Disney and family. (Then, of course, there is the related entity of Shamrock Holdings.)

You remember Roy, don't you? Nephew of Walt? The man who pushed Michaael Eisner out of the high seat at the Disney Co.? It's interesting how his company is now going after specialized media companies.
Click here to read entire post


Apparently, the auction of the broken parts of DD has now been close to finalized:

Beijing, China; Mumbai, India and Venice, Calif.—September 23, 2012— Digital Domain Media Group, Inc. (“DDMG”) (OTCQB: DDMGQ) announced today that a joint venture, led by Galloping Horse America, LLC (“Galloping Horse”), in partnership with Reliance MediaWorks (USA), Inc., (“Galloping Horse – Reliance”) submitted the winning bid to acquire the visual effects, Mothership Media (“Mothership”) and certain other businesses and assets of Digital Domain Productions, Inc. (“Digital Domain”) and subsidiaries for $30.2 million at a September 21, 2012 auction in New York. The sale is subject to execution of an asset purchase agreement and Bankruptcy Court (“Court”) approval, the hearing for which is currently scheduled for Monday, September 24, 2012.

Galloping Horse—Reliance will acquire all assets constituting the businesses of Digital Domain and Mothership — feature film and advertising visual effects, commercial production and virtual humans, studios in California and Vancouver, BC, Canada and a co-production stake in the feature film Ender’s Game. ...

... Beijing Galloping Horse and Reliance MediaWorks have a combined enterprise value of more than $25 billion, complementary offerings and presence in multiple worldwide geographies strategic to the entertainment industry.

... “This is a great day for Digital Domain,” said Digital Domain Chief Executive Officer Ed Ulbrich. “Our new partners have incredible strength and reach in the global entertainment marketplace. They are powerful strategic partners that understand our business and our clients’ business. Their support enables us to continue creating the highest quality entertainment and advertising and puts us in the strongest financial position that Digital Domain has ever been in. We are grateful to all of the bidders and couldn’t be more pleased with this outcome.”

So a large, American visual effects house becomes a subsidiary of a fine, international media conglomerate headquartered in other lands.

This is what happens when you can't make your business model work. Now we see how the new business model performs going forward.
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Your Foreign B.O.

... where the march of animation goes on.

... Ted pushed its international gross total to $202.8 million (with 12 territories still to play) thanks to a $9.3 million weekend. ...

Brave generated $5.7 million on the weekend from 55 territories. The Pixar animation title lifted its offshore cume to $274.4 million while its worldwide tally stands at $508 million. ...

ParaNorman [had] solid openings in Sweden, Poland and Denmark ... augmented by the animation comedy’s No. 1 ranking in its second round in the U.K. ($1.9 million at 479 sites for a 10-day market cume of $4.7 million). ParaNorman has grossed a total of $29.2 million overseas ...

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted has grossed a total of $411.9 million. On the weekend the DreamWorks Animation title registered $4.6 million at 1,712 venues in 33 markets. It opened No. 1 in New Zealand remained No. 1 in its second Australia session, grossing $2.6 million at 277 sites for a market cume of $8.1 million. ...

[Other titles:] Disney’s Finding Nemo 3D $7.9 million. ... Fox's Ice Age: Continental Drift $683.6 million ...

And in case your wondering, the worldwide totals for the pictures above:

Ice Age: Continental Drift -- $842.1 million
Madagascar 3 -- $627.8 million
ParaNorman -- $81.8 million
Ted -- $420.6 million

Wild guess: I think our fine, entertainment conglomerates are going to keep making this genre.
Click here to read entire post

Free panel on TV animation development

The next membership meeting, next Tuesday (September 25), will feature a panel discussion on "The State of TV Animation Development".

“Development”: that enigmatic place where all television shows get their start. What’s happening in TV Animation Development today? How does it work and what are they currently excited about? What are they looking for and what makes a great pitch?

Executive Board member KAREN CARNEGIE JOHNSON will host the panel. Panelists will include:

  • JENNA BOYD (Senior Vice President of Animation Development, Nickelodeon);
  • JONATHAN DAVIS (Executive Vice President of Comedy Development & Animation, Fox Animation);
  • ERIC HOMAN (Vice President, Development, Frederator); and
  • MICHAEL McGAHEY (Vice President, Development, Disney Television Animation).
Tuesday, September 25

Pizza & refreshments, 6:30 pm
Meeting, 7 pm

1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank
(Between Chandler and Magnolia) Click here to read entire post


With the recent implosion of Digital Domain, the old question of "Will it all go overseas?" rears up yet again.

Some work will leave, but a lot of work won't. The Global Times explains why:

China's animation industry reported record-high box office revenue of 320 million yuan (50.6 million US dollars) last year, according to a report released Tuesday.

According to The Report on the Development of China's Animation Industry, a total of 24 films and 435 TV series with a total running time of 261,224 minutes were made in 2011, marking a year-on-year increase of 18.5 percent.

However, the report, which was released by the Social Science Academic Press, noted that the quality and production value of these products remain far below those of similar products made in developed countries. ...

That pesky quality issue keeps cropping up. Sure, there are exceptions (MacGuff in Paris comes to mind), but most overseas studios aren't geared to deliver top-level quality, just low costs.

Ain't a prescription for longer-term success.
Click here to read entire post

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Weekend Derby

Bumping along in the early autumn. Dimensional clown fix in the middle of the pack.

1. House At The End Of The Street (Relativity) NEW [3,083 Runs] PG13 Friday $4.6M, Weekend $12.3M

2. End Of Watch (Open Road) NEW [2,730 Runs] R Friday $4.5M, Weekend $13.5M

3. Trouble With The Curve (Warner Bros) NEW [3,212 Runs] PG13 Friday $4.2M, Weekend $13.2M

4. Finding Nemo 3D (Disney) Week 2 [2,904 Runs] G Friday $2.3 (-54%), Weekend $8.2, Cume $28.9M

5. Dredd 3D (Lionsgate) NEW [2,506 Runs] R Friday $2.2M, Weekend $5.7M

6. Resident Evil 5 3D (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [3,016 Runs] R Friday 2.0M (-76%), Weekend $5.7M, Cume $32.4M

7. The Master (Weinstein Co) Week 2 [788 Runs] R Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $5.5M

8. The Possession (Lionsgate) Week 4 [2,598 Runs] PG13 Friday $825K, Weekend $2.7M, Cume $45.3M

9. Lawless (Weinstein Co) Week 4 [2,614 Runs] R Friday $725K, Weekend $2.3M, Cume $34.5M

10. The Bourne Legacy (Universal) Week 7 [1,431 Runs] PG13 Friday $500K, Weekend $1.7M, Cume $110.5M

There will be a cluster of high-profile animated features rolling out in the next several weeks: Hotel Transylvania, Wreck-it Ralph and The Guardians.

What I don't want to see is one of those releases trampling on the box office returns of another, but it's bound to happen. The roll-out dates are not that far apart.
Click here to read entire post

And the Second New Animated Feature

... of the season, coming out on October 5th (a week after (Hotel Transylvania, the first.)

So it's going to be a crowded Fall and Christmas season. (See above.)

If there's been a two-month period with more animated features, I don't remember it.
Click here to read entire post

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sofia's Launch Date

The House of Mouse issues a press release:

Disney has set a premiere date for its first little-girl princess movie, Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess.

The animated, music-filled movie will premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, on Disney Channel and at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, on sister channel Disney Junior.

Meanwhile, a Sofia the First television series will premiere in early 2013. The movie and series will roll out internationally through mid-2013 on both Disney Channels and Disney Junior channels. ...

The movie and series have been percolating at Disney Television Animation over the past year. Pre-production is happening at Disney's Yahoo Building location near the Bob Hope International Airport.

You won't pick it up from the lacklustre illustration in the linked article above, but the feature and series are CGI. The board artists, of course, are boarding the show as they always do -- on Cintiqs, in the traditional Disney style.

The company, from all reports, expects major things to happen with this animated series. (But then, they always do, don't they? Management doesn't greenlight a project if they think it might tank. They're after home runs, after all.)
Click here to read entire post

The Organizer

This day was Chuck Jones' birthday centennial, with tributes 'round and about.

It's widely recognized that Chuck was a great cartoon director and brilliant creative mind. But he also needs to be remembered for something else ...

Mr. Jones was also a determined force for the unionization of the animation industry. As Tom Sito relates in Drawing the Line:

[In May 1941], Leon Schlesigner responded to union agitation with a lockout of his Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies artists. When the first negotiations began, a Warner executive sneered at director Chuck Jones, "We're not a charity here!"

Chuck was stung by the disrespectful remark from a member of management for whom he had worked with such dedication. Jones became one of the few animation directors to be wholeheartedly pro-union.

... Jones took a leadership role in the unionizing efforts at Warner Bros. This lockout lasted only six days, then Schelsinger surrendered "Our own little six day war," noted Jones. ...

But Chuck didn't stop being a union organizer when Warners was signed to a contract. Two months later, there was this during the long Disney strike:

"We are having a two-way motorcade Thursday at the Disney Studio. We need a lot of cars to start at each end of Buena Vista and drive slowly back and forth in front of the entrance. If the departure of the non-strikers is somewhat hindered by this maneuver it will too bad, of course. ..."

The first name on the list of volunteer car-drivers? Chuck Jones.

If you want to know why animation is represented by unions in Los Angeles, Chuck Jones is a major part of the reason. He understood on which side of the labor line he stood, and acted on that understanding. Seventy-one years after the "Six Day War," everyone who works in Cartoonland remains in his debt.
Click here to read entire post

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Much Needed, You Say?

Mr. Wible doesn't appear to get around much ...

The studio’s November 21 release is poised to become “a much-needed hit,” Janney Capital Markets’ Anthony Wible says this morning as he raised his recommendation on DreamWorks Animation to “neutral” from “sell.” Tracking data for the fantasy adventure film “has spiked on the release of new trailers and reached a higher than expected level of awareness” — which is impressive since the studio hasn’t begun heavily marketing Guardians.

... And I say that because DWA's last two pictures have done sort of okay at the box office.

Madgascar 3 owns a worldwide gross of $621 million.

The feature before that, a tale of a daring kitty cat, collected $555 million.

And sure, when you're a stand-alone company, you want every picture you launch to be a box office monster, and it looks promising for The Guardians, but come on already. What do you have to do to get into the "doing more than okay" category?

Knock out nothing but billion-dollar franchises?

Mr. Wible thinks that the new holiday release will earn $663 mill globally. As anyone can see, this is far, far better than the paltry $621 million Mad 3 took in. No wonder Wibs thinks Guardians is a much-needed booster rocket. He appears to believe that half a billion in gross receipts is a borderline flop.
Click here to read entire post

The Steve Gordon Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Steven E. Gordon
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Steve Gordon jokingly says that his timing in exiting animation studios is not always the greatest.

"I left Disney Feature Animation a couple of years before the division really took off, and I exited DreamWorks after work on 'Shrek 2.' My wife has pointed out to me that it might have been better [for the family pocket book] if I had stayed ..."

On the other hand, Steve has never lacked for work. He's willing to direct and do character designs for a lower budget direct-to-video feature after a stint working on high-budget theatricals. It's the project that interests him, not the amount of money being thrown at it. Mr. Gordon has also boarded a live-action feature, which he found remarkably similar to animated projects because "at the time, the Writers Guild was on strike, and the producers had to do story changes on the boards with the artists."

Steve credits his long career to the multiple disciplines of animation, design, layout, storyboarding and directing skills in his professional tool kit, and the flexibility to shift to different genres and formats.

He's seldom been out of work during his thirty-five years in the business, so he must be doing something right.
Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Your 2012 TAG Wage Survey

... is right here.

A few (more) selected details:

Feature Directors -- $3,552.50 (weekly median wage.)
TV Directors -- $2,500 (median)
Retake Directors -- $1,959.40 (median)

Feature Story Artists -- $1,987.00 (median)
Production Boards (TV) $2,000 (median)
Storyboard Revision -- $1,616.00 (median)

Art Directors -- $2,400 (median)
Model Designers -- $1,885.58 (median)
Prop Designers -- $1,725 (median)...

Having a digital version of the survey this year appears to have made a difference in what we got back. Instead of a 22% overall response rate, we had a 24% response rate, and the highest number (as opposed to percentage) of returned survey forms ever.

As always, some categories had a higher return than others. Design and color artists returned 35% of their survey forms, while writers returned 16%. (Every other category fell somewhere in between.)

We hope you find this wage snapshort useful. There's no reason to let our corporate friends have a monopoly on paycheck information.
Click here to read entire post

The Steve Gordon Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Steven E. Gordon

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Many artists in animation draw from a tender age, but few have their high school art instructor send a portfolio to a studio -- expecting it to be rejected -- and then seeing it accepted. ...

But that's what happened to seventeen-year-old Steve Gordon when his teacher sent his folio to Ralph Bakshi, then recruiting artists for Lord of the Rings.

A letter came back with a job offer, and Mr. Gordon (and his teachers and counselors) had to figure out how he could complete classes for graduation and still take the job. (He enrolled in night classes.) "She never anticipated me getting hired. She thought I would receive a 'thank you' letter and criticism about what I should improve. But Ralph was looking for a lot of artists. He told me later that if he had known I was only seventeen, he wouldn't have hired me."

That initial job has led to three decades of work as animator, character designer, layout artist and director. Mr. Gordon believes that wearing multiple hats has helped keep him gainfully employed through the years. It's a belief with which we have a difficult time arguing.
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Wreck-It" Inside the Hat

I spent part of my morning climbing up and down stairs at the hat building. Also, too, going into board artists' rooms and animators' rooms ...

The lighting crew is right on top of the end of the movie. As one tech director said:

"We've been working long days and seven day weeks. It's been pretty intense. But now we're doing our last shots ..."

But the most interesting piece of the movie that I saw today were the end credits. They're witty and zippy and, as a couple of people said, fit neatly into the plot countours of the picture. How they came about is equally interesting:

"Management didn't want to spend a lot of money on the end credits, and there wasn't a lot of time left. So animators came up with end credit ideas. We boarded it, and passed out pieces of the credits to different animators. People had their own little section to work on.

We worked through it quickly, the executives looked at it and said 'Yeah, this works,' and it was done. There was very little that got changed. The whole thing went right through, and the animators got to have a lot of input. It was nice to do more than just move the characters around ..."

Sort of like the old days.

Not to reveal anything, but the end credits are effective, (and I'm not going to piss people at Disney off by revealing them here.) Further, nobody had to spend months noodling them to death. Just pitch the idea ... do the boards ... animate ... and done.
Click here to read entire post

A Quarter Century Ago

Tom Sito reminds us of this.

The premiere of Disney Television Animation's first syndicated series on Steptember 18, 1987.

Fred Wolf was the original show-runner (this was before Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtles lifted off and Fred had his own full-time studio.)

Disney sunk an inordinate amount of money into the project, and there were cost overruns. And sweaty executive palms. In fact, the scuttlebutt was that some division heads were going to roll because of all the extra money being eaten up on production. But then the show premiered, the ratings were way above projections, and the management at Disney TVA -- a short while before in the dog house -- were heroes.

Because, friends and neighbors, when all the dust has settled, and all the money has been spent, if you create a hit show that makes the company BIG profits (and DuckTales did), you are magically transformed from flea-ridden canine into golden genius.
Click here to read entire post

Monday, September 17, 2012

Concourse Winner (Ward K. Would Be Proud)

Chuck Richardson, retired animation exec, with 1911 Maxwell.

Chuck Richardson and Brian McEntee entered a 1911 Maxwell (earlier restored by animator/director Ward Kimball) in the Concours d'Elgance over the weekend. Mr. McEntee's report:

Our 1911 Maxwell AB Runabout won first prize for its category [Sunday] at the Concours d'Elegance in Palos Verdes, CA. ...

Concours events are very high-end, with cars that are so preened and polished that they should be held in a NASA clean room. As pretty and showy as our 1911 Maxwell is, it is not up to general Concours standards by any means. Nonetheless, we were invited to attend because this time they added a "working car" category: vintage delivery trucks & vans, police & emergency vehicles, fire engines, hearses, and the like. Our Maxwell, previously owned by Ward Kimball, is done up as a fire chief's car. It never belonged to a real fire department or was used by an actual fire chief––it was a confection of Ward's imagination made real. ...

Well, the Maxwell sparkled and literally had all the bells and whistles, and the judges were dazzled enough to give us first prize.

We and our car felt out of place amidst the Pierce Arrows, Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Bugattis. Sure, it's very cool to see all these brilliantly preened rare cars, but we don't really understand the competition part. We don't yet know what to make of the award we got. Both of us feel that winning an award for something you own rather than something you create or accomplish is lacking. The best we can come up with is that it has added another small piece to the car's rich history, and for that we are pleased.
Click here to read entire post

Hardly News

... That would be the creation of Ted II.

.... We’re thinking about it,” MacFarlane said when asked about a potential sequel, noting that he was spending time with the film’s co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild in the Big Apple. The comedian and Family Guy creator was in New York to host Saturday Night Live

This is only half a click below asking James Cameron if he's thinking about a followup to Avatar. Click here to read entire post


SPA has a new project.

... Sony is going to make a hybrid live-action/CG animated film based on Manimal. Think The Smurfs, with a guy who changes into animals to fight crime. ...

If you were on an extended vacation, you missed Manimal, since it only lasted for a handful of episodes on broadcast television.

I don't think basing your movie on a failed television show is a problem. If the set-up gives you a springboard to a rock-'em, sock-'em story, it doesn't really matter. Compelling tales come in many shapes and sizes, from many places. (Titanic did pretty well, even though most people knew how the plot ends. Gone With the Wind made a bit of money at a time when "Civil War pictures" were considered box office cyanide. So maybe Sony's new picture will be pure gold.)
Click here to read entire post

General membership meeting, September 25

The next membership meeting, scheduled for a week from tomorrow, features a panel discussion on "The State of TV Animation Development".

“Development”: that enigmatic place where all television shows get their start. What’s happening in TV Animation Development today? How does it work and what are they currently excited about? What are they looking for and what makes a great pitch?

Executive Board member KAREN CARNEGIE JOHNSON will host the panel. Panelists including JENNA BOYD (Senior Vice President of Animation Development, Nickelodeon), JONATHAN DAVIS (Executive Vice President of Comedy Development & Animation, Fox Animation), ERIC HOMAN (Vice President, Development, Frederator) and MICHAEL McGAHEY (Vice President, Development, Disney Television Animation), will be on hand to meet you and answer your questions.

Tuesday, September 25

Pizza & refreshments, 6:30 pm
Meeting, 7 pm

1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank
(Between Chandler and Magnolia)
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Massive Talent After Basketball Break

Left to right: Henry Selick, Bill Kroyer, Jerry Rees, Brad Bird, and John Musker

As John Musker (then a member of the Disney Feature Animation "bullpen", now a Disney director) describes it, the group -- everyone young, Disney employees -- was just back from the 3:00 p.m. union break and a fast game of bb.

Brad, according to John the best ball handler of the group, still has possession of the circular piece of athletic equipment. Everybody is sporting late-seventies hair styles for the simple reason that it's ... the late seventies.

(I stole this from someplace else on the web. Hopefully nobody objects.)
Click here to read entire post

The Foreign Steeple Chase

Animation continues to collect coin beyond our shores:

Finding Nemo drew a total of $5.1 million in seven offshore markets, of which $1.3 million was registered on the weekend. ...

Ted ... is expected to surpass 2009’s The Hangover on Monday as the biggest-grossing original R-rated comedy ever released overseas. The Hangover’s total offshore tally is $190.2 million while Ted has rolled up $189 million ...

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted flew past the $400-million foreign gross mark ($405 million) after a $6.9 million weekend at 2,134 venues in 33 territories. A No. 1 Australia opening delivered $4.4 million (including previews) at 265 sites. ...

Ice Age: Continental Drift, $681.1 million.

And let's not forget Brave, which has collected $266.3 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $500 million Click here to read entire post

Saturday, September 15, 2012

And the Gold Statues Go To ...

... the animated projects and animation people listed below:

The first 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards were handed out this afternoon at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles. ...

Outstanding Animated Program
The Penguins Of Madagascar: “The Return Of The Revenge Of Dr. Blowhole” (Nickelodeon) – Bob Schooley, Executive Producer/Written by; Mark McCorkle, Executive Producer/Written by; Bret Haaland, Co-Executive Producer; Nick Filippi, Supervising Producer; Chris Neuhahn, Supervising Producer; Ant Ward, Supervising Producer; Andrew Huebner, Produced by; David Knott, Supervising Director; Shaun Cashman, Animation Director; Steve Loter, Animation Director; Christo Stamboliev, Animation Director

Outstanding Short-form Animated Program
Regular Show - “Eggscellent” (Cartoon Network) – Brian A. Miller, Executive Producer; Jennifer Pelphrey, Executive Producer; Curtis Lelash, Executive Producer; Rob Sorcher, Executive Producer; JG Quintel, Executive Producer/Written by; Mike Roth, Supervising Producer/Writer; Janet Dimon, Producer; Matt Price, Writer; Jack Thomas, Writer; John Infantino, Supervising Director/Writer; Robert Alvarez, Animation Director

(Juried Awards) Outstanding Individual Achievement In Animation
Phineas and Ferb, “Doof Dynasty”, Jill Daniels, Background Paint (Disney Channel)
Disney Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, Bill Schwab, Character Design, (ABC)
Secret Mountain Fort Awesome, “Nighmare Sauce,” Chris Tsirgiotis, Background Design (Cartoon Network)
Secret Mountain Fort Awesome, “Nighmare Sauce,” Robertryan Cory, Character Design (Cartoon Network)...

The jury of animation professionals that review submitted shows for various Emmies are a hard-working, dedicated group, and almost all have been in the business a considerable amount of time. We salute all of them for their focus and hard work. the Click here to read entire post

Hot September Weekend

Where the clownfish in Moving ViewMaster (r) take #2:

1. Resident Evil 5 (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [3,012 Runs] Friday $8.8M, Weekend $23M

2. Finding Nemo (Pixar/Disney) NEW [2,904 Runs] Friday $5.3M, Weekend $18M

3. The Possession (Lionsgate) Week 3 [2,860 Runs] Friday $1.9M, Weekend $6M, Cume $41.4M

4. Lawless (Weinstein) Week 3 [3,063 Runs] Friday $1.3M, Weekend $4.5M, Cume $30.4M

5. The Expendables 2 (Millenium/Lionsgate) Week 5 [2,896 Runs] Friday $900K, Weekend $3.3M, Cume $80.5M

6. The Words (CBS Films) Week 2 [2,801 Runs] Friday $900K (-42%), Weekend $3.0M, Cume $9.3M

7. The Bourne Legacy (Universal) Week 6 [2,170 Runs] Friday $800K, Weekend $2.7M, Cume $107.6M

8. The Campaign (Warner Bros) Week 6 [2,002 Runs] Friday $700K, Weekend $2.4M, Cume $82.8M

9. 2016 Obama’s America (Rocky Mt) Week 10 [1,876 Runs] Friday $675K, Weekend $2.1M, Cume $30.1M

10. Odd Life Of Timothy Green (Disney) Week 5 [2,415 Runs] Friday $650K, Weekend $2.7M, Cume $46.5M

In the meanwhile, Brave, Mad 3 and the other animated theatrical releases are still in the hundreds of theaters, making a teensy bit of money. (Brave is at $233 million, Madagascar 3 at $215 million, likewise Ted).)

ParaNorman, the under-performer of the group, is clawing toward $50 million.
Click here to read entire post

The Retirement Program Called Social Security

You probably remember the push to privatize Social Security a few years back, and how the treasury bonds in the Social security trust fund were just "bookkeeping entries" and "worthless IOUs".

So this article might surprise you. (Some of it surprised me, particularly the details.)

* "The special-issue bonds are nothing more than IOUs from one part of the government (the taxpayers) to another. There is nothing in current law that requires these bonds to ever be redeemed."

... Under federal law, the financial assets held by the retirement and disability trust funds can be used only to meet the obligations of these programs. (See Section 201(d) of the Social Security Act.)

* When the Social Security Act was passed in 1935, the original intent was to invest in all kinds of private-sector assets--an idea that sparked resistance from conservatives, who disliked the socialistic implications of having the government invest directly in the private sector.

Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican who was a key opponent of most aspects of the New Deal (but did support the creation of Social Security), was concerned that the large trust fund Social Security was expected to build up would result in a kind of socialism. ...

* Social Security historians haven't found any evidence that Roosevelt wanted private accounts. Nancy Altman, author of The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision To Bush's Gamble, notes that FDR did originally propose an annuity as an add-on or supplement to the core program, but the idea was rejected by Congress because opponents feared it would compete unfairly with private insurance. ...

George W. Bush's campaign to turn Social Security into private accounts never got much traction. (Congressional Republicans stayed away from it in droves.) Today, Social Security is again in the cross-hairs, a bargaining chip in the "Grand Bargain" pointy-heads inside the D.C. beltway insist that we need to stem the flood of government red ink.

Though I wish it were otherwise, the odds are good that Social Security could take some kind of hit in future years. (Tying Social Security to the CPI instead of wages is one "solution" that's been bandied about; a higher retirement age is another. But maybe the most obvious solution is to simply lift the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax by several hundred thousand dollars. This would stabilize the trust fund for pretty much ever.)

As the middle class shrinks and private pensions vanish, the need for Social Security is greater than ever. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the program will survive with sufficient strength to meet all the demands made on it in coming decades.

My opinion? The best strategy to ensure Social Security survives is for people to show up at their neighborhood polling places and vote their economic self interest.

For a change.
Click here to read entire post

Friday, September 14, 2012

Number Ones

So this is why animated shows keep getting greenlit.

Adult Swim continued its streak as basic cable’s #1 network for Total Day Delivery of young adults 18-34, 18-49 and 18-24 as well as men 18-34 & 18-24. Adult Swim also ranked #2 in Prime Time (Broadcast definition) delivery of adults 18-34 among basic cable networks, behind only MTV.

A new episode of Adult Swim’s original series Black Dynamite (Sunday, 11:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among targeted adults 18-34, adults 18-24 and men 18-24. Compared to the same time period in 2011, men 18-24 delivery increased by 11% and men 18-49 increased by 5%.

The world television premiere of Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special (Sunday, 12 a.m.) also ranked #1 in its time period among adults 18-24. ...

And so on.

Meantime, the board crew is back working full-time on Bob's Burgers at Bento Box, Disney TVA is developing some new series, and American Dad is (slowly) recalling staff for the new season.

And Cartoon Network, having just announced a couple of new series (Uncle Grandpa, Steven Universe) has a few more projects in development.
Click here to read entire post

Louie Del Carmen

... On the creative process.

... [F]or “Steel Noodles,” I wrote the whole thing in beats and outlines. Some parts of the story are scripted because I have definite ideas in terms of what the dialogue will sound like. But for the most part I leave some room in there so I can stretch out and not be tied down. I still want some of the visuals to dictate what and how the characters react. So generally, I write before I draw.

Story telling. Organic, not mechanistic. Click here to read entire post

Our wage survey: the first results

As of yesterday afternoon the wage survey is officially closed. Herewith some preliminary results in randomly chosen categories.


Total mail surveys received: 569
Total online surveys received: 271

TOTAL SURVEYS: 840 - 24.0% of 3,499 sent out

(The most surveys we've ever received, but not the biggest return percentage)


Staff TV writers

Survey minimum: $1,373.28
Median: $2,202.50
Maximum: $3,750.00

2011 median: $2,125.00
Change: -$77.50


Staff production boards

Survey minimum: $1,190.00
Median: $2,000.00
Maximum: $3,137.72

2011 median: $1,892.50
Change: +$107.50


TV storyboards, per page

Survey minimum: $300.00
Median: $550.00
Maximum: $2,500.00

2011 median: $520.00
Change: +$30.00


TV directors

Survey minimum: $1,346.88
Median: $2,500.00
Maximum: $3,785.25

2011 median: $2,550.00
Change: -$50.00


Visual development

Survey minimum: $1,178.24
Median: $2,100.00
Maximum: $4,500.00

2011 median: $2,100.00
Change: none


Lighting TDs (not including leads or apprentices)

Survey minimum: $971.60
Median: $1,913.16
Maximum: $2,600.00

2011 median: $1,742.11
Change: +$171.05


3D Animators

Survey minimum: $1,220.00
Median: $1,911.77
Maximum: $5,200.00

2011 median: $1,808.41
Change: +$103.36


All salaried figures are based on a forty-hour week; "on-call" and daily-rate employees should adjust their salary figures accordingly for comparison purposes.

Next week I'll be finalizing the results in all categories; final numbers are subject to adjustment from what you see above. The results will be published in the October Peg-Board, and links will be sent out on this blog, on the website and on the e-mail list.
Click here to read entire post

Thursday, September 13, 2012


My semi-informed guess? Alan didn't like what he saw of Mr. Selick's movie.

Walt Disney Co. will take a $50 million write-down in the current fiscal quarter for a stop-motion animation project it canceled in August.

The untitled movie was to be directed by Henry Selick, the well respected filmmaker behind "Coraline" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Previously set to be released in October 2013, the picture had been in production for about a year when new Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn halted work.

News of the write-down came in a presentation that Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo made to investors at the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills on Thursday.

Rasulo did not specify the reasons for the write-down. ...

Mr. Horn didn't want to put any more money into the movie. That's the reason for the write-down. They were halfway through, and the new studio chief decided to proceed no further.

Pretty obvious, I think. A crew of solid professionals was stopped in mid-flight. There were people still being hired, some who were starting within days. All that is gone now, and people have to look for other work.

For crew members who were already working, there is a couple of months additional pay, thanks to federal law. (WARN Act.)
Click here to read entire post

Brain Wave

From the honcho of one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

... NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke is hoping for more from the Universal Pictures-backed animation shop Illumination Entertainment. The plan is for Illumination to go from making one film every 18 months to two a year, Burke said. Next year, Illumination will release a sequel to "Despicable Me."

Increasing animation isn't just a priority to help the studio. Burke also wants more animation product that can be used to create new attractions at Universal's theme parks. ...

Mr. Burke has (probably) noticed that animation has the highest profit margins of any move genre. And that cartoon guy on which 20th Century-Fox took a pass on his teddy bear project?

... "We'd like to see 'Ted 2' as soon as we can," Burke said. ...

The big question is, why isn't NBC developing a prime-time animation block? Or is Fox the Diz Co. of nighttime cartoons, and nobody else can get in?
Click here to read entire post

Working 'Til You Drop Dead

This is so nice.

... Jack VanDerhei, research director at the Employee Benefits Research Institute, says some studies have suggested that by working to age 70 — five years past the traditional retirement age of 65 — nearly 80 percent of pre-retirees, including lower-income Americans, could have adequate retirement income.

But such models, he said, don’t fully take into account changes in the retirement system, such as the shift away from pension plans and toward 401(k) accounts, or the potential for a catastrophic health event that would require a stay in a nursing home. ...

I understand the impulse to ignore retirement issues when young. When I was in my twenties, and some old animator started rattling on about "the pension plan," I looked at him as though he was a little bit addled.

That was in the middle 1970s, when there were actually a whole lot of defined benefit pension plans (the old "monthly check after you hang it up" type of pension) out in the workplace. Now, in the amazing 21st century, there are a whole lot less. (And still I get animation artists who tell me: "Nah. Not interested in the 401(k). There's no match.")

Here's the problem: No matter who's the President in 2013 ... or 2017 ... or 2021, Medicare and Social Security are likely to be less generous than now. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plans will probably be around but -- even if you have a lot of years in them -- the things won't be showering you with cash. (After twenty years of work, the Defined Benefit Plan will be roughly equivalent to current Social Security payments, though the Individual Account Plan will give you a nice, one-time infusion of money.)

The trick is, people need to get hep to these realities now, not when they're forty-seven years old and waking up to the fact that they have minimal retirement savings. If you can't find a way to live below your means and tuck away money month by month, you might be looking at a future as a Wal-Mart greeter during your sunset years.

(And even that might be a problem. There are, after all, only so many Wal-Marts to go around.)
Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fuster Cluck

This just gets dicier and dicier.

... U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brendan Linehan Shannon today called the sale timeline requested by Digital Domain “unprecedented” at a hearing in Wilmington, Delaware. To win approval to hold an auction on Sept. 21, 10 days after filing for bankruptcy, the company would have to present Shannon with evidence “that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He asked the company to discuss the auction schedule during a break in today’s hearing before Digital Domain began presenting its case. ...

And speaking of upcoming court proceedings.

... A former employee of Digital Domain Media Group has filed a class-action lawsuit seeking 60 days of pay and benefits for all the workers laid off when the firm closed its doors.

According to a complaint filed Tuesday on behalf of Minh-Tam Frye of Port St. Lucie in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, Digital Domain employees had not been given 60 days' advance written notice before their termination as required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification Act, also known as the WARN Act. ...

Of course, the company needs to have money in the till to pay people who have already rendered services, doesn't it? We hope that there's enough for the suddenly former employees who were working diligently on this project and that until ... oh ... a couple of days ago.

I don't have a great feeling about this.

Click here to read entire post

The Newer Trailer

See, with all my running around, I just can keep up with the latest and greatest.

The last bits of animation were done weeks ago; if there is any finaling left, it doesn't amount to much.

The lighting crew has been working some long weeks and days getting the picture completed. The pieces I've seen look good. (If there is anybody in the hat building that doesn't like the picture, they haven't talked to me. My younger son, a dedicated gamer, is keen to see it, so that's an encouraging sign for commercial success. We will know what the reception is a half-dozen weeks from now.)
Click here to read entire post

Bob Lambert, RIP

A tad late with this:

... Bob Lambert, a technical strategist at Disney for 25 years and a guiding force in the industry’s sweeping transition from film to digital cinema, died suddenly of unnamed causes Sept. 7 at his home in Glendale, his family announced Monday night. He was 55. ...

[W]orking for Disney Feature Animation, Lambert conceptualized a strategy and methodology for replacing cel animation with CGI production. He selected Steve Jobs’ Pixar to design the software and oversaw the collaborative process between the companies. The resultant digital production system earned Disney an Academy Award for Scientific & Technical Achievement.

Lambert started with Disney in 1985 and exited as part of a corporate restructuring in May 2010. ...

When you look for individuals who helped put Pixar on the Hollywood map, you can start with Mr. Lambert. Our condolences to his family. Click here to read entire post

A link for DD Florida employees

Here is a link of interest to workers affected by the shutdown of Digital Domain Media Group in Port St. Lucie, FL.

Add On: It ain't just the employees who got stung. See below ...

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 (WARN Act) requires certain employers to provide sixty-day advance notification of mass layoffs.

At this time and to the best of our knowledge, only those persons due to be laid off from Digital Domain Media Group in Florida would be due any relief via the WARN Act. We will keep you up-to-date as matters develop.

Add On: In the meantime, state and local governments in the Sunshine State aren't too happy.

TALLAHASSEE — Promised their investment would help lure 500 high-paying jobs to Florida, lawmakers in 2009 sidestepped existing procedures to funnel $20 million to a well-known movie production company that animated the scenes in Titanic and the Transformers movies.

But this story's ending isn't one for the movies.

The company, Digital Domain Media Group Inc., closed its Florida operations last week and on Tuesday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, laying off 300-or-so Florida employees and likely leaving taxpayers without a return on a $20 million state investment. Local governments stand to lose around an additional $110 million. ...
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cartoon Network Rolls On

From the press release:

... Cartoon Network has greenlit two animated series conceived as part of the shorts development initiative underway at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, CA. Steven Universe, from Adventure Time writer and storyboard artist Rebecca Sugar, and Uncle Grandpa, from Emmy(R) Award-nominee Pete Browngardt, have started pre-production and are currently slated for a 2013 debut. Building upon the global success of recent artist-driven series like Adventure Time and Regular Show, both new series will further define the genre of homegrown animated comedies coming from Cartoon Network Studios. ...

As we've noted before, Cartoon Network has been on a roll of late. They have newer executives on board, and the studio has gone back to its roots: developing staff artists' ideas into shorts, then throwing the results against the wall to see which ones stick.

Variety points out that CN reinstituted its shorts program after a break, although the paper neglects to note that CN's breakout hit Adventure Time comes courtesy of Nickelodeon putting the original pilot into turnaround. (And Nick's miscalculation became Cartoon Network's good fortune.)

In addition to the new shows, the network of Cartoons is revamping the seat of its creative power in Burbank. The second floor of its studio is being repainted, recarpeted, and generally revamped. The third floor is in work, and then the fist floor gets redone. Staffers inform me that the plan is to have executives occupy the first floor, with creatives staff housed on the second and third. (The studio also leases several floors of an adjacent skyscraper fronting Glen Oaks Boulevard.)

A lot of L.A. animation studios just now have animated t.v. series in various stages of development. It's nice to observe CN creating its fair share.
Click here to read entire post

Wisdom From Bill Gross

William Gross is one of the smartest bond traders out there. And so this caught my eye:

... Most individual investors don’t have the privilege of time nor the choice of risking their investment dollars while being able to recoup it only at .1% money market or CD rates. An investor, it seems, must learn a new dance to fit the diminished return size of the modern dance floor.

If I were an individual investor, I would do this: Balance your asset mix according to your age. Own more stocks if you are young, but more bonds if you are in your 60s, like myself. If you choose an investment advisor, a mutual fund, or an ETF, make sure that your fees are minimized. After all, if overall returns average 3–4% annually how can you possibly afford to give 100 basis points of it back? You cannot. And be careful. The age of credit expansion which led to double-digit portfolio returns is over. The age of inflation is upon us, which typically provides a headwind, not a tailwind, to securities price – both stocks and bonds. ...

This is all basic, basic stuff. But when its said by a former rock and roller and 'Vegas card dealer who is now, arguably, one of the savviest investors on the planet, it carries more weight.

In the end, it's about your

1) Investment costs

2) Investment allocation, and

3) Sticking to your program.

Here's about the simplest and least expensive way to execute what BIll Gross is talking about.
Click here to read entire post

Death Spiral, Part II

This is getting attention 'round and about. Is it really a surprise?

Debt-laden digital effects firm Digital Domain Media Group said Tuesday that it has formally filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

It also said it has reached a purchase agreement with Searchlight Capital Partners, which will acquire Digital Domain Productions and its digital visual effects operating units in the U.S. and Canada for $15 million.

"The sale will be the subject of a public auction, and DDMG is required to engage in a process of seeking the highest and best bid for these assets," Digital Domain said. ...

DD's animation studio went down in Port St. Lucie, Florida, after the state government sank some significant coin into getting the facility launched, and now ...

Florida state and local officials are investigating the company’s use of millions in subsidies, including funds to develop the Digital Domain Institute, a partnership with Florida State University to teach digital arts. Last week John Textor abruptly resigned the CEO job at Digital Domain saying he’s “in profound disagreement” with the decision to close its Port St. Lucie operation. Textor said that leaving would give him “greater flexibility to independently consider other strategic alternatives for the Company

I would say that Mr. Textor leaped overboard as his company slid beneath the waves, but if he wants to put a happier spin on it, fine by me.

The effects business has been fraught with low margins ever since the studios figured out they could offload high costs onto the backs of digital sub-contractors who would cheerfully cut each other's throats under-bidding each other.

Sixteen years ago, effects veteran Jim Hillin said to me:

"The studios are figuring out they can save money outsourcing the effects rather than doing them in-house. The effects studios make no money, and the studios avoid paying overhead ..."

It hasn't changed much from '96 until today, except that many effects people make smaller salaries than they did a decade and more ago, since the supply of talent has caught up with marketplace demand.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Nikkster's Hat Dance

Ms. Finke disembowels Mr. Katzenberg:

... The basic problem for DreamWorks is that its business model appears to be crumbling. One major concern is that Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s formula of making parodies of movie genres as well as sequel after spinoff has run its course – and the new slate looks like more of the same. (As opposed to Pixar’s boundless creativity.) Competition is growing in computer animation not just from Pixar but from Illumination Entertainment and Blue Sky Studios and so on. DVD sales for family fare are declining at an alarming pace. 3D didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations ...

Very true that DVDs aren't what they used to be (see below.) But as for DWA features "running their course?" What solar system is Nikki residing on?

Here are the two most recent DWA failures:

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted -- $611.9 million
Puss in Boots -- $554.7 million

And the two most recent boundlessly creative Pixar offerings:

Brave -- $488.3 million
Cars 2 -- $559.9 million

As you can see, the creative studio (above) is head and shoulders above tired DreamWorks. Brave is a masterwork (ignore the public complaints of the original director.) And Cars 2 shines with the genius of its creator (critics and audiences be damned.)

It's not that all of Nikki Finke's criticisms are wrong. (They're not.) It's that she takes her over-arching, sour-assed narrative of Jeffrey Katzenberg's failure and sticks with it, even when the facts are against her. DWA has made some lacklustre features, but it has also created some brilliant animated entertainments, and over the the last couple of years, has had but a single box office under-performer (MegaMind.) The feature How to Train Your Dragon stacks up well against the Pixar product, and surpasses many of them.

Mr. Katzenberg landed flat on his back after Michael Eisner threw him out of Walt's Kingdom. But he picked himself up and built an enterprise that has generated not only a lot of entertaining features, but provided lots of work for a lot of animation artists. He's performed a corporate high-wire act for nearly twenty years, something that even Pixar -- now a division of a huge multi-national conglomerate -- failed to achieve. And the fact that Jeffrey hasn't sold DreamWorks Animation to one of the other entertainment conglomerates says more about our current economy than it does about him. (Pixar was purchased by the Disney Company for a premium price years before the 2008 financial meltdown. If the timing had been different, it quite possibly would have remained a stand-alone animation studio in the same way that DWA is today ... or made Mr. Jobs and his heirs a lot less money at the point of purchase.)

It's not enough to have high-grossing feature films. You must also have industry love and critical hossanahs. John Lasseter has more of both than Jeffrey Katzenberg, and that reality won't change anytime soon. The fact that Jeffrey had a major hand in shaping the original Toy Story means little.
Click here to read entire post

Starz Split

... and galaxies spin on their way.

But I digress.

I found out last week from a Film Roman staffer (almost a month after the fact) that Starz and its animation studio Film Roman is being, as the saying goes, "spun off."

Liberty Media, the media conglomerate ... and the premium cable business Starz will split, leaving Starz as a separate publicly traded company. Liberty Media announced on Wednesday that its businesses, assets and liabilities — minus those of Starz — would be put in a new company whose shares would be distributed to Liberty Media shareholders. Starz, with about $1.5 billion in debt and an undetermined amount of cash, will become a separate company.

Richard Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG Research, wrote in a note on Wednesday that an independent Starz was likely to become a takeover target. “With strong free cash flow, even when levered 2x-3x, Starz would appear to be an attractive acquisition target,” ...

What this means for the future, I donno. The spin off won't happen until the end of this year or the beginning of next. I do know that the larger company has tried to sell Film Roman before, without result. They've never been totally enthusiastic about being in the cartoon business.

As far as TAG is concerned, the studio is still a union facility and will remain so. But the long-term viability of the place will be determined by the animation marketplace and how well Film Roman can compete in it.
Click here to read entire post

Adios, Little Silver Disk

Remember how well DVDs for animated products were holding up in the general DVD market decline? Studios were wringing their hands over the rapid decline of sales of the little silver disks.

But now Rupert's minions are building themselves an internet movie store:

... Fox is throwing significant weight behind its new digital offerings ...

What happens is that, before the silver disk versions go up for sale on Amazon or at the diminishing number of brick-and-mortar outlets across the U.S. of A., 20th Century-Fox will offer high definition releases at the end of their theatrical runs, among them: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.

The idea, of course, is that Fox will pocket a bigger percentage of the cash flow without any icky middlemen. More and more consumers have broad-band, and people will be happy to pay less for the hot titles of the moment. (Who wants to have shelf after shelf of silver disks in their plastic boxes anyway? You watch most of them* two times and you're done.)

This business model will probably work well for our fine, entertainment conglomerates, providing they can beat back the illegal Russian movie sites. But it's one more heavy blow to the disk format.

* Excluding kids' titles. Kids watch their favorite cartoons five hundred times before moving on.
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Fox/DWA Release Slate

As provided us by the Nikkster:

The Croods - March 22, 2013
Turbo – July 19, 2013
Mr. Peabody & Sherman - November 1, 2013
Me And My Shadow – March 14, 2014
How To Train Your Dragon 2 – June 20, 2014
Happy Smekday! – November 26, 2014
The Penguins Of Madagascar – March 27, 2015
Trolls (working title) – June 5, 2015
B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations – November 6, 2015
Mumbai Musical (working title) – December 19, 2015
Kung Fu Panda 3 – March 18, 2016
How To Train Your Dragon 3 – June 18, 2016

So Paramount releases Rise of the Guardians at the holiday season, and then Viacom is DONE (except for the television spin-offs on Nick.)

But I still wonder: Where does Blue Sky Animation fit into all of this?
Click here to read entire post

The Overseas Horse Race

It seems to gallop along as always.

Brave lifted its foreign gross total to $254.9 million thanks to a $10.3 million weekend in 53 markets. ...

Ted drew $6.4 million on the weekend from 2,340 situations in 34 territories, pushing its foreign gross total to date to $177.8 million. ...

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted maintained a steady pace in Italy, $2.3 million in its third round ... Foreign cume stands at nearly $400 million ($396.7 million). ...

Other foreign cumes: Universal’s ParaNorman, $20.7 million (after a $2.4 million weekend at 2,600 spots in 27 markets); Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, $679 million ...

The grand, worldwide totals (including the New World):

Ice Age: Continental Drift -- $829,576,000

Ted -- $385,273,000

Brave -- $488,298,000

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted -- $611,959,000

ParaNorman -- $65.8 million

Most releases appear to be making heavy coin.

Click here to read entire post
Site Meter