Friday, November 30, 2012

On the Guardian Opening

Jeffrey K. says:

"We stumbled out of the gate. There's no getting away from it. Whenever something doesn't hit the bull's-eye there's a degree of hurt involved. But everybody around here remains hopeful. ...

DreamWorks Animation has given itself an interesting assignment: Make every picture you release an unadulterated hit. be sure each one makes $200 million in the United States and Canada, and $300 million in the rest of the world.

I've been amazed that they come as close to that particular assignment as they do, but let's face it, some picture don't perform up to the mark. The Bee Movie didn't. Many of the early, hand-drawn pictures under-performed. The global jury is still out on The Rise of the Guardians.
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VES: Understanding Unions

Tomorrow, the VES is hosting a panel discussion that aims to review the pros and cons of the formation of a union for visual effects artists. The event will be held at the Los Angeles Film School theater and begin at 9:30am. This is from their announcement of the event:

Visual Effects remains one of the few segments of the North American entertainment industry that is not unionized. There has been a lot of discussion on this across the industry on both sides of the issue. The Visual Effects Society is providing an opportunity to find out first-hand what is real and what is false about the idea of what a union and collective bargaining agreement can and cannot do.

As the Guild's Organizer, I was asked to participate in the discussion as the "union voice". The event is open to all who wish to attend but registration is required to get an accurate count of attendees. If you wish to attend, please fill out the form on the bottom of the VES page linked above.

Others on the panel are: Scott Dougherty and John Parenteau who will be voicing the concerns of non-union visual effects shops, Bill Taylor, having owned and operated a union visual effects shop, will offer a pro-union perspective, and Ellen Shadur,an attorney for Baker Hostetler (a lawfirm specializing in representing employers in collective bargaining) who will bring counter-point on any legal matters that I discuss.

The discussion is being moderated by Marty Shindler, whose experience in the entertainment industry will be paramount in moving the discussion forward and keeping it on schedule.

I fully expect a lively and respectful conversation. I hope anyone who is interested in this topic will make the time to attend.

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Rusty Mills Cancer Fund

From Barbara Hetland:

As some of you may know, my best friend's husband, Rusty Mills, was diagnosed with Colon Cancer last year. He did not have any symptoms and found out that he has Stage IV Colon Cancer which has spread to his liver.

Rusty has been fighting this Cancer with the most positive attitude that I've ever seen. He is a passionate animator and loves to teach. Rusty was even teaching while receiving chemotherapy.

Rusty's wife, Andrea, and Evan, their 15 year old son have been taking care of Rusty. However, things have gotten very tough lately, and they need our help! Rusty has just started a new kind of chemotherapy and the medical bills are accumulating rapidly. Rusty is not able to work right now and he was the main source of income for his family. Andrea is now caring for Rusty full time. Together this family is strong, but it's also been very tough financially and emotionally.

If you would like to contribute any amount, all funds will go directly to the Mills family to help them pay for Rusty's Cancer treatment, groceries and utilities. Prayers are also requested for the Mills family. With much gratitude and love.

To help the family of Rusty Mills with his expenses, go to this link:

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Female Helmer

Houston, we have progress:

Jennifer Lee has been chosen to co-direct, along with "Tarzan's" Chris Buck, Disney's upcoming animated 3D film "Frozen," the company said Thursday.

Lee was a co-writer on the recent animated film "Wreck-It Ralph." She also contributed to the "Frozen" screenplay. ...

This will be the first woman to helm (even if it's co-helm) a Disney theatrical animated feature.

Which is good. Women at the House of Mouse used to hold different positions.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 2

And here is your landscape-type card. Wise men in the sandy mideast, but with plants more likely to be found in the deserts of the southwest United States than the holy land.

But then, Hulett is going for style and composition here, not geographical correctness. (This card design was from the mid-1960s.)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Feature Pick Up

The elephant movie lives!

Beijing Galloping Horse won the bid for the animated film "The Legend of Tembo" Wednesday pending court approval, former Digital Domain Media Group CEO John Textor confirmed. ... It's uncertain whether it will want to use Port St. Lucie's $40 million animation studio — built for now-bankrupt Digital Domain Media Group — to finish the film.

It's also unclear who will work on the film. ... Some crew members for the movie are still living on the Treasure Coast, including co-producer and co-director Chuck Williams. ...

Port St. Lucie is still gathering information before determining what to do with the publicly funded Tradition animation studio. ...

It's nice to see that the animation part of Digital Domain hasn't been orphaned, but has a new parent. Whether Tembo ever gets made or not, that's another story. Click here to read entire post

Big Bucks

Here are some eye-popping stats:


The Box office revenue of films directed by alumni of CalArts' Character and Experimental Animation Programs (1985 - 2012) ...

There are two interactive charts at the link, and they are pretty impressive. Picture by picture, year by year, you can see the amounts of moolah that have been generated.

Think of it. One smallish school in Valencia, aided and abetted by the House of Mouse (particularly in its early days) has helped to create massive amounts of profits for our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

Makes you realize the importance of Training in the Arts, donnit?

Moving pictures are one of the United States' major exports, so in a very real way, California Institue of the Arts has been a major player in narrowing the nation's balance of payments.

Hat tip to Cal Arts grad Brian McEntee for bringing this to our attention.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stop Motion Green

Okay, so theatrical stop-motion features have been up and down, hit and miss. Nightmare Before Christmas is a certified animation icon, but others, Corpse Bride, ParaNorman have had middling performances at the box office.

Then there are these television guys.

Our company logo is people high fiving. That should tell you a lot about the way we like to do business. But our bottom line says more -- everything we turned in this year was on time and budget.

Seth Green: Our company logo is people high fiving. That should tell you a lot about the way we like to do business. But our bottom line says more -- everything we turned in this year was on time and budget.

John Harvatine IV: It's the ultimate kid's fantasy, it's like when you were a kid and you were playing with your toys, you imagine them doing these crazy things. The great thing about Robot Chicken is we're able to put it on the screen.

The thing about Robot Chicken is, its creators know what they're about, know what they're going for. It isn't high brow, it isn't polished, but it's meticulously designed to hit the demographic of choice -- teen-aged boys -- square in the solar plexus.

Now. If we could just get them under contract.
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Your TAG 401(k) Plan

Yesterday was 401(k) Trustee Meeting Day. Some of the newer stats on the Plan:

The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan
Total Participants -- 2,321
Average Account Balance -- $69,170
Average Number of Investments -- 6.8
Total Assets -- $160.5 million

Nationwide, the trend among 401(k) Plans is to more transparency and lower costs. (This isn't altruism as much as it is new federal regulations and fear of litigation. But hey, it's a good trend.)

I have been telling participants for a while now that their best investment choices are the Plan's index funds and the Vanguard Target Funds. Happily, the different index offering are being used by participants. The top funds used by participants are:

Top Five TAG 401(k) Funds
SAGIC (bond fund) -- 15.73%
PIMCO Total Return (bond fund) -- 14.55%
S & P 500 Index (stock fund) -- 11.35%
Vanguard Target Funds (stock/bond) -- 10%

One last factoid for members: The TAG 401(k) Plan and the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan -- and many of our members are active in both -- have one thing in common: The costs for both are borne by the participants. This is pretty typical of multi-employer pension plans.

The good news is the costs are not high ... and they're coming down.
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Monday, November 26, 2012


After the weekend grosses, I was kind of expecting this.

Despite getting kicked around by analysts after the disappointing arrival of its “Rise of the Guardians,” DreamWorks Animation made it through trading on Monday without serious damage to its stock price.

“Rise of the Guardians,” a $145 million adventure starring Santa and other childhood fantasy figures, took in $32.3 million at the five-day Thanksgiving box office, the worst opening for a DreamWorks Animation movie since 2006. Investors punished the company’s shares, but only moderately: $17.11 was the closing price, a decrease of a little more than 5 percent from the start of trading. ...

I had occasion to talk to a DWA staffer today who told me that the picture had a first-time director who came onto the project after a long stretch of development, so it was a bit of a bumpy road.

"But the picture is doing well overseas so far, and foreign markets are important to the success of our movies, way more than several years ago. We'll see how it does going forward." ...

I always hold my breath when DWA releases a new movie, since it's the last of the stand-alone studios, unattached to one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates. Therefore it's always doing a high-wire act.

But as the Dreamworker pointed out to me: The company has a movie and television library to draw on now, it's developing projects in China, and it's not the one-trick pony (theatrical motion pictures) that it was a decade ago. Still in all, I wish Guardians had opened stronger.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 1

Another holiday season, another round of Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

For those new to the blog, Ralph Hulett was business representative Steve Hulett's father. He worked at Disney Animation from 1938 (when it was on Hyperion) to 1974, when he passed away.

The senior Hulett painted backgrounds for Disney animated shorts and features from 1943 to 1974. From 1949 to the time of his death, he also painted Christmas card designs, of which the above is a specimen from the 1960s. (Hulett painted various types of cards: winter landscapes, "character" cards, and still lifes.)

As you can see, he used various kinds of paint.

Anyway, we're getting down to the last of the new images. Prolific as Mr. Hulett was, he painted only so many Christmas cards.

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Mel Shaw, 1914-2012

Concept art from The Fox and the Hound by Mel Shaw. © Disney

Mel Shaw, master storyman and visdev artist known for his work for Disney and other studios, has passed away at the age of ninety-four.

In his teens, Shaw got his first animation job at Harman-Ising where he worked for several years before coming to Disney in 1937, where he did visdev art for Fantasia, Bambi and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

During WWII he did training films with Hugh Harman and developed a live-action/animated feature of The Little Prince with Orson Welles. After the war he started the Allen-Shaw design studio with former Harman-Ising co-worker Bob Allen, which worked on the original Howdy Doody puppet.

In 1974, Shaw returned to Disney and contributed visdev and story ideas to films including The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, among others. He retired in 1989.

His artwork is on display at his website,
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Sunday, November 25, 2012

He'll be Frank

Says Indian visual effects designer V Srinivas Mohan:

"Out of the 400-odd VFX and animation companies in our country, only a dozen of them are really doing creative work. The others are merely doing labour-intensive tasks like wire removal, rotoscope, keying and match moving. These tasks can be done by training anyone for that specific purpose." ...

Then the Times of India goes on to tell us ...

VFX and animation industry experts feel that the industry has been in bad shape for the last seven to eight years after the Hollywood studios hitched upon the idea of cutting down costs incurred in visual effects by opting to outsource jobs. These studios merely see India as a destination for cheap labour. ...

The reason that Disney, that DreamWorks Animation, that various visual effects houses have set up facilities in India is because it's cheaper.

If you thought it might be because American executives love partying in Mumbai or visiting ancient Hindu temples, or lifting up the Indian economy to be nice guys, you can now retire those notions and smell the caffeine bubbling on Reality's big stove.

It's money, brothers and sisters. Just like always. If the entertainment conglomerates believed they could get the most bang for their bucks in Glendale or Burbank, that would be where all the work would be done.

But as I've said before, money is a double-edged sword. It's the reason work goes overseas in the first place, and it's also the reason foreign sub-contracting studios can never quite raise their quality enough to get more of the "money shots." Their most skilled and ambitious employees get frustrated with the roto and wire removal, and leave to go someplace where the bar is higher and pay better.

I've watched this phenomenon occur for twenty-four years, and the dynamics haven't changed very much. And I doubt it will be changing anytime soon.
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Overseas Derby

The animation, it goes along good in foreign lands.

Sony Animation’s Hotel Transylvania grossed $5.5 million at 3,825 sites in 58 markets. The title’s foreign gross total stands at $147.9 million.

Wreck-It Ralph dipped to $2.1 million overseas in its fourth round -- lifting its foreign gross total to $41.2 million. Its worldwide take stands at $190.8 million.

Rise of the Guardians opened in eight markets, grossing $10 million from 3,869 cinemas and lifting its very early offshore cume to $13.5 million. ... It premiered No. 1 in Russia with $5.85 million elicited from some 800 locations. Guardians takes off in some 50 markets this week including Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and South Korea. ...

Rise of the Guardians did less than smash business openeing stateside this weekend, but it had a stellar opening in Russia. Which could mean that foreign accumulations could be robust.

American animated features with America-centric elements seem to do less well in foreign lands. Wreck-It Ralph, for instance, has slowed down overseas even as its maintained its momentum stateside. After the holidays, we'll know more about total grosses and how big the different releases turned out to be.
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Of Controversies, Profits and Leverage

From the Washington Post.

... Weta Digital is the centerpiece of a filmmaking empire that Peter Jackson and close collaborators have built in his New Zealand hometown. ... It’s a one-stop shop for making major movies — not only his own, but other blockbusters like “Avatar” and “The Avengers” ...

The special-effects workforce ... now numbers 1,100. Only five of Weta Digital’s workers are actual employees, however, while the rest are contractors. Many accept the situation because movie work often comes irregularly but pays well. Union leaders, though, say the workers lack labor protections existing in almost any other industry. ...

Back in 2010 ... a labor dispute erupted before filming began on “The Hobbit.” Unions said they would boycott the movie if the actors didn’t get to collectively negotiate. Jackson and others warned that New Zealand could lose the films to Europe. Warner Bros. executives flew to New Zealand and held a high-stakes meeting with Prime Minister John Key, whose government changed labor laws overnight to clarify that movie workers were exempt from being treated as regular employees. ...

The above is another case of: "If you've got the juice, you can get what you want."

New Zealand, when it comes to movies, is more or less a one-company town, and I recognize that the government freaked when that company (Peter Jackson, Inc.) was being threatened by a bunch of scruffy union types. Jackson had the leverage to get what he needed from the Prime Minister and others, and the unions came up short.

Old tale, often told.

Still in all, for visual effects workers there is still the wee problem of high but transitory wages coupled to lacklustre benefits and lousy working conditions. Employees of Weta, Digital Domain and similar shops had the bad luck to come into a part of the movie biz that wasn't yet invented when the power of entertainment guilds and unions passed their peak, so effects workers are today like high-paid braceros, moving from city to city and country to country, plying their trade. And the only pension they'll have when their wrists seize up and cataracts make it tough to stare at the flat screen is the money they've managed to tuck away for their old age.
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Our next membership meeting

WHEN? Tuesday, November 27
Pizza and refreshments, 6:30 pm
Meeting, 7 pm

WHERE? 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

WHAT? Membership meetings are your opportunity to reconnect with the Guild, interact with the Executive Board, raise concerns and hear about the state of the industry. While not mandatory, your attendance and participation are key factors in keeping TAG abreast of matters in the workplace.

The membership decides how and when the union can act. Participation on your part is the foundation to the strength our contract and policies hold. Come and be a part of the process of keeping our leverage focused and strong.
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Friday, November 23, 2012

China Daily Tells Us ...

... That even companies instilled with Texas pride talk to the Middle Kingdom.

Reel FX Inc ... is seeking partners in China to co-produce and handle post-production work on animated projects.

"We have been quietly meeting with a large number of representatives from China, laying the groundwork and relationships that are so very important to successful and mutually beneficial long-term cooperation," said Chuck Peil, vice-president of business development for Reel FX, which has production facilities at its Dallas corporate headquarters and in Santa Monica, California. ...

As Hollywood animation studios have outsourced to Texas studios, so Texas considers outsourcing the China.

The challenge is to get Chinese (Indian?) studios up to the quality created by domestic facilities. But if the motive is just to save money, then quality will be ... ahm ... elusive.
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Museum Pieces

Interesting what low-information can do.

The show “ ‘Ice Age’ to the Digital Age: The 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios,” arrived at the Katonah Museum of Art here in September, and since then, Chris Wedge, one of the studio’s founders and its creative director, has been on hand a few times to give talks and tours. ...

“A lot of times people come in and they’re thinking an animated movie is something that someone took a camera and shot, and then it just landed on your screen,” he said. “Because that’s what it looks like.” ...

I doubt that there are many computer-savvy sixteen-year-olds think that CG animation is "shot with a camera."

But maybe their younger siblings. Or parents.
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Animation's Holiday Box Office

There are two animated features housed in the Domestic Top Ten, one from DreamWorks Animation and one from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Rise of the Guardians, in 3500 theaters, might be under-performing a wee bit:

Guardians 3D fell -22% from Wednesday to Thursday. But even rival studios say the toon should come back very strong Friday. Nevertheless, this teaming up of fantasy characters from Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy is really underperforming and may not get much past $30M for the 5-day holiday. ...

The way pictures line up (box office wise) right now? ...

1. Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 1 [Runs 4,070] PG13 Wednesday $13.3M, Thursday $8.3M (-37%) -- 3-day Weekend $41.0M, 5-day Holiday $62.6M, Cume $225.6M

2. Skyfall (Eon/MGM/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,526] PG13
Wednesday $7.4M, Thursday $7.7M (+4%) -- 3-Day Weekend $32.6M, 5-Day Holiday $47.8M, Cume $218.4M

3. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 2 [Runs 2,018] PG13 Wednesday $4.2M, Thursday $4.8M (+16%) -- 3-Day Weekend $21.0M, 5-Day Holiday $30.1M, Cume $58.2M

4. Life Of Pi 3D (Fox) NEW [Runs 2,902] PG Wednesday $3.6M, Thursday $4.5M (+24% -- 3-Day Weekend $20.3M, 5-Day Weekend $28.4M

5. Rise Of The Guardians 3D (DreamWorks Anim/Par) NEW [Runs 3,653] PG Wednesday $4.8M, Thursday $3.7M (-22%) -- 3-day Weekend $21.8M, 5-Day Holiday $30.4M

6. Red Dawn (Film District) NEW [Runs 2,679] PG13 Wednesday $4.2M, Thursday $3.2M (-22%) -- 3-Day Weekend $13.6M, 5-Day Holiday $21.0M

7. Wreck-It Ralph 3D (Disney) Week 3 [Runs 3,259] PG Wednesday $3.7M, Thursday $2.4M (-33%) -- 3-Day Weekend $15.4M, 5-Day Holiday $21.6M, Cume $148.1M

8. Flight (Paramount) Week 3 [Runs 2,638] R Wednesday $1.2M, Thursday $1.4M (+18%) -- 3-Day Weekend $6.4M, 5-Day Holiday $9.2M, Cume $72.7M

9. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) NEW [Runs 367] R Wednesday $656K, Thursday $612K (-8%) -- 3-Day Weekend $3.4M, 5-Day Holiday $4.6M, Cume $5.2M

10. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 6 [Runs 1,255] R Wednesday $568K, Thursday $614K (+7%) -- 3-Day Weekend $2.5M, 5-day Holiday $3.7M, Cume $96.7M

Wreck-It Ralph appears to be having a robust holiday weekend, with another $21.6 million projected to flow into the box office. Will Guardians get a lot higher than $30 million? It's got an "A" Cinemascore, so here's hoping. But we'll have to wait and see.

Add On: From the Nikkster -- "DreamWorks Animation’s Rise Of The Guardians 3D fell -22% from Wednesday to Thursday. But the toon came back very strong Friday: +149%. Nevertheless, this teaming up of fantasy characters from Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy distributed by Paramount is really underperforming and may not even get past $32M for the 5-day holiday."
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

On This This Day in 1995

Toy Story got released.

... At the time, Pixar was owned by Steve Jobs, founder of Apple (NAS: AAPL) and then-CEO of NeXT Computer. Jobs' control of Pixar would be a point of contention in the Disney negotiations that led to Toy Story.

The Pixar crew had originally planned to produce a half-hour TV special, but Disney film honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg insisted on a feature film during an initial meeting. His terms were extremely high. Katzenberg wanted the rights to Pixar's 3-D animation technology, which Jobs understandably refused. Jobs countered with a deal that allowed Pixar part-ownership of the film's characters, as well as video and sequel rights. However, Disney was in a much stronger position -- Pixar was nearly bankrupt. Jobs and Pixar were forced to cave to a deal that granted Pixar only about 12.5% of the ticket revenues, and nothing further. The deal was signed in mid-1991.

... Numerous rewrites left the film a steaming mess, requiring a completely new script and a brief production shutdown. It was in early 1994 when the new script was approved, and the crew soon ballooned from 24 to 110 people. Toy Story's initial $17 million budget was not going to cut it. As premiere time neared, Jobs' initially underwhelmed attitude changed to excitement as the film came together ...

I remember that day well. Disney staffers had been telling me for months there was this terrific new animated feature that was going to knock everyone's tennis shoes off.

They were right, and of course it did. And Toy Story and its successors remade the animation industry. Two decades later, CG animated features are the most profitable kind of long-form movie, and companies that disdained animation for decades now eagerly produce it.

And Pixar, fifteen years further on, was anything but the weak player when Disney wanted yet another deal. In 2005-2006 Pixar was king of the roost and Disney Feature was in a death spiral. Walt's conglomerate, desperate to avoid a rupture with Mr. Jobs and his company, paid $7.5 billion to acquire the Emeryville studio, and Steve Jobs became Disney's largest shareholder. John Lasseter became the chief creative officer of the animation dividion that had laid him off in 1984.

The negotiations of 1991 and 2006 offer to sterling examples of the maxim: "You get what you have the leverage to get."
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Turkey Day Links

I won't be hovering over a keyboard much of today, so ... here's some linkage.

Matt Groening gets another award.

The voice of "Crusader Rabbit" remembered. (A woman named Bliss.)

Blue Sky Studio's new direction. (It isn't moving to another state.)

Look Ma! An animation article stating the obvious

Guillermo del Toro talks about "Rise of the Guardians."

Tom Hanks on playing Walt Disney. (But ... no smoking?!)

What I'm thankful for during this kick-off of the holiday season is that animation work continues to thrive in Los Angeles, even as live-action features and televisin series leave town chasing tax incentives.

Disney, DreamWorks and other signator studios hum along, and animated features and t.v. episodics continue to make our fine, entertainment conglomerates lots of money. So they continue to employ lots of animation artists. Many of the long-term gigs of the 1990s are gone, but the work is still here.

For that sizable blessing, we should give thanks.

Happy Turkey Day. Joyous Holidays.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

401(k) Plan Costs

It's time again for TAG 401(k) enrollment meetings. Therefore, let's provide you with a bit of useful 401(k) information.

New 401(k) Disclosure Rules? Why Should I Care?

New rules could save 401(k) investors thousands of dollars – if they would only read their account statements, say labor officials who beg you to “open the envelope.”

By now, most 401(k) investors have received the first quarterly reports to be issued under new federal rules requiring full disclosures of fees and other plan expenses. Whether investors have read the statements is another question entirely.

The quarterly statements are due no later than Nov. 14, or 45 days from the end of the third quarter. They follow the first annual disclosure of plan expenses that were due by August 30, 2012.

“Open the envelope that you get with this information in it, and actually take a look at the information you’re receiving,” Phyllis Borzi, a Department of Labor official who oversees 401(k) plans, said in an archived webinar on the new disclosure rules, designed to benefit participants who manage their own 401(k) investments in so-called self-directed plans. “I know you get a lot of mail and you’re probably more interested in some of the other pieces of information,” Borzi said. “But opening this envelope and looking at this information is the first step to retirement security.” ...

To let you know, the trustees of the TAG 401(k) Plan have been very aware of costs, and they're working to keep TAG 401(k) expenses as low as possible by

1) Getting the lowest-cost share classes for Plan funds.

2) Checking how much the Plan's third-party administrators (currently Mass Mutual and 401(k) Advisors) are charging for services. And making sure those charges are cost competitive.

Here's one fine little factoid that every participant in 401(k) Plans should know: Index funds have lower fees than actively managed funds. Further, index funds out-perform actively-managed funds over longer periods of time. As TIME Magazine reports:

Index mutual funds trounced actively managed mutual funds last year by the widest margin in 15 years ...

Among large-cap fund managers, 79% trailed the return of the S&P 500, says fund tracker Morningstar. That is a stunning display of futility — and sadly, these results aren’t all that unusual. More than half of active managers underperform their benchmark year after year.

Inside the TAG 401(k) Plan, a variety of index funds are offered. And the Vanguard Target Date Funds, which are the Plan's biggest lineup of index funds, give participants an "all-in-one" allocation of bonds and stocks in a single, handy package. (Plus they're the least expensive offering TAG 401(k) Plan has.)

If you're out in the wider blogosphere, you should seriously look at the way you're investing and the funds you are choosing from your 401(k) Plan. If you're a TAG member reading this, you should start sheltering some of your income by using the TAG 401(k) Plan ... and do it by indexing. I'm going to be doing a LOT of enrollment meetings (listed below) over the next few weeks, so accessing my smiling countenance and vast knowledge* should be easy.

TAG 401(k) Enrollment Meetings

Bento Box
Wednesday, December 10, 10 am
Main Break Room

Cartoon Network
Wednesday, November 28, 1 pm
Main Conference Room

Disney Feature Animation
Tuesday, November 27, 10 am
Southside Building, Room 1300

Disney Toon
Tuesday, November 27, 10 am
Conference Room 103

Disney TV Animation
Tuesday, December 11, 10 am
Sonora Building, Room 1172

Disney TV Animation
Tuesday, December 11, 2 pm
Empire Center, Room 5223

DreamWorks Animation
Thursday, November 29, 2 pm
Dining Room B & C

DreamWorks Animation Television
Thursday, December 13, 2 pm
Main Conference Room

Film Roman
Wednesday, December 4, 2 pm
"Glass" Conference Room

Fox TV Animation
Thursday, December 6, 2 pm
Main Conference Room

Marvel Animation
Wednesday, November 28, 9:30 am
Main Conference Room

Wednesday, December 12, 2 pm
Main Conference Room

Robin Red Breast
Thursday, November 29, 10 am
Motor City Conference Room

Warner Bros. Animation
Wednesday, December 5, 2 pm
Building 34R - Main Conference Room

* Sarcasm
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In and Around the Hat

After a month away, yesterday I was back in the Walt Disney Animation Studios' hat building on picturesque Riverside Drive ...

Some of the things happening:

* John Lasseter was down from the north country, reviewing sequences for the next feature, some of the shorts that are in work, and various other projects.

* Some of the hand-drawn crew are working on a real interesting short* that will (I'm told) be out with Frozen next year.

* Frozen hasn't gotten into high gear yet. Story work is still being done and animation hasn't yet shifted into third gear. (So it's gonna have the same petal-to-the-metal production schedule that Ralph did.)

* Staffers tell me the studio is rejiggering its production pipeline.

As I write, Wreck-It Ralph charging along at the box office, with a domestic cume of $123.7 million as of Monday. Reviews have been strong, and as Den of Geek's Brett Nachman relates:

[Ralph]is the type of movie that begs for a sequel, and even more, a theme park attraction. Disney should be dreaming of all of the possibilities in how they can utilize these characters.

Strange thing. Scuttlebutt in and around the hat is that there will be a sequel. Makes sense to me, given the feature's on-going results.

* Something old and something new. And I'm keeping my yap shut about it. So don't ask.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Princess Prospers

Disney's success with princesses hasn't diminished.

... Sofia The First: Once Upon A Princess delivered 5.2 million total viewers on Disney Channel, becoming the top cable telecast of 2012 among kids 2-5 (1.5 million/9.1 rating) and girls 2-5 (954,000/12.2 rating). In fact, Sofia The First, which stirred controversy over the ethnicity of the lead character, ranked as the No. 1 cable TV telecast in five years in kids 2-5 (since Spongebob Atlantis Pantis on November 12, 2007) and in more than 10 years in girls 2-5 (Oswald on May 6, 2002). It now stands as Disney Channel’s No. 1 telecast ever among girls 2-5, its No. 2 telecast among kids 2-5 (behind High School Musical 2) and its No. 1 preschool telecast ever in total viewers, adults 18-49 and women 18-49. ...

Pre-production for Sofia the First goes on in the Yahoo building near the Burbank Airport. Work on the series has been going on for much of the year. (It's a CG show and demands on the artists are high.)

There's lot of musical numbers and lots of production. Also lots of demands for quality placed on the artists. Disney's had a goodly amount of production money riding on the project, so it must be a relief to the crew members to know that the maiden effort has paid off.

With luck and the right time slot, the series will be a long-term winner.
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Burbank: Cartoon Headquarters

Deli owner Robert Moore and wall art.

Evidence, if any is needed.

At Moore's Deli in Burbank, Homer Simpson can be found eating a burger while Dora the Explorer dreams up her next quest, “Adventure Time's” Lumpy Space Princess raves about the deli's tuna and “Futurama's” Bender smokes a cigar.

Restaurant owner Robert Moore harbors a hidden cultural gem in Media City — the four white walls of the deli's back dining room are covered with original artwork by cartoonists for powerhouse media companies with local headquarters or production offices, including Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. ...

There's also Disney Television Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and right next door (in Glendale) Disney Toon Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Renegade, and Rough Draft.

Maybe the most accurate slogan would be: "The east San Fernando Valley, a hotbed of animation. (And now it's even more important to the Valley ... since so much of the porn industry has decamped to Miami.)
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Toy Story 3 to Star Wars VII

Mr. Arndt is, apparently, a prime candidate for the new Lucas/Disney epic.

Michael Arndt, best known as the writer of Toy Story 3 and winning the Oscar for his script for Little Miss Sunshine, is the "leading candidate" to write Star Wars Episode VII. Sources tell the site that the writer has already produced a 40-50 page treatment (it's not clear if that's the treatment the studio already had) and is, "likely to be at least one of the writers when the Disney/Lucasfilm project begins shooting in 2014." Arndt was also apparently one of the few people in the world that knew about the Disney-Lucasfilm buyout before it actually happened. ...

Michael A. is a master of many genres. And now he moves from an animated feature to a hybrid. Click here to read entire post

DreamWorks Animation With Another Hit?

One of the analysts at Seeking Alpha thinks so.

... Rise of the Guardians could be the sleeper hit of the holiday season. The movie sees several marketable characters together in the same movie. Combining childhood heroes in a sort of Avengers style could create a hit for Dreamworks.

If you look further ahead to Christmas, there are no big animated or family releases the rest of 2012. Strong reviews or word of mouth could keep this movie in theaters for a long time and bring in large amounts of box office revenue ...

Guardians is slowly rolling out around the world, and so far the reviews have been solid. (A hopeful sign.)

I've watched this feature in small bits and pieces on various DWA computer screens. The action angle, the holiday angle, and the visual presentation points to big grosses, but you never know. Some pictures the public embraces and others it walks over.

But DreamWorks Animation has been on a roll of late, with one high-grosser following another. Guardians is a departure from the company's last few releases, and it isn't a sequel. In a couple of days, we'll see if the fresh elements and audience goodwill toward DWA movies powers it to stellar grosses.
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Middle of the Pack

... in the ratings for last Sunday:

# The Simpsons (Fox) - An all-new episode following NFL action at 8:20pm ET did 6.86 million and a 3.2 18-49 rating, up six tenths in 18-49 from previous week. Inflated because of the NFL lead-in.

# The Cleveland Show (Fox) - preempted.

# Bob's Burgers (Fox) - A new episode delayed til 8:51pm ET did 4.89 million and a 2.4 18-49 rating, also up six tenths in 18-49 week-to-week.

# Family Guy (Fox) 2 airings - A new episode at 9:20pm ET did 5.57 million and a 2.7 18-49 rating still below normal despite going up two tenths in 18-49 week-to-week. A second new episode followed at 9:50pm ET and did 5.06 million and a 2.3 18-49 rating, which is not good for this show. ...

The Simpsons is still the ratings heavyweight in the Fox Animation block, even though it's the longest-running show.

All the above sitcoms are in work, although American Dad (pre-empted last week) is still recalling staffers from long hiatuses.
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Animation in Foreign Lands

The newest vampire movie has big-footed a lot of the competition in foreign markets. Still in all ...

... Hotel Transylvania grossed $7.8 million at 4,435 sites in 57 markets. The title’s foreign gross total stands at $140.3 million.

Wreck-It Ralph dipped to $4.8 million overseas its third round in 18 territories, and lifting its foreign gross total to $35.7 million. Worldwide take stands at $157.2 million.

... Rise of the Guardians opened at some 7,500 situations in China and bagged $3.1 million. ...

Attending a screening of Wreck-It-Ralph this weekend, I realized there are a LOT of animated features rolling down the parkway. The first five trailers were: The next Smurfs installment, then Despicable Me 2, then a Weinstein feature (about aliens), and lastly some cheap-jack animated feature about time-travelling kids going back to prehistoric times (spouting really bad dialogue.)

After that, there was an unspooling of the Sam Mendes-James Franco Oz trailer, with lots of little CG characters.

Some worldwide grosses of recent cartoons:

Global Grosses

Madagascar 3 -- $737,591,482
Hotel Transylvania -- $283,000,000

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Eighty Four Years Back ...

The first (actually the third) Mickey Mouse cartoon was released. As President Emeritus Tom Sito reminds us:

Nov 18,1928 -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICKEY MOUSE- At the Colony Theater in New York, Walt Disney’s cartoon "Steamboat Willie" debuted- The first major sound cartoon success and the official birth of Mickey Mouse. Two earlier silent Mickey's had been done, but they were held back when the sound experiment went ahead. ...

Those first two cartoons were "Plane Crazy" (a little bit of Charles Lindbergh) and "Gallopin' Gaucho" (spoofing the Douglas Fairbanks feature The Gaucho.) But those two specimens were held back while Disney produced a short with voices, sound effects and music.

A wise choice, as it turned out.

The Disney Co. is today an international conglomerate, but the fact that the company survived its early years is testimony to Walt's plucky creativity and happy circumstance.

If Snow White hadn't shattered box office records, there would have been no Burbank studio, and probably no studio at all.

If World War II hadn't happened and the federal government hadn't enlisted Walt Disney Productions in war work at a time the company was broke, the Disney brothers might have gone under around the same time the Fleischer brothers' Miami studio passed into receivership.

If the Anaheim amusement park hadn't clicked ....

If the Bass brothers hadn't ridden to the rescue ...

Fate and genius have intersected multiple times over the past eighty-four years, and so in 2012 Disney rockets forward as a powerful brand name, just as it did when Walt was alive.
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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pre-Turkey Day Derby

Wreck-It Ralph continues to sprint right along:

1. Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 4,070] PG13 Friday $71.2M, Weekend $135.3M

2. Skyfall (Eon/MGM/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,505] PG13 Friday $12.3M (-60%), Weekend $40.4M, Cume $160.3M

3. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 2 [Runs 1,775] PG13 Friday $6.3M, Weekend $20.1M, Cume $21.5M

4. Wreck-It Ralph (Disney) Week 3 [Runs 3,622] PG Friday $4.4M, Weekend $18.6M, Cume $121.8M

5. Flight (Paramount) Week 3 [Runs 2,612] R Friday $2.5M, Weekend $8.7M, Cume $61.5M

6. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 6 [Runs 2,210] R Friday $1.1M, Weekend $3.9M, Cume $91.9M

7. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 7 [Runs 2,063] PG13 Friday $650K, Weekend $2.2M, Cume $134.7M

8. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 8 [Runs 1,122] PG13 Friday $390K, Weekend $1.3M, Cume $61.1M

9. Jab Tak Hai Jaan (Yash Raj Films) NEW [Runs 161] NR Friday $367K, Weekend $1.2M

10. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) Week 6 [Runs 1,350] PG Friday $330K, Weekend $1.2M, Cume $41.1M

Ralph which cost a hundred million less than Tangled, not (avoiding a dozen years of development will do that) has so far made $121+ million, and should come in around $190-$210 million when all the receipts are counted.

Box Office Mojo has a handy chart comparing different Disney digital releases:

Domestic Grosses

Chicken Little -- $135.4 million

Tangled -- $200.8 million

Wreck-It Ralph -- $121.8 million (ongoing)
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Jobs Lost

It isn't in animation, mi amigos, but live action.

The film and television industry in Los Angeles County has lost more than 16,000 jobs since 2004, mostly due to work migrating out of state ....

Last year, the film and television business generated 102,100 jobs in the county, down 14% from its peak of 118,200 jobs in 2004, according to a study released Friday by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

During the same period, L.A.'s share of overall jobs in the motion picture and video category fell to 51% from 60%. (The figures exclude employment in the music and post-production industries.)

Tax rebates are a compelling magnet, and jobs have been flying out of L.A. County to Canada, North Carolina, Michigan.

Because the dynamics of the work are different, animation employment has risen over the last several years.

It's always useful to have jobs that are less transferable to various points of the compass.
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The Animation Guild has a new logo!

Why did the Animation Guild decide to get a new logo?

Over the past years, your guild has been pursuing efforts to modernize. These steps have included our new building, a redesigned, more easily navigable website, and an updated computer lab with Cintiqs and current software. All of these steps help us improve the services we provide to our members.

Updating our brand identity is part of these efforts. We deal with billion dollar multi-national corporations that need to take us seriously, both as talented individuals and as a whole through our union. These companies are slick, smart, and known throughout the world. We need to stand toe-to-toe with them and win. It's time for our visual identity to reflect that need.

It's time for the Animation Guild to have a logo that's instantly identifiable, timeless, and strong.

Who designed the logo?

The signature and type were designed by Malcolm Grear Designers in Providence, Rhode Island. We gathered numerous bids from a variety of graphic designers, including local firms here in California. Our Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) alumni may recognize the name; Malcolm has been teaching graphic design at RISD for half a century. This connection spurred board member Karen Carnegie Johnson to contact them for a bid.

What led us to choose them was their portfolio of logo signatures: staggering and impressive, timeless, and all of them relying solely on shape and form, versus reliance on color or fad, with layers of meaning. Deceptively simple, their designs capture and represent integral elements of their clients' core identities in memorable ways.

Their website states that "Any serious organization must seek to distinguish itself and claim the attention of its audience and clientele." This was our goal, and the executive board voted MG Designers as the best talent for the task.

Why didn't the Guild ask one of its members to design the new logo?

We did not hold a contest within the membership for a new logo simply because we've been down that road. Our last contest garnered an apathetic response and we did not seek to repeat the experience.

The fact is that designing a brand identity is a difficult, challenging task. (Especially one for a group of artists.)
As we advocate to the studios that they hire the finest animation professionals they can, our members here in Los Angeles, we sought to procure the most talented group of trained, experienced graphic designers we could.

What was the design process for the logo?

From MG Designers:

When we at Malcolm Grear Designers began the process of designing the new symbol for the Guild we went through many, many visual studies before arriving at the one that we felt was unique, active, alive, and thus memorable.

Since the Guild is made up of a diverse group of creative artists, writers and technicians in motion-picture and television animation and computer graphics it was important to us that the symbol not represent any specific design style.

As the lowercase “a” and “g” join together to form the symbol, the letters seem to be in constant movement, animated. They appear linked and interwoven but they also actively flip back and forth, each letter switching from foreground to background.

There is also a cylindrical depth and dimension to the symbol, allowing the eye to travel through the form. The varied line weights help generate this sense of volume and activity.

The letters are dependent on each other to form the whole, a “union” so to speak.

What happens now?

Come by our booth at CTNExpo this weekend and and "meet" the new logo! We'll be using it on our website, emails, and throughout the Guild going forward. Our stationary and business cards will switch over once we've used the existing inventory. We'll have some give-aways at membership meetings and at the CTNExpo. We also have a fun gift in the works which we'll give out at the holiday party.

Lastly, the logo is a symbol to represent us as a cohesive whole. You, our members, remain the pillars and purpose of the Animation Guild. As we saw this past summer with our negotiations, if we want the studios to view us as solid and strong, we must first embody and project that strength and unity. A new visual identity is but one aspect of this, but it is an important one.

Thanks, and hope to see you at one of our events!

-- Karen Carnegie Johnson
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Out From Under Sub-Contracting

Visual effects houses rise and fall with the amount of work they bring in from other sources. Yet another job shop is working to change that:

French visual effects company BUF has optioned “Romeo,” a spec script from newcomer Will Simmons.

The film, an action thriller with a modern twist on William Shakespeare’s legendary character, marks a partnership between the effects house and Energy Independent, a film development, packaging and production arm of Brooklyn Weaver’s Energy Entertainment. ...

It recently launched a production arm and has begun to make animated and live-action films such as Eran Riklis' "Zaytoun" and Moebius' "La Planete Encore."

Of course, optioning a script is a long way from greenlighting a production. but it's a beginning, no?

BUF understands that companies yoked to visual effects sub-contracting limit themselves, often even doom themselves. More often than not, they cut their throats economically by low-balling the price they put up to acquire the work, then make minimal or zero profits.

You might survive on 4% margins, but you ain't gonna prosper. BUF gets this. Stil in all, creating original productions isn't the easiest task in the world. You gotta sell them to the world market, and you have to get a distributor who will seriously push your product. We'll see if they can make it work.
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Returns on Political Investments

From a Faithful Reader:

... [O]utside groups spent more than $1.3 billion in independent expenditures to influence the outcome of the election, we now get to see just what all that money bought them -- or didn't.

Turns out some of the smart money wasn't so smart after all when it came to making political bets. This year, the pro-business GOP Crossroads fundraising combine and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce weren't as good at picking winners as the labor movement ...

And the stats?

AMERICAN CROSSROADS -- 1.29% return on investment -- Total spent campaign 2012: $104,710,472

CROSSROADS GRASSROOTS POLICY STRATEGIES -- 14.40% roi -- Total spent campaign 2012: $70,709,963

US CHAMBER OF COMMERCE -- 6.90% roi -- Total spent campaign 2012: $32,676,075


And so on and so forth.

It's good to keep in mind that some political spending is more potent than other political spending. For example, actual campaign funds from actual campaigns get the lowest media rates for their t.v. ads, while outside groups -- whether union or corporate -- pay the highest media rates for their ads.

(And if you didn't know, American Crossroads was Karl Rove's traveling carnival, while the SEIU outside groups were union.)

Re the PACS super, Mr. Colbert says it all:

The odds are high that many, if not all, multi-bajillionaires will want better results from the dollars they throw at future political campaigns.
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CTN Animation Expo This Weekend!

The CTN Animation Expo takes place this weekend at the Burbank Marriott Hotel! Representatives from TAG will be at table T-80, which is right in the middle of the action.

(See Exhibition Floor map after the break)

This event has been a highlight of my year since I started with the Guild and I'm looking forward to interacting with all those who attend. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

For anyone who hasn't yet secured passes, feel free to use the Guild's discount code when registering to attend: TAGX12

*click for larger image

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Hires

Man, chairs have been filled while I've been away.

Nickelodeon Group has tapped former Disney Television Animation executive Jill Sanford as its vice president of animation and development. ...

Prior to joining Nickelodeon, Sanford held several positions during her nine-year tenure at The Walt Disney Company, where she most recently served as the director of original series for Disney Television Animation.

When you get knocked off the high seat like Nick has (by the Mouse), you either curl up in a ball and suck your thumb, or you pause, reflect and regroup.

Happily, Nick is regrouping. And hiring the competition's creative minds to help grab the crown back from Disney.
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Why Animation Thrives -- Part X

Catching up on what the hell's been going on in animation land, I run across this (from a week ago):

International Ticket Sales:

1. "Skyfall," $156 million.

2. "Paranormal Activity 4," $14.3 million.

3. "Hotel Transylvania," $13.7 million.

4. "Wreck-It Ralph," $12 million.

5. "Madagascar 3," $7.9 million.

6. "A Werewolf Boy," $7.5 million.

7. "Asterlix and Obelix: God Save Britannia" $6.8 million.

8. "The Bourne Legacy," $6.7 million.

9. "Taken 2," $6.2 million.

10. "Frankenweenie," $5.3 million.

Of the ten movies listed above, four were animated. And one, Asterlix and Obelix, was a live-action film based on a French comic book.

I've been working in and around the cartoon biz for a healthy chunk of my adult life, and there is one thing I've figured out about our fine, entertainment conglomerates. When they're holding winning hands and running the table, they don't change their methods of doing business a whole lot.

Animated features return more on investment than any other kind of theatrical film. That's why Fox, Disney, and Sony (among others) stay in the business. Animation is an expensive business to get into. Even Chris Meledandri (of Illumination Entertainment) with his studio in Paris, spends a bunch of money. And Blue Sky Animation, with its tax rebates and non-union work force, spends $90+ million per film.

No, the reason that so many companies frolic in Cartoonland is because, if they make a quality feature, they can open their own mint. So lots of them give it a shot.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'm Back

(Kind of.)

I have recently been on vacation, and away from electronic keyboards. A few observations of recent events (which I was paying little attention to, since no access to news or internet.)

Live-action film-making in L.A. is going through a rough patch. I get this from all the business agents to which I talk. Lots of work has left Los Angeles due to tax incentives (rebates) elsewhere. This is true of t.v. series and feature films alike.

Animation, on the other hand, is fairly robust. Sony Imageworks is sending work to Vancouver (a HIGH cost city, but with BIG tax rebates for Sony.) However, the rest of Los Angeles animation is still pretty much in L.A.

How do I know this? I look at the job stats. TAG members are working in large numbers. I attribute this to the difficulty of outsourcing animation jobs. It's one thing to train an individual for a job on a live-action set; quite another to train a board artist or designer who has worked years to acquire her skill set.

L.A.'s wide and deep talent pool of animation artists makes many jobs harder to outsource. And animation studios seldom want to change winning hands. Wreck-It Ralph, after all, is a box office winner. Anybody think Disney is going to close the Burbank studio?

(A bit of anecdotal evidence: Just before I left, I talked to a CG animator who turned down Sony's offer of a job in Vancouver. He didn't want to uproot his family for a job that had few guarantees of lasting long-term. He stayed in L.A. and picked up a job at a contract studio a couple months later. I would submit that you don't do that if there are few prospects for jobs.)

All that said, I'm aware that nothing is forever. Just because L.A.-based feature and television animation is weathering the current jobs downturn in the entertainment industry doesn't mean it will do so into the infinite future ...

About the recent ballot festivities, I'll make a couple of observations:

The Presidential election: Mitt Romney lost because he was a weak candidate running on a platform a majority found hard to swallow. There have been three Presidents re-elected over the last century with unemployment above 7%: Franklin Roosevelt (twice), Ronald Reagan, and now Barack Obama. Some of that had to do with Obama's strength as a candidate and some with economic trends, but if the Republicans had been running Dwight David Eisenhower on an Eisenhower platform, Obama could well have lost.

California's Proposition 32: The proposition went down because private and public unions worked hard to defeat it. And the reason that the Animation Guild worked against it was that the guild's wages, benefits and pensions were in serious jeopardy if it passed. Simple.

If you don't vote your own economic self-interest, you're made of different stuff than I am.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

10 Shorts Picked For 2013 Oscar Contention

A few days late on reporting this, but report it we shall. The list of ten candidates for Best Animated Short has been released by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

Adam and Dog," Minkyu Lee, director (Lodge Films)

"Combustible," Katsuhiro Otomo, director (Sunrise Inc.)

"Dripped," Léo Verrier, director (ChezEddy)

"The Eagleman Stag," Mikey Please, director, and Benedict Please, music scores and sound design (Royal College of Art)

"The Fall of the House of Usher," Raul Garcia, director, and Stephan Roelants, producer (Melusine Productions, R&R Communications Inc., Les Armateurs, The Big Farm)

"Fresh Guacamole," PES, director (PES)

"Head over Heels," Timothy Reckart, director, and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly, producer (National Film and Television School)

"Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"," David Silverman, director (Gracie Films)

"Paperman," John Kahrs, director (Disney Animation Studios)

"Tram," Michaela Pavlátová, director, and Ron Dyens, producer (Sacrebleu Productions)

The above list was whittled from fifty-six candidates. These ten short films will now be reviewed by the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch Reviewing Committee. They will be responsible for picking three to five to be the nominees for the coveted Golden Man.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

AAI announces winter 2013 semester

The American Animation Institute has announced its winter 2013 semester of classes, being held in January and February 2013 at the Animation Guild offices.

To register, call (818) 845-7000. After registering by phone, make out checks to the American Animation Institute and send to 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505. Payment is due by December 28, 2012. No refunds will be given after the first day of class.

A PDF flyer of these classes is available here.


Weekday Classes


Instructor: Karl Gnass
6 Mondays, January 7-February 11, 9:30 am to 4 pm

Close attention will be given to the fundamentals of anatomy, structure and form followed with emphasis on character, mood and action. We will examine and explore different theories of color, the value scale, direct and indirect light and procedures used by various artists throughout history. Finally, a discussion of personal approach, inviting the student to challenge established norms and limitations.


Instructor: Glenn Vilppu
6 Tuesdays, January 8-February 12, 10:30 am to 4 pm

This class will focus upon the high developed figure drawing, utilizing one- and two-hour poses — gesture, construction, to rendering of form using a variety of techniques.


Instructor: Karl Gnass
6 Fridays, January 11-February 15, 9:30 am to 4 pm

We will utilize figure-drawing concepts, reviewing and clarifying them, to transform figures into characters for storytelling and animation. We will also work on character development and expression for portfolios.


Evening Classes


Instructor: Karl Gnass
6 Mondays, January 7-February 11, 7 pm to 10 pm

A basic foundation class featuring figure drawing mechanics. Emphasis on description of form, quick sketch gesture and construction of volume and structure. The goal is to develop the ability to draw with skill and imagination. With lectures, demos and personal attention.


Instructor: David Tanner
5 Tuesdays, January 8-February 5, 7 pm to 9 pm

Why is Cubism the most profound and lasting of all the Modernist art movements? Why does it remain mysterious even today? What can we learn from it? In this class we will look briefly at the history of Cubism, then break down how Picasso and Braque made their drawings and paintings. We will apply their techniques to our own drawings and try to bend Cubist practice into a springboard for new and original abstractions. We will undertake one large drawing per class. We’ll start with a geometric human figure and introduce Cubist techniques a few at a time until we arrive at total fusion of figure and background. In general we’ll use dry media and paper, but at the end we may stretch out to include additional experimental techniques (wet media, collage, assembly, or others) if there is interest.


Instructor: Karl Gnass
12 Wednesdays and Thursdays, January 9-February 14, 7 to 10 pm

We will take the confusion out of drapery by covering the important basic folds and how they relate to non-active folds and wrinkles. We will also explore the expressive qualities of drapery, drapery as costume, and costume as character.
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

November's Second Weekend Box Office

The latest Bond installment slots in at the top:

1. Skyfall (Eon/MGM/Sony) NEW [Runs 3,505] PG13
Friday $33.0M, Weekend $80.0M

2. Wreck-It Ralph (Disney) Week 2 [Runs 3,752] PG
Friday $7.8M (-42%), Weekend $31.0M (-35%), Cume $90.6M

3. Flight (Paramount) Week 2 [Runs 2,047] R
Friday $4.2M (-48%), Weekend $13.0M (-42%), Cume $46.0M

4. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 5 [Runs 2,763] R
Friday $1.8M, Weekend $6.0M, Cume $85.0M

5. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 6 [Runs 2,487] PG13
Friday $1.1M, Weekend $3.9M, Cume $131.3M

6. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 7 [Runs 1,391] PG13
Friday $785K, Weekend $2.3M, Cume $58.8M

7. The Man With The Iron Fist (Universal) Week 2 [Runs 1,872] R
Friday $745K, Weekend $2.4M (-69%), Cume $12.7

8. Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 2,023] R
Friday $710K, Weekend $2.4M, Cume $22.7M

9. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) Week 5 [Runs 2,044] PG
Friday $685K, Friday $2.4M, Cume $39.0M

10. Paranormal Activity 4 [Paramount] Week 4 [Runs 2,348] R
Friday $620K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $52.6M

Ms. Finke reports this to be the biggest Bond ever, smashing records in its native land.

She also noted the strong week for our only animation contender on the list. Box Office Mojo puts the international cumeulative earnings at just under half the reported production budget. This all spells success for Disney with Ralph.

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The Nassos Vakalis Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with Nasson Vakalis
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Nassos Vakalis has been one of the story pillars at DreamWorks Animation for a dozen years. One of the pioneers of digital storyboards while most in the business were still drawing on paper, Mr. Vakalis has lent his expertise to a wide variety of DWA features -- everything from Flushed Away to Kung Fu Panda to Puss In Boots. ...

And inbetween his DreamWorks Animation assignments, Nassos founded his own company Time Lapse Pictures -- which worked on a variety of European commercials and animated features, as well as the Rugrats theatricals that Klasky-Csupo was turning out.

All in all, Nassos Vakalis has been a busy animation artist, but that should be apparent as you listen to his TAG interview.
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Friday, November 09, 2012

Hotel Transylvania 2

Fresh off the internet, we hear that Sony Pictures Animation will be making a sequel to the popular and successful Hotel T:

Sony Pictures Animation will make a sequel to “Hotel Transylania,” one of the year's surprise hits, a spokesman for the studio told TheWrap.

Tentatively titled “Hotel Transylvania 2,” the film is set for a 2015 release. There is no director attached at the moment. Genndy Tartakovsky, who directed the first one, will be helming Sony Pictures Animation’s “Popeye.”

This is great news in the recent reports of Sony forcing their entertainment divisions to tighten belts due to the company's overall lack-luster financials. While the transformation of a hit movie into a hopeful hit series is the very foundation of MovieLand itself, we're glad to hear of the impending successes coming to members working in the Culver City area.

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Artists Taking a Stand

A little over a year ago, we posted about our discovery of the hiring practices of The Mill in Santa Monica and were introduced to the EOR company, Yurcor. As mentioned in that post, we asked for artists who had experience working through Yurcor to contact us to explore the possibility of recovering wages we felt had been taken illegally.

We've recently received word that some of those artists have been able to file a lawsuit against The Mill and Yurcor:
Recently, three Los Angeles artists filed a lawsuit in state court against The Mill and Yurcor. The Mill, a visual effects production company, employed the three artists on a temporary basis. Yurcor, which processed the paychecks of artists at The Mill, told the artists that it was their “employer of record” while they worked at The Mill. In the case, which was filed in California state court as a class action on behalf of themselves and an estimated 500 other California artists, the artists allege that The Mill and Yurcor failed to pay them the compensation that they were promised.

The lawsuit alleges that The Mill and Yurcor schemed to treat California artists as independent contractors when in fact they were employees. Under California law, the artists were employees and not independent contractors because The Mill exercised total control over the manner in which they worked, and also set their wages, hours, and other working conditions.

In addition to taking standard employer payroll deductions from the artists’ paychecks for their work at The Mill, Yurcor also took illegal deductions from their wages for Yurcor’s “administrative overhead costs.” As alleged, The Mill and Yurcor sought to confuse and deceive the California artists about their employee status in order to enrich themselves, deliberately misclassifying the artists as independent contractors when they were in fact employees. This meant that the artists lost wages they were promised.

The artists allege, among other things, violations of various provisions in the California Labor Code. They seek relief including lost wages, interest and penalties, as well as an order prohibiting The Mill and Yurcor from engaging in this conduct in the future.

Congratulations to the artists who took a stand and did their part to make the visual effects industry a better place to work. We will continue to keep you up to date on developments in this case as they are presented to us.

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The Nassos Vakalis Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Nassos Vakalis
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Nassos Vakalis's first job in the animation industry was with the California studio of Bluth-Sullivan Animation. He started as an in-betweener while still attending classes at Cal Arts, but his strong work ethic propelled him rapidly upward. Starting as an assistant on Thumbelina, Nassos was soon promoted to journey animator. ...

The Bluth studio came to an end a few years later, but feature animation was expanding, and over the next few years Mr. Vakalis worked on a variety of projects. He was a lead animator on the featureSwan Princess and Warner Bros. QUest for Camelot, also animating on Pocahontas II, Titan A.E. and The King and I, among numerous others.

All these things and more are detailed in Part II of this week's interview.
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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Disney Meets Q4 Earnings Targets

Our fine media conglomerate has meet its Q4 financial marks:

ESPN and theme parks powered Disney in the fourth fiscal quarter of 2012, as the media conglomerate hit analyst expectations for earnings per share on the dot at $0.68.

For the year, Disney posted year-over-year growth, earning $9.96 billion in segment operating income -- 13 percent higher than last year. Net income rose 14 percent to $1.2 billion in the quarter.

Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said Disney produced "another solid quarter" particularly with its cable networks business, though revenue was below what some analysts expected. "Disney has so many good things going for it that any weakness in the stock would be a buying opportunity," he said.

Great news for Disney as the dust settles on the news of their latest shopping spree. As the report highlights, Disney has multiple in-flowing streams of money that helped to boost the company earnings over the expected marks.

Congratulations to Disney on its achievements and to the artists and members who create the properties that create those successes!
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The Nassos Vakalis Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Nassos Vakalis
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Nassos Vakalis, who has worked on a plethora of animated features, loved animation as a kid and wanted to get into it. But growing up in Athens, Greece where animation studios and careers were clost to non-existent, Nassos assumed there would be next to no chance of that happening ...

Mr. Vakalis turned out to be way wrong. A well-to-do uncle who lived in New York financed a year of art education at the Pratt Art Institute and then three more at the California Institute of the Arts.

And the doors to various animation studios swung open. Mr. Vakalis talks about those early days here in Part I of the newest TAG interview.
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401k plans rise in value

Fidelity Investments reports that for the third quarter of 2012, the average balance of individual 401(k) accounts rose by four percent.

According to Business Week:
Employee 401(k) accounts grew more than 4 percent in the third quarter as a rising stock market boosted investment returns, and contributions from workers and their employers increased ... [T]he average balance of $75,900 at the end of the quarter was the highest since it began tracking the data in 2000.

Three months earlier, the average account balance among the 12 million accounts that Fidelity administers was $72,800.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index rose nearly 6 percent in the July to September period, boosting investment returns in 401(k)s. The gain helped investors recover from a nearly 3 percent market decline in the previous quarter ...
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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Thanks from President Loeb

I would like to thank all of the leaders and members of this great union who contributed to the re-election of President Obama last night. We built a political machine throughout the United States. From my office to the Districts to the Locals to job sites, homes, friends, family and neighbors we made a difference in this crucial election that bears so heavily upon the lives and security of IATSE members. I am proud of the work we did and the results, but we must remain engaged and active into the future.

Make no mistake that efforts to weaken unions both at the bargaining table and in the political arena will continue. We must remain prepared and agile to engage in these battles as they arise. We must also support and fight for progressive legislation and policy that supports workers, and hold government accountable to its obligation to protect the interests and meet the needs of working families.

Please accept my gratitude to those who volunteered, sacrificed time, donated money and voted. Your participation is crucial.

-- Matthew D. Loeb, President, IATSE

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Guild matches donations for Sandy relief

The Animation Guild will match contributions made by its members to the Walsh/Di Tolla/Spivak Foundation for Hurricane Sandy relief.

IATSE President Matthew D. Loeb announced Monday that the Trustees of the Walsh/Di Tolla/Spivak Foundation will be providing financial assistance to IATSE members and their families who are suffering serious financial hardship as a result of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.

“Many IATSE members have suffered losses”, said President Loeb. “Some may face unexpected medical bills or need assistance with the costs of temporary housing. It is our hope that financial assistance from the Foundation will enable these members and their families to better cope with the challenges created by the aftermath of this storm.”

To qualify for the Guild match, checks should be made payable to the “Walsh/Di Tolla/Spivak Foundation” and be mailed to the Animation Guild, 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505. The Guild will match the donation and forward it to the Foundation.

IATSE members needing assistance should submit a written request to their local union. The Local will then forward the request to the Foundation for review by the Trustees.
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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Where's Hulett?

As you might have noticed by now, Hulett hasn't been posting much ...

There's a reason for that. Hulett is currently off the grid and will remain so for a little while yet. Except for the interviews, and a couple of short items (like this) he will be gone for the next several days.

Even union business agents need the occasional break.
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Monday, November 05, 2012

Will Ferrell Begs You To Vote

With the election taking place tomorrow, there has been plenty of chatter in social media and internet channels regarding how, where, and whom/what you should vote for. One of the most comical, is the video above from actor/commedian and "Facebook Founder" Will Ferrell.

While some regular readers of this blog take umbrage with the fact that elected officials and employees of the Guild, myself included, have written enourcaing posts for specific candidates and positions on propositions, I'm hoping everyone can find the humor in Will's request that everyone do their civic duty and make the effort to cast a ballot.

For those who tend not to agree with the Endorsements from the House Of Labor, be sure to skip the last minute or so of the video.
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Ralph Wrecks It

With a final tally of $49.1 million, Wreck-It Ralph officially racks up the biggest opening weekend ever for a non-Pixar Disney animated film.

Hurricane Sandy may actually have had a positive effect on Ralph's box office. The Christian Science Monitor quotes Disney distribution head Dave Hollis:
Wreck-It Ralph became something of a distraction and an opportunity for families to do something separate of the storm ... Schools being shut down on Friday also played a role as parents were looking for things to entertain the kids and keep them out of the cold.
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Saturday, November 03, 2012

November First Weekend Box Office

Disney's latest big-screen production has swept the Top-Ten list with the reckless abandon that was predicted:

1. Wreck-It Ralph 3D (Disney) NEW [Runs 3,752] PG
Friday $13.4M, Weekend $50.2M

2. Flight (Paramount) NEW [Runs 1,900] R
Friday $8.0M, Weekend $23.6M

4. The Man With The Iron Fists (Universal) NEW [Runs 1,868] R
Friday $3.0M, Weekend $7.6M

3. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 4 [Runs 2,774] R
Friday $2.9M, Weekend $9.4M, Cume $75.1M

5. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 5 [Runs 2,639] PG13
Friday $1.8M, Weekend $5.7M, Cume $125.4M

6. Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 2,013] R
Friday $1.5M (-56%), Weekend $4.8M, Cume $17.9M

7. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) Week 3 [Runs 3,006] R
Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.0M, Cume $49.3M

8. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) Week 6 [Runs 2,922] PG
Friday $1.1M, Weekend $4.2M, Cume $137.3M

9. Silent Hill: Revelation (Open Road) Week 2 [Runs 2,933] R
Friday $1.0M (-70%), Weekend $2.9M, Cume $13.6M

10. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) Week 4 [Runs 2,314] PG
Friday $1.0M, Weekend $3.4M, Cume $35.4M

Even with a good portion of the North East still struggling to return to a sense of normal, Wreck-It Ralph has stolen the top spot with extreme prejudice. If the reviews shared with us via our Twitter account are any indication, Ralph should enjoy a long run at the top of the list:

@ardaniel: @AnimGuild I laughed so hard and so often during Ralph that I came out light-headed. Absolutely a smart, funny film.

@thirdmonster: @ardaniel @AnimGuild It was the loudest/fastest clapping from my 4 yr old when credits rolled that the rest of the audience had to clap too.

Also noteworthy is the profitable performance of Sony's Hotel Transylvania. Six weeks in and with its international tally, has already past the "twice cost" mark.

It's always comforting to see animation tow the mark.

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Friday, November 02, 2012

Ralph's Weekend Predictions

This weekend brings wide release of Disney's latest animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph. The internets are all a-buzz with positive speculation as to how it will fare:
LA Times:
This weekend, the animated movie "Wreck-It Ralph" is expected to wreak havoc on the box office. The Disney film is projected to make between $45 million and $50 million.

IGN Movie Review:
Wreck-It Ralph is not only the best animated film of the year, it's the best video game movie ever made. Filled with wit, heart and nods to games ranging from Q*Bert to Gears of War, it is a movie for gamers by gamers, but the story and execution are so brilliant you don't need to be a game fan to enjoy it.

MTV Review:
'Wreck-It Ralph' Readies To Rough Up Box Office! Disney's videogame flick is expected to clobber fellow newbies 'Man With the Iron Fists' and 'Flight.'

Rotten Tomatoes currently has it 85% Fresh

The Wrap collects multiple positive critiques.

As the MTV article pointed out, even in the Sandy-Ravaged east cost predictions are that cineplexes will be quickly made ready for people to try to forget their woes through the magic of movies. Even still, another Wrap article puts the opening weekend prediction at $50 Million for the film.

We wish the film great success through its run. We also send our best wishes to those on the east cost whose lives have been effected by Sandy and hope they find their lives quickly returned back to normal.

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

More DWA News: Q3 Profits 24% Higher over 2011

In a busy news week for DreamWorks Animation, The Wrap reports on the recently released Q3 Earnings Statement:

DreamWorks Animation breezed past analyst estimates with its third-quarter financial results, posting significant growth over last year thanks to “Madagascar 3” and “Puss in Boots.” The company posted $186.3 million in total revenue and $24.4 million in profit, up from $160.8 million and $19.7 million in the same period last year.

"DreamWorks Animation's third quarter results were driven by the blockbuster international box office success of ‘Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted,’ which has earned nearly $720 million at the worldwide box office to date, to become the fifth highest-grossing film of the year on a global basis," Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, said in a statement. "We are looking forward to the next major event film for the Company during the fourth quarter, the November 21st theatrical release of ‘Rise of the Guardians.’"

As mentioned many times before in this blog, the success of DreamWorks is as fantastic as the tales they tell. The independent studio who keeps knocking the proverbial cover off the ball and beating both expectations and the box office tallys of rival submissions from their Big 6 counterparts.

We offer congratulations to everyone at DreamWorks Animation along with wishes for continued success.

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