Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tip To Creators: Sue in Canada

If and when you get your intellectual property swiped out from under you, file your lawsuit north of the northern border.

... Just before Christmas, an artist named Claude Robinson prevailed at Canada's Supreme Court in a case that has lasted nearly two decades ...

The dispute stretches back to the 1980s when Robinson and his company developed an educational children’s television show, “The Adventures of Robinson Curiosity,” inspired from Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe, as well as from his own life experiences. After drawing up characters, sketches and storyboards, the artist pitched various producers.

Then, in 1995, Robinson flipped on the television and was stunned to see a new children’s television show, “Robinson Sucroë,” produced by several companies that were once given access to his project. The show was being aired internationally.

Robinson then sued, and after a trial that lasted 83 days. ... The judge awarded a whopping $5,224,293 in damages, including $607,489 in compensatory damages, $1,716,804 to disgorge profits, $400,000 for psychological harm, $1 million for punitive damages and $1.5 million in legal fees.

The initial appeals court affirmed the ruling, but trimmed damages to just over $2 million. Last week, Canada's highest court roughly doubled that. ...

Moral: Any show creator with brains, gumption and the bad luck to get screwed by a large corporation will beat a path to Canada's highest court.

Because, based on current evidence, our friends to the north will give writers and artists who get raped and robbed by entities with "incorporated" after their names a much fairer shake than the Supreme Court of the United States.
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Ralph Hulett's New Year's Eve

The last card of the year. Yet another still life ....

More landscapes and still lifes than we would have liked this year, but we've run through a LOT of cards over the last few holiday seasons, and presenting new designs means digging deeper into the archives.

(Here, here, and here are a few character cards from Christmases past. The Siamese, if you're wondering, is modeled from the family cat and not the Disney "Lady and the Tramp" Siamese.)

For more card designs, all you need do is click on "Ralph Hulett Crhistmas" there on the right.
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Here on New Year's eve, the Mouse has an announcement.

... Chris Williams has joined Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Big Hero 6 as director, alongside helmer Don Hall. Additionally, Roy Conli has boarded the project as producer.

Williams co-directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Disney Animation’s 2008 release Bolt, for which he received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature. His writing credits (story) include Mulan, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Brother Bear for Disney. He also lent his voice to the character Oaken in Disney's current hit Frozen. ...

The new normal on animated features seems to be two directors. Not always true, of course. Jennifer Yuh Nelson directed the second installment of Kung Fu Panda all by her lonesome, but increasingly there are multiple helmers on cartoons.

There is no optimum number, I don't think. There's a lot of moving parts in animated movies, and the pictures have been divvied up by sequences since the days of Snow White (which had six sequence directors.) Twenty-four years after Ms. White, 101 Dalmations was put out by three directors.

So you tell me. How many directors should a 90-minute cartoon have?
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Monday, December 30, 2013

In the Red

Some viz effects companies might be getting large subsidies, but that doesn't make them profitable. Just ask VFX Soldier:

... {S]ubsidies do not create a sustainable VFX industry. If the financial statements [of Double Negative, Framestore and MPC]... are true, then it’s pretty clear that UK VFX industry is not sustainable at all, even with massive subsidies that need to increase every few years.

For example Double Negative is losing about $US 8 million a year which is probably just as bad if not worse than CA VFX companies that don’t have subsidies and also have to pay their workers overtime. ...

What Soldier references is the money-losing state of various large, British effects studios. (You can click on the links of his listed companies and read the ugliness for yourself.) Tax breaks are generous, and still they're underwater.

Which is one of the difficulties with subsidies. They mask the vitality (or lack thereof) of the companies they're propping up. Seventy-odd years ago, the federal government helped keep Walt Disney Productions in business with large government contracts for war films. But WW II ended, and the Mouse House had to survive on its own.

If you don't have a viable business model, a government handout will not, long-term, save you. And a viable business model is something other than performing sub-contract work for big entertainment conglomerates. Double Negative and the others have to find a way to own their separate destinies and not remain barnacles on the hull of the SS Mouse or Good Ship News Corp. Or be welfare queens dependent on the Cameron government.

Whether they can do that or not is the continuing question.
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The Mouse Expands

... along with international markets:

... Consumer demand for entertainment and media (E&M) services is projected to grow 5.6% annually over the next five years, to $2.2 trillion by 2017. Digital entertainment will be among the fastest growing media with growth rates of 11.9%. By region, there are eight markets of China, Brazil, India, Russia, Middle East and North Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, and Argentina that are projected to see the most growth, with their share rising from 12% in 2008 to 22% of the global E&M market by 2017. Entertainment services powerhouse, Disney, is gearing up to cater to these growing markets. ...

Disney continued their international expansion through the year. They are currently building a theme park in Shanghai, China, which is expected to be completed by 2015. Disney has seen strong growth in international operations. The Tokyo Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland both had record attendance during the year. Disney also announced plans to open their first Marvel-themed amusement part attraction at the Hong Kong theme park. The Iron Man feature is expected to be open to the public by 2016.

They are also investing heavily in the growing entertainment market in India. They have recently acquired 50% stake in India's leading entertainment company, UTV by investing an estimated $500 million. ...

Disney continued to grow their content offering and recently announced their tie up with Netflix (NFLX) for 2015. As part of the deal, Disney's Marvel TV in association with ABC Television Studios will develop four serialized programs for Netflix. These programs will feature Marvel's characters including Daredevil, Jessica Johns, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. Their Star Wars franchise is also going strong and they have set the release date for Star Wars Episode VII as December 18, 2015. ...

As the U.S. of A.'s share of the global entertainment dollar continues to shrink, our fine, entertainment conglomerates are taking note and going where the newer money is.

DreamWorks Animation is now aggressively overseas. News Corp. Viacom. And, of course, Diz Co. For many of these companies animation is at the tip of the content spear, and everybody will need lots of content to fill all the different pipelines.

And if you wonder why animation work in Southern California is robust when so much of live-action movies and television shows have departed for tax-subsidized locations, it's because skilled jobs in pre-production are not as easy to outsource as everything else. Not that it isn't attempted, but over and over I've watched producers ship storyboards to distant locations, only to have the lower quality of the work bite them in the backside.

To date, it's been easier to anchor animation pre-production in Los Angeles than shipping the work far away and taking risks with quality. Nothing is forever, of course, but that's the way things have (mostly) shaken out in Cartoonland for most of the various distribution pipelines.
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Sunday, December 29, 2013


Walt Disney's "Frozen" continued its own remarkable performance at no. 2 as the princess tale cornered the market as the no. 1 choice among families for the holidays. The best animated Oscar frontrunner came in at no. 2 jumping a staggering 46% in its sixth weekend for another $28.8 million and $248.3 million to date. "Frozen" is already Walt Disney Animation's highest grossing movie after "The Lion King" and could knock Pixar's "Up" for no. 7 all-time. Overall, a huge win for John Lasseter and the Mouse House.

Yang ...

Disney made a Pixar spinoff that was the worst thing ever to wear Mouse ears. ...

"Planes": Disney's worst animated film ever was shipped to theaters on John Lasseter's watch, Pixar cultists. Chew on that.


Isn't the Associated Press having amnesia about The Black Cauldron?
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New Year for 401(k) Plans

We've gotten a steady stream of new applications in TAG 401(k), but since many participants have capped out their 2013 contributions, and everyone else will be ending contributions because the calendar year is just about over.

Therefore, we offer some general and Plan specific reminders and tip as we bound into 2014:

This has been a good year for equity investors. Many major stock market benchmarks are at or near record highs. These investment gains have pushed balances in the accounts of many 401(k) participants higher as well. While this is good news, 2014 is a new year. Here are five tips to get (or keep) your 401(k) in shape for 2014 ...

* Increase your contributions. The biggest determinant in the amount accumulated at retirement is the amount saved. Assuming you aren’t already maxing out your salary deferrals. ... Increase the percentage of your salary deferral each year. ... Deferrals are the most painless way to save and invest for retirement.

* Review your investment options. This is the time of year when many companies change some or all of the investment options in their plans. If you haven’t looked at what is offered in your 401(k) plan lately, this is a good time. These changes might warrant some adjustments in your personal investment strategy.

* Rebalance. If you have an asset allocation strategy for your 401(k), you are likely overweight in the equity portion of your account. This is a good time to rebalance your account back to your intended allocations. Letting your equity allocation go unchecked in hopes of capturing any additional gains is tempting, but it also exposes you to more risk than you might be comfortable with.

* Manage your 401(k) as part of your overall portfolio. One of the biggest mistakes 401(k) investors can make is to ignore their investments outside of their 401(k) when allocating their account. I am a firm advocate of an investment strategy based on a financial plan. As a key element in your retirement savings strategy, your 401(k) account should be managed as part of an overall portfolio, which may include your spouse’s 401(k), Individual Retirement Accounts old 401(k) accounts, taxable investments and more. ...

You should note that the contribution caps are unchanged for 2014. (What we get in a low-inflation environment.) This year the total amount contributed for participants 49 years of age and young remain $17,500. If you turn fifty in 2014, you can defer an additional $5,500.

Here and there I get asked by participants what they should invest in. After explaining I'm not a licensed financial advisor, I tell them the following:

What's important is to have an investment strategy that's right for your tolerance for downdrafts in the market and your age. If you're young, you should probably be weighted toward stocks because you have a looong investment horizon.

But if you freak when markets go south, you should ... maybe? ... invest more conservatively. (You know your comfort level and tolerance for risk, so make your own decisions.)

For most participants, their best option is to choose one or more of the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds because they are inexpensive, simple and you'll have wide diversification in both stocks and bonds.

(If you want to get more complex, here's a list of portfolios by some top investment experts. You can build rough facsimiles of most with a selection of the 20+ funds that the TAG 401(k) Plan offers. I tell members to stick to index funds because they're way cheaper and offer better results over time.)

You need to have a simple investment strategy you understand and can be executed without angst or trepidation. Efficient, smart investing doesn't have to be complex. And as you learn more about stocks and bonds, you can change you mix of funds.

But the most important things you can do is to get started and then stick with your program.

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Foreign/Worldwide Box Office

The latest accumulations.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

The Hobbit 2 -- $98,300,000 -- ($614,104,000)

Frozen -- %50,500,000 -- ($491,866,000)

Walking With Dinosaurs -- $12,300,000 -- ($54,168,000)

Cloudy With .. Meatballs 2 -- $5,700,000 -- ($238,398,196)

Overseas, Frozen is rolling along nicely, while Cloudy continues to have some foreign momentum (though its domestic run is close to over.)
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Animated Winners in 2014

Motley Fool does an analysis of top-tier movie releases in the next twelve months, and comes up with the following:

... I scoured the 2014 release schedule and singled out likely losers*. I then picked what I expect to be the top 10 earners among the wide-release films that remained and organized them by social popularity. ...

TOP MOVIES -- Facebook Likes -- (YouTube Trailer Views)

Captain America -- 9.1m -- (23.4m)

X-Men -- 9.5m -- (22m)

The Amazing Spiderman 2 -- 6.9m -- (21.6m)

How to Train Dragon 2 -- 5.1m -- (6.9m)

Rio 2 -- 5.3m -- (60,290) ...

Of the animated features that are out there next year, I would give the top spot to Dragons, and the second place to Minions. And for the obvious reasons: the first is the sequel to a high-grossing original, and the second is a spin-off to a recent Meledandri blockbuster. As for Rio, it could do okay, but the original wasn't a knockout punch at the box office, so how #2 performs is problematical.

The other sequel out next year is DisneyToon Studios' Planes 2. Though the movie will be in wide-screen, it grows from its direct-to-video roots, and its predecessor was not a huge grosser. DreamWorks Animation has two additional releases, Sherman and Peabody and Home (formerly Smek Day). Neither are sequels, so how the pictures perform at the world box office is an open question.

The Fool highlights Marvel live-action features, but overlooks the animated offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Big Hero Six comes out next fall, based on a lesser Marvel comic book and set in a re-imagined San Francisco. The feature is a departure from the studio's recent princess movies, and MF gives no hint how it thinks the Disney take on this Marvel property might do.

But who knows? Maybe BH6 will earn a handsome profit.

* "Godzilla," "RoboCop" and "Noah" are the top nominees for "under-performer."
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Weekend B.O.

Which appears to have a long-form cartoon at the top of the Friday list.

1) FROZEN -- $10,254,000 -- ($229,775,000)

2) THE HOBBIT -- $10,110,000 -- ($170,564,000)

3) ANCHORMAN 2 -- $7,143,000 -- ($71,198,000)

4) AMERICAN HUSTLE -- $6,400,000 -- ($46,885,000)

5) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET -- $6,257,000 -- ($22,048,000)

6) SAVING MR. BANKS -- $4,721,000 -- ($28,544,000)

7) SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY -- $4,535,000 -- ($17,130,000)

8) THE HUNGER GAMES 2 -- $3,400,000 -- ($384,324,000)

9) 47 RONIN -- $3,400,000 -- ($14,102,000)

10) WALKING WITH DINOSAURS -- $2,500,000 -- ($16,168,000)

Frozen rides the crest of the animation wave, but it isn't like it happens to every cartoon feature. Walking With Dinosaurs suffers through a tepid performance, down at #10.

Add On: The Weekend Totals

1. Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, The - Warner Bros. - $29.9M
2. Frozen - Disney - $28.8M
3. Anchorman 2 - Paramount - $20.1M
4. American Hustle - Sony - $19.6M
5. Wolf Of Wall Street, The - Paramount - $18.5M
6. Saving Mr. Banks - Disney - $14.0M
7. Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, The - 20th Century Fox - $13.0M
8. Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The - Lionsgate - $10.2M
9. 47 Ronin - Universal - $9.9M
10. Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas - Lionsgate - $7.4M

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Meanwhile, the Foreign Animation

India is making a number of animated features for domestic consumption. For many of them, local critics haven't been kind:

The artwork in Mahabharat is appalling and the animation is worse. From the movements of the characters to the visual effects - like two arrows going at each other - it looks like a pirated and outdated version of MS Paint was used to create the film.

The movements of the characters are awkward and jerky, making it look like the mythical heroes learned how to walk from Godzilla. The battle scenes are not only badly drawn and animated, they're also boring.

This new Mahabharata isn't so much a kid-friendly version as one made for dummies, by dummies.

Yeowch. Stop beating around the bush and tell us what you really think.

Mahabharat might offer a clue why Chris Meledandri of Illumination Entertainment set up his production studio in Paris rather than Mumbai. The wages are higher, but the results appear to be better. (And there are those tax subsidies. Yum!)

It does our entertainment conglomerates no good to make cheap animated features that make little money. Most of them have figured this out.
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One More Lesson on Leverage

Nothing to do with animation, but it does have Disney in the mix, and ducks.

Here's A & E network, half-owned by Diz Co. at the beginning of the Duck Dynasty hoo hah:

... “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.” ...

Ah, but that was then (like, a week ago) and this is now: ...

... A+E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s home and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principals. ...

(Except, you know, the principals are ... ahm ... flexible.)

That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the “coarse language” he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.’ We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold.

But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.

So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming “Duck Dynasty” later this spring with the entire Robertson family.

In other words, Phil's back (after a few days of exile) and A & E's got him!

What you mainly have here, despite the attempted window-dressing in the press release, is a cave by the network. Why?

Simple. The Robertsons hold all the cards and so have all the leverage.

They're rich and don't need the Disney/Hearst money. They believe what they believe, and have no intention of abandoning their values. And they pull in an awful lot of viewers for A & E.

The last item is the important one. The only things that A & E believes in, really, are the viewers and money the Robertsons have generated for Hearst/Disney.

So now, if things go right, everybody can win: The notoriety should goose the Robertsons' tall ratings even higher. A & E can continue to make boatloads of money. And the corporate chieftans can pretend all the recent unpleasantness is just one more rest station on the long highway of Phil's personal journey.

But kindly note the lesson here: The Family Robertson didn't budge. The mega corporations Hearst/Disney flip-flopped.

Because, boys and girls, leverage.

Add On: Not that the leverage will necessarily go down well:

GLAAD, the advocacy group whose swift reaction condemning Phil Robertson’s controversial comments to GQ contributed to A&E’s decision to suspend the Duck Dynasty star on Dec. 18, has issued a statement in response to A&E’s decision today to lift Robertson’s suspension.

Phil Robertson should look African American and gay people in the eyes and hear about the hurtful impact of praising Jim Crow laws and comparing gay people to terrorists. If dialogue with Phil is not part of next steps then A+E has chosen profits over African American and gay people – especially its employees and viewers.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013


The BBC informs us:

... 2013 was ... the year of the Hollywood blockbuster.

26 films costing more than $100m each were released by the major Hollywood studios - more than ever before. They are likely to have raked in tens of billions of dollars in worldwide box office revenues as a result - close to the record $35bn delivered in 2012.

The studios have become incredibly risk-averse in terms of the types of films they produce. Instead of taking a chance on new directors and original ideas, they produce tried-and-tested franchises, remakes and book adaptations. ...

Research by British film academics John Sedgwick and Mike Pokorny has found that not only have blockbuster films become more profitable over the past 20 years, they have become more reliably profitable: in the late 80s just 50% of major studio films turned a profit. In 2009 it was 90%. ...

"Blockbuster films are not really films," says Charles Acland, a professor of communication studies at Concordia University in Montreal, and author of the book Screen Traffic. "They are in fact very elaborate 'tent-pole' business models that connect all sorts of different commodities in all sorts of different industries." ...

A look at this year's top 10 highest-grossing films reveals just two original screenplays - animation The Croods and 3D epic Gravity. In both 2012 and 2011 there were none in the top 10. ...

Animation fills a large part of the blockbuster category. As of today, three of the top nine movies of 2013 are animated features -- Despicable Me 2 (#2), Monsters University (#5) and The Croods (#9). And Gravity, checking in at #7, is more animated feature than it is anything else.

By and large, the high grossers of Cartoonland cost less than their live-action counterparts; in Despicable Me 2's case, a whole lot less. The head of Universal has bragged that DM2 is the most profitable feature in the company's history. Since the feature cost $75 million and took in $919 billion million, he's probably right.

And since our fine, entertainment conglomerates are looking for sure-things at the box office, there is small doubt that animated features will continue to be part of the movie mix.
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Lawsuit time.

... Disney is going to court against an alleged imitator. According to a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in California federal court, Phase 4 Films changed the name of one of its films to Frozen Land, so as to trade off the success of the acclaimed animated feature.

"On November 1, 2013, less than three weeks before the Hollywood premiere of FROZEN on November 19, Phase 4 theatrically released an animated picture entitled The Legend of Sarila, which generated minimal box office revenues and received no significant attention," says the complaint.

The lawsuit adds that Phase 4 knew of Frozen, and so to enhance the commercial success of Sarila, the defendant "redesigned the artwork, packaging, logo, and other promotional materials for its newly (and intentionally misleadingly) retitled film to mimic those used by [Disney] for FROZEN and related merchandise." ...

Can it possibly be?

This business of cheapie knockoffs has been going on since Disney animation's last Golden Age twenty odd years ago. Then, if you walked through a Toys R Us or discount store, there were bins full of VHS tapes and DVDs that were cut-rate versions of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King.

Then, of course, Disney commenced doing its own knockoffs, grinding out The Return of Jafar, Jungle Book II, Lion King 1 1/2 and other choice entertainments for the kiddies, all to cash in on the surging market its theatrical releases had created.

If the flattery of low-budget imitation is kept in the family, you see, that's one thing. But if some scuzzy outsider tries to horn in on the act, it's WAR!
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Once Again Number One

Despicable Me 2 has been #1 at world turnstiles, number one in animated features (2013) and now ...

In the week ending Dec. 22, Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6, both from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, held onto the No. 1 and No. 2 positions at the top of both the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart -- which tracks overall disc sales, DVD and Blu-ray Disc combined -- and Nielsen’s dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart. ...

I guess we know why sequels get made, don't we?

I've had a sit down conversation with Chris Meledandri exactly once. But from his track record, and what I glean from him in the public prints, he's got a clear-eyed view toward cartoon-making.

The story needs to be simple. The characters need to be engaging. And the money has to be up there on the screen. Don't pay for production nobody sees.

Sounds like a plan to me.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Ralph Hulett's Christmas!

Joyous Christmas ...

And Happy New Year. Click here to read entire post

The Continuing (Weird) Media Meme

From our fine, entertainment press:

The Cinderella story of this year’s holiday box office is … go figure, Disney’s newest princess movie, “Frozen.”

Yet, despite the surprise success of its 2010 predecessor princess pic, “Tangled,” which grossed nearly $600 million worldwide, the path to B.O. glory for the Mouse’s latest fairy-tale treatment was nowhere near a slam dunk. ...

Don't any of these people read, like, data?

The most profitable and highest grossing sector of moviedom is the one marked "Animated Feature." For the last several years, if not the whole decade, this has been pretty obvious.

So here, at the end of a year that saw Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 gross north of $700 million and $800 million respectively, when the direct-to-video Planes was released to theaters and turned a tidy proft, when the second installment of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs saw respectable grosses, some in the media are still amazed that an end-of-year cartoon from the Disney/Pixar makes a whole lot of money.

Say what?

Four theatrical animated features (The Croods, Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, Frozen) will gross more than $2,000,000,000 in the span of twelve months. Two others (Turbo, Planes) will take in more than $500 million. Yet the hallucinations continue:

"The glut of animated features is crowding the market place and depressing cartoon grosses. .."

"The Cinderella story of the year is Disney's Frozen."

And blah, and blah, and blah.

What should be clear by now, but apparently isn't: Animated features are not a genre. When people want to see a given full-length cartoon, they drive to the local AMC and watch it. From the evidence, lots of people, year over year, want to watch cartoons. They don't give a rip if another cartoon is out there, anymore than they care that a Scorsese-DeCaprio movie is out at the same time as a David O. Russell picture.

If the SUBJECT MATTER attracts their interest, they go watch the picture. All an "animated feature" is, is a format.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Frederic Back, , RIP

Now with a scoop of Add On.

From the Times:

Frédéric Back, 89, who won two Oscars for his poignant animated short films, died Tuesday morning at home in Montreal, said his daughter, Suzel Back-Drapeau. The cause was cancer.

A beloved figure in the world of animation, Back was nominated for four Oscars over the course of his career. He was also a prolific artist and illustrator, getting his start in the graphics department of Radio-Canada's first-ever television station.

Back produced his first animation short, "Abracadabra" in 1970. Over the next decade he directed five more shorts, before making "Tout Rein," which was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short in 1981. ...

A long, rich life, creatively well-lived.

Add On: Charles Solomon remembers Frederic:

... I always imagined that St. Francis of Assisi must have been like Frederic: Gentle, patient, devoted to all the creatures of the Earth - but never saccharine, self-righteous or ostentatious. Although he was a strict vegetarian, it never would have occurred to Frederic to inconvenience anyone else by insisting on eating at a vegetarian restaurant. He found something that met his dietary standards on the menu, and said nothing about it. He would be equally quiet when he left the table and paid the bill before anyone realized he had gone. ...

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A Ralph Hulett Christmas Eve

Another card from the later sixties ....

Hulett's style evolved over the years. It's not hard to tell the 1960s output from the fifties and late forties. Strong composition is the one constant throughout Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 23, 2013

Animated? Or Something Else?

I get asked from time to time, "Why is TAG blog tracking Gravity? You think it's an animated feature?"

Well, yeah. ...

You've got small shards of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock here and there, but really. The flick is 80+% created by the usual animation suspects, in the usual black boxes. And also, too, by lighters and riggers and surfacers. And all the other artists, designers and techinicians that you see in your run-of-the-mill animation studio.

Because if you haven't been asleep on a beach in Samoa the last twenty years, you've probably noticed that Cartoonland has been bleeding into live-action movies for decades, at a faster and faster clip. And now, in 2013, the line is increasingly blurry.

Run your eyeballs down any box office list, and you'll find a Frozen, a Despicable Me, but you'll also find a super hero epic or a Peter Jackson film that has a poopload of dress extras, dragons, or twirling objects from outer space in it. And all those things were created and brought to life by overworked, underpaid artists who've spent years on the job and in the classroom learning their 21st century art.

So is Gravity animated? Like the features coming out of Disney, Illumination Entertainment, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Animation Studios?

Bet your ass.

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Pay Cut

The Mouse's CEO gets a haircut.

Walt Disney Co. said it was adding Twitter Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey to its board. The entertainment company also reported that compensation for its chief executive, Robert Iger, fell 15% to $34.3 million in its latest fiscal year.

The appointment of Mr. Dorsey, who is chairman of Twitter and chief executive of online commerce company Square Inc., reflects Mr. Iger’s longstanding priority on maintaining strong connections to Silicon Valley.

[A] Disney regulatory filing disclosed details of Mr. Iger’s compensation. Most of the decline was due to a reduction in his cash bonus to $13.57 million, from $16.5 million in fiscal 2012, as the board’s compensation committee concluded he didn’t outperform targets as much as in the prior fiscal year. Mr. Iger’s bonus was still higher than his target of $12 million.

Mr. Iger’s compensation has been a contentious issue with some Disney shareholders, as the board acknowledged in its filing. At Disney’s annual meeting last March, about 42% of shareholders voted against a nonbinding “say on pay” resolution approving the company’s executive compensation.

In the filing, the company said that the board’s compensation committee “has been regularly updated on conversations with investors and understands that shareholders remain very focused on the alignment of pay and performance as well as the absolute level of executive compensation, particularly for the Chief Executive Officer.”

I don't know how Mr. Iger is going to live on 15% less pay. But American citizens live in frugal times. So it's comforting to know that the top banana at Diz Co. will be sharing some of the collective pain. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Race For The Little Gold Man

Deadline has a long article on the animated features at the front of the stampede for this year's "Best" oscar. They sum it up (in the first sentence) this way:

The race for best animated feature is usually fairly easy to predict. With a few exceptions, you can always count on Disney/Pixar to win or place. The studio has had a pony on this track nearly every year the category has been in existence since 2001 (when DreamWorks’ Shrek became the inaugural winner). ...

Shorter Deadline: "Gonna be Disney. Outside chance it's Miyazaki. But most likely Disney."

Me, I think the odds-on favorite will be Frozen, though whichever feature wins the Annie will have a fine pole position. Miyazaki's already won a Little Gold Man.
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Your Foreign Box Office


... “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” blasted past $400 million worldwide with a huge $96 million weekend overseas. ... Disney’s “Frozen” was far behind in second, but impressive nonetheless. The animated family film brought in $35.1 million from 33 foreign markets to raise its international total to $152.6 million and its global total to $344 million.

[Re Frozen, Disney] said Sunday that China Film Group, the government agency and gatekeeper for non-domestic films looking for a shot at the world’s second-largest movie market, had indicated it would allow a 2014 release for Disney Animation’s 3D family film. No date has been set. ...

And the stats for the wider field.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

The Hobbit 2 -- $96,000,000 -- ($403,800,417)

Frozen -- $35,100,000 -- ($344,155,000)

Walking With Dinosaurs -- $13,800,000 -- ($21,100,000)

Gravity -- $3,900,000 -- ($652,265,785)

Cloudy With Meatballs 2 -- $3,500,000 -- ($229,753,777)
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TAG: Right in Mainstream

The end of last week, an officer of Women in Animation as for stats regarding how many women were working in cartoonland. I told her the guild didn't have extensive documentation, but gave her what we'd been able to track here, here and here.

To summarize: Eighteen percent of active, working members of the Animation Guild are women. That figure has been pretty steady for the last several years.

(You can view the breakdown in job categories at the links above.) ...

But our percentages are not very different from other entertainment unions and guilds:

According to the most recent data collected by the Directors Guild of America, this past season, of more than 3,100 episodes in more than 190 scripted series on network and cable, 85 percent were directed by males, and 15 percent were directed by females. These statistics are basically unchanged from the year before, and show just modest improvement from DGA reports issued in years past.

Women make up between 11-12% of animation writers. What about live-action writers?

Between the 1999-00 and 2011-12 seasons, women writers’ share of television staff employment increased about 5 percentage points — from 25 percent to 30.5 percent. ...

While WGA women writers caught a larger share of staff jobs between 2000 and 2012 (admittedly, the stats jumped around a lot), between 2006 and 2012 TAG female writers held the same percentage of jobs -- around 11%. (2006 job breakdowns here.)

Over the years I've written a number of posts about women's participation rates in Animation Guild job classifications: year after low they have been far below those of men. Historically, the only areas where women predominated were in ink-and-paint jobs (which are now mostly gone) and animation and final checking classifications.

But everywhere else, it's clear that female percentages in Cartoonland are right in line with job numbers on the live-action side. Over long stretches of time, men have held the lion's share of DGA and WGA jobs, and at rates similar to those inside animated features and shorts.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Your American Box Office

The holiday season heats cash flows up.

Friday B.O. -- (Grand Total)

1) ANCHORMAN 2 -- $8,700,000 -- ($21,924,000)

2) THE HOBBIT 2 -- $8,605,000 -- ($104,650,000)

3) AMERICAN HUSTLE -- $6,300,000 -- ($7,413,000)

4) FROZEN -- $5,115,000 -- ($177,507,000)

5) SAVING MR. BANKS -- $2,963,000 -- ($3,588,000)

6) THE HUNGER GAMES 2 -- $2,450,000 -- ($365,404,000)

7) A MADEA CHRISTMAS -- $2,410,000 -- ($22,180,000)

8) WALKING WITH DINOSAURS -- $2,125,000 -- (2,125,000)

9) DHOOM 3 -- $1,075,000 -- ($1,075,000)

10) THOR: THE DARK WORLD -- $360,000 -- ($199,798,000)

Saving Mr. Banks opens okay but not gangbusters; Frozen hangs in smartly, while the newest animated feature on the block, Walking with Dinosaurs, opens near the bottom of the Top Ten.

Add On: The weekend totals: Frozen stays bouncy. Saving Mr. Banks, not so much.

1. Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, The - Warner Bros. - $31.5M

2. Anchorman 2 - Paramount - $26.8M

3. Frozen - Disney - $19.2M

4. American Hustle - Sony - $19.1M

5. Saving Mr. Banks - Disney - $9.3M

6. Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The - Lionsgate - $8.8M

7. Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas - Lionsgate - $8.5M

8. Walking With Dinosaurs - 20th Century Fox - $7.3M

9. Dhoom 3 - Yash Raj Films - $3.3M

10. Thor: The Dark World - Disney - $1.3M

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Back At DreamWorks Animation TV

Unlike DreamWorks Animation, which sits inside a Renaissance-style Italian village beside the L.A. River, DreamWorks Animation TV is housed near the top of a skyscraper next to the 134 Freeway. I bopped through the facility today and found a few things out. (Emphasis on few.) ...

The division now has around 80 employees, but that total will be going up as development and production of new series gets fully underway (this according to various execs):

"We'll have a little over 300 employees when all the series are going. We'll do five series in 2015, five series in 2016, 5 series in 2017. And there will be other series after those. ..."

"Jeffrey Katzenberg came by earlier in the week to look everything over. He likes the way the space looks, the way it's laid out. He's sorry he doesn't have offices up here. ..."

DreamWorks Animation TV will be operating from two floors when its buildout is complete. I keep encountering former Nick staffers every time I stroll around. Mark Taylor has lost his chin whiskers. Jeff DeGrandis is as upbeat and ebullient as ever.
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Sequelitis, the Sequel

You can never get too much of a big, fat, money-making franchise.

‘Ice Age 5′ Lands July 2016 Release Date From 20th Century Fox
The four films in the hit animated franchise have grossed more than $2.8 billion worldwide

20th Century Fox has announced it is moving forward with another installment in the blockbuster “Ice Age” franchise.

The studio will release “Ice Age 5″ on July 15, 2016. The four films in the “Ice Age” franchise have grossed more than $2.8 billion worldwide. ...

The reason animation studios produce followup features to their big hits is, they are a sure-fire way to make lots of money.

(Or, as Darryl Zanuck so gracefully put it: "You can open your own mint.")

A few of the sequels/spin-offs of high-grossing animated features that will soon roll down your neighborhood pike:


How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
Rio 2 (2014)
The Penguins of Madagascar (2015)
Minions (2015)
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2015)
Finding Dory (2016)
How To Train Your Dragon 3 (2016)
Puss in Boots 2
The Croods 2

And so on and so forth.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

At DreamWorks Animation

I spent the middle of my Wednesday at DreamWorks Animation (Glendale). A supervisor told me the trailer directly above had just gone out far and wide -- theaters, the T.V., the internet. A supervisor who'd recently seen the picture informed me:

"It's come together well. The thing is epic. I think it'll be our biggest grosser this year."

And animation continues on Home, the feature formerly known as Happy Smekday!, and the usual brisk development on other pictures is under way. An employee said department leads for The Croods 2 have been interviewed for positions (most of the staff from Croods Numero Uno will be coming back) ...

While I was on campus, a sequence of Bollywood Superstar Monkey were being finalized for a pitch.

But evern with all the projects (the company is also developing features slated for studios overseas on its Glendale campus) DWA Feature continues to selectively trim positions, even as DWA TV hires:

"A board artist who'd been here for years got let go a few weeks ago. Management said they had no assignment for him. He was ticked, but he's good and had a job lined up the same day they told him the news. There wasn't any warning and it came out of the blue." ...

This kind of thing happens at every studio, but given the current state of DWA's business affairs, if management doesn't want somebody, they're not kept on. (Big difference from eighteen months ago. But when cash flow is narrower, stuff happens.)

I asked a staffer what he thought of President Obama's visit and speech and got this:

"I worked at home that day. They made employees park over in Griffith Park and ride shuttles to the studio. I didn't want to deal with that." ...
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 8

One of the rare Hulett "oil painting" Christmas cards (although he might have done this one with acrylics) ...

Deep winter, and more a gallery piece than card design, I think. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Standard-Issue Flapdoodle

Here's the typical analysis of the visual effects biz:

... Between last year’s visual effects-laden favourite, Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi, and the release of Gravity, we have seen films as varied in substance and style as Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone tie their fates to visual effects (VFX) work.

Visual effects facilities are increasingly responsible for subtle effects in films lauded by serious-minded critics.

Nowhere has this faith in VFX paid better dividends than in Cauron’s long-gestating space opus, which won over audiences and critics with its visual virtuosity.

Restrained and elegant in its use of 3D aesthetics, Gravity is an innovative work of animation: it will surprise many to know that 98% its shots were digitally created, frame by frame, by a team of more than 400 visual effects artists. ...

And of course, after rhapsodizing about the artistry of visual effects, after acknowledging the expanding power and influence of visual effects, there's the wrinkle-browed caveat:

... While there are renewed calls from visual effects artists to unionize, there is also awareness that the budget blow-outs that would ensue from artists being properly compensated would force many facilities to close. ...

It turns out if CG artists want decent wages, benefits and a civilized work environment, they'll bankrupt the companies for which they work and cause visual effects to be shipped to Bangladesh or tax-subsized Vancouver where our fine, entertainment conglomerates can keep their costs down.

Funny how everybody else in the motion picture food chain can belong to a union and everything rolls right along, but if effects artists go in that direction, economic disaster will result. Administrative incompetence, unworkable business models, and bloated overheads have nothing to do with it.

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The Cartoon Incubator

Though it's often overlooked, Mr. Seibert is one of the Movers and Shakers in Cartoonland.

YouTube has turned to [Fred} Seibert and his company, Frederator Studios, which operates Cartoon Hangover, to create a crop of offbeat animated shorts for the millennial generation.

"The Internet is ushering in the next golden age of animation," Seibert said. "The Internet provides an outlet for people who can't get their material seen in traditional places and opens up new creative avenues and new creative audiences, just like cable did to broadcasting."

Since its debut in 2012, Cartoon Hangover has become one of YouTube's fastest-growing channels, drawing more than 13 million unique viewers to original programs, including "Bee & PuppyCat" and its flagship series "Bravest Warriors," from Pendleton Ward, creator of the Cartoon Network hit "Adventure Time." ...

"For 15 years I've been trying to sell teenage-oriented girl animation," he said. "I've been rejected pretty roundly by people telling me that teenage girls don't watch animation, which I think is hogwash."
Seibert cites the popularity of Natasha Allegri's "Bee & PuppyCat," which has drawn more than 5 million views since the first short ran in July. More than 18,000 show fans recently raised $872,133 in a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a dozen more episodes, he said. ...

Fred's the guy who pretty much invented modern day cartoon development for the T.V. Nobody previously had flung the development doors wide open to all comers, inviting them to pitch their ideas for shows. When Mr. Seibert launched the "open pitch" technique, nobody else was doing it. Now it's practiced widely.

He and his team zero in on the likeliest prospects. A few years ago, he developed "Adventure Time" under the Nick umbrella. When Nickelodeon upper management passed (over studio honcho Mark Taylor's urgings to turn the pilot into a series) Fred took it to Cartoon Network ... where it became a hit.

And Fred's reach and influence are ubiquitous. He flies to Burbank so regularly that he keeps clothes stored at a hotel near Warners so he doesn't have to pack and unpack (smart, eh?) He called Yours Truly a few years ago, pitching the idea of video podcasts (at the time we were doing audio only.)

He is not a man who slows down much. Or is very often denied. And he's always pushing the idea envelope. Maybe that's why he's still a continuing force in cartoons, decades after he got involved with Nickelodeon and Hanna-Barbera.
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Invisible Bill Walsh

Now with Ellisoneque Add On.

And still more Add On.

As Saving Mr. Banks readies itself for wide release, a Hollywood trade journal recounts development of the film:

... [Alison] Owen, producer of “Elizabeth” and “Shaun of the Dead,” brought in [screenwriter Kelly] Marcel, a relatively unproven screenwriter at the time who would later be hired to adapt “50 Shades of Grey.” Marcel rewrote the script, eliminating a storyline about Travers and her son.

Marcel’s script offered a two-part narrative — one focused on Travers’ youth, the other on her lengthy battle with Disney over the film rights to her beloved Mary.

“There was always that elephant in the room, which is Disney,” Collie told TheWrap. “We knew Walt Disney was a key character in the film and we wanted to use quite a bit of the music. We knew we’d eventually have to show Disney.” ...

If and when you get around to watching Saving Mr. Banks (which I liked quite a lot), you will see a lot of Walt Disney, the Sherman Brothers, and Don DaGradi, who is referenced in the film as "the screenwriter" of Mary Poppins.

And indeed, Mr. DaGradi, a Disney veteran, was a screenwriter on the flick. One of two. The other was Disney Legend Bill Walsh, who (curiously) is never seen or mentioned in the movie. And this is more than a little odd, because Walsh was also the film's co-producer, right alongside Walter Elias Disney.

I have no idea why Bill Walsh is erased from Mr. Banks, since Walsh was a Disney pillar for decades, writing a long string of live-action hits for the company, including the #1 film of 1969, The Love Bug. Walsh, in fact, was offered the job of head of studio production after Walt's death, but declined.

So what gives? An explanation was offered by my friend, The Wise Old Animation Producer:

... Bill Walsh was the guy who had to deal with Travers when she came to the studio. It was Walsh who showed her around, not DaGradi, not Walt. He was the one who interacted with her. Walt was in Palm Springs a lot of the time. ...

(How does the Wise Old Animation producer know these things? He worked at Disney for over a decade, and his father worked on the lot for forty-plus years.)

My thinking? There's not much of a movie if it's Bill Walsh and P.L. Travers wrestling over Mary Poppins. Who the hell knows who Walsh is, anyway? And Disney was a player in the development and production of the film. Also, too, Mr. Banks is a dramedy, not a documentary.

So sure, Walt Disney and P.L. Travers butting heads is the through line. Sort of has to be. Otherwise there's no movie.

But it's still odd that Bill Walsh, producer, writer, developer of the Mickey Mouse Club (1950s version) and a string of lucrative Disney movies, is left out of Saving Mr. Banks completely. You could even call it totally bizarre.

Add On; Sci Fi master Harlan Ellison performs an Ellison rant about the movie:

I don't disagree that the flick is a bit sugar-coated, but A) Walt DID have a hard-scrabble childhood, and B) I think Saving Mr. Banks fence-straddles the issue of Travers disliking the film. In the theater-scene, she says: "I HATE cartoons," which isn't a ringing endorsement of what's on the screen.

You can make the argument that the movie tries to have it both ways. But nowhere does the author say: "WOnderful movie, Walt!"

Add On Too. And Floyd Norman in comments upends the whole post, maintaining (no doubt correctly) that Bill Walsh climbed onto the Poppins bandwagon after the events shown in the picture. Oh well ...

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Voice Acting

Reid Scott (Veep, My Boys) is voicing the lead for Turbo F.A.S.T., which debuts on NetFlix December 24th. We had the opportunity to ask him about his voice-work for the show, and so grabbed it. ...

TAG Interview with Reid Scott

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

We talk about how Mr. Scott came to the project, how he and the other actors work, and what kind of input they have as the lead thespians. We cover a goodly amount of ground in twelve minutes. Click here to read entire post

Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 7

Desert yucca at sunrise (or maybe sunset?) ...

Mr. Hulett did numerous treatments of this flowering plant. (Here's one here ... and here.)

Different versions of time-honroed subjects.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

In and Around Disney Toon Studios

One side of Disney Toon Studios (on Sonora Avenue in the industrial section of Glendale) has a crew of artists working on Planes.

They're doing fine.

"We've got a wider screen this time, which is good, because we've got bigger planes. ...

But then there is the dwindling Tinkerbell crew on the other side of the big lobby ...

They are not so happy.

As related earlier, the run of Tinkerbell direct-to-video features ends at six, and most of the crew will soon be let go. (Departures range from "a month from now" to "late next Spring.")

So today I spent time explaining how long health coverage will last after layoff (12-15 months), how many qualified pension years needed to vest for the retirement plan (5 years for a monthly annuity; one year for the lump sum), and telling people where to look for jobs (everywhere. But DreamWorks Animation TV is one likely place to start.)

Here in the present era, there are a number of animation jobs, but turnover can be brisk.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Club For Men

Or boys, as the case may be.

Long-time super hero writer (also producer) Paul Dini speaketh:

DINI: "They [TV animation execs] are all for boys 'we do not want the girls', I mean, I've heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, 'We do not want girls watching this show."

SMITH: "WHY? That's 51% of the population."

DINI: "They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. The girls may watch the show—" ... I'll just lay it on the line: that's the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, 'we need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys'—this is the network talking—'one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.' ...

Come on, Paul. Let's get real. This isn't about the audience, per se. It's about how many plastic knick-knacks get moved off the shelves of your neighborhood Wal-Mart.

And if that doesn't suit your artistic sensibility, well too freaking bad. We're living in 21st century America, pally. And what counts is cash flow. The girls don't run out and buy the right kinds of junk, so the girls are fungible.

The sooner you get that through your head, the better off you'll be. It's a boys' club, after all.
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World Box Office

The animation, she is tracking well.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Cume)

Frozen -- $31,500,000 -- ($265,988,000)

Gravity -- $8,000,000 -- ($642,166,608)

Cloudy With ... Meatballs 2 -- $3,900,000 -- ($223,415,346)

Frozen, racking up big grosses on initial release, looks as though it could join the $600+ million club without a great deal of trouble. Click here to read entire post

Peter O'Toole, RIP

Except for Ratatouille and playing Sherlock Holmes in a British animated series, he had little to do with animation. Still in all, a giant.

Actor Peter O'Toole, who starred in Sir David Lean's 1962 film classic Lawrence of Arabia, died on Saturday aged 81, his agent has said.

He was being treated at London's Wellington hospital after a long illness, his agent added.

O'Toole's daughter Kate said the family was overwhelmed "by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us".

He received an honorary Oscar in 2003, having initially turned it down.

In a letter the actor asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to delay it until he was 80, saying he was "still in the game and might win the bugger outright".

But when he finally clasped his statuette, he said: "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot." ...

One of my vivid film memories of Peter O'Toole is seeing Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, when it was playing in road show release*. Lawrence was awe-inspiring then, and is awe-inspiring now. O'Toole was riveting, and carried the film. But he was pretty much riveting in everything he did, whether the movie was high-quality or drek.

My other vivid memory is listening to fellow Brit Barrie Ingham spin O'Toole stories at lunch in-between recording sessions for The Great Mouse Detective. Ingham recounted how Peter O'Toole broke almost every convention when he was a new-comer, once telling a television producer who'd hired him, "You can stuff this!" then flinging a script O'Toole (apparently) disliked into the producer's office.

The result of this outrage? The producer upped newcomer O'Toole's salary.

Rest well, Mr. O'Toole, you've earned it.

* Road show movies, if you don't know, were high-profile, big-budget spectaculars that were initially released in one theater with reserved seating ... and often played in that one theater for a year or more. That method of film distribution has gone the way of the passenger pigeon.
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Was It CG? Or Live Action?

That, more and more, is the question.

... This year several of the finalists for the visual-effects Oscar nomination are pushing the boundaries of f/x lighting, blurring the lines between “practical” and “digital” effects, and along the way, using that lighting to integrate actors with vfx in ways that could only have been dreamed of before.

“When it comes to lighting, you basically have three scenarios,” says Lindy De Quattro, co-vfx supervisor on “Pacific Rim.” “You have putting a CG character in a live-action environment, putting a live-action character in a CG environment, and then putting a CG character in a CG environment.” “Gravity” and “Oblivion” pushed the envelope on the second scenario, while “Pacific Rim” used all three situations.

In “Gravity’s” spacewalk shots, everything on the screen is digital except Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s faces, which are lit by the “light box” invented for the picture. But “Oblivion” had its own giant equivalent of the light box, used to light stars Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko. Meanwhile “Pacific Rim” took digital lighting to “operatic” and “romantic” heights. ...

The line between digital environments and real ones has almost completely disappeared in 21st century movies.

Take the most recent filmic incarnation of The Great Gatsby. The mansions, the oceanfront, the city and bridges, just about all those things are created in computers.

Mainstream film-makers now go for heightened (may we say caricatured?) realism in live-action movies. The kind of stuff that's been done in animation for years. And the lines between actual reality and the type that's created in a computer will continue to blur.

It's why I've suggested to the IATSE (our mother international) that any future visual effects guild should have the Animation Guild tucked inside it. Because the creation of live-action visual effects and the making of animated features is, for all intents and purposes, the same work on the same machines with the same software.

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Early Holiday Box Office

The prestige pictures start to roll out in limited release; Disney's animated feature holds strong.

Friday Box Office



3) FROZEN -- $5,105,000 -- ($147,309,000)

4) HUNGER GAMES II -- $4,100,000 -- ($347,932,000)

5) THOR: THE DARK WORLD -- $796,000 -- ($196,222,000)

6) OUT OF THE FURNACE -- $753,000 -- ($7,901,000)

7) DELIVERY MAN -- $607,000 ($26,730,000)

8) PHILOMENA -- $563,000 -- ($9,826,000)

9) THE BOOK THIEF -- $537,000 -- (13,739,000) ...

The other Disney picture, Savings Mr. Banks has launched softly in fifteen theaters, thought it's well-reviewed. (Movies about making movies are often a hard sell.)

Add On: The finals for the weekend:

Three-Day Box Office

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug $73.7m
2. Frozen (2013) (4) $22.2m ($164.4m)
3. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas $16m
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire $13.1m ($357m)
5. Thor: The Dark World $2.7m ($198.1m)
6. Out of the Furnace $2.3m ($9.5m)
7. Delivery Man (4) $1.9m ($28m)
8. Philomena (4) $1.8m ($11m)
9. The Book Thief (6) 1.7 ($14.9
10. Homefront (3) 1.6 ($18.4)
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Friday, December 13, 2013


What is Bloomberg talking about?

... All may not be ... rosy in toonland. Next year, for the first time in almost a decade, there will be no new Pixar film: The company announced it’s pushing The Good Dinosaur, originally slated for May 2014, all the way back to November 2015.

Sure. They had story issues. And when you have story issues, you stop and fix them. Would it be better if they put out a dumpy film?

(This came on the heels of the news that the film’s director, Bob Peterson, had been removed.) As a result of the delay, Pixar announced a small round of layoffs. ...

OhMyGod. Layoffs? This might come as a shock, but when sequences in production are put back into story, the animators and lighters and finalers don't have any work to do.

So the company either shifts them to another feature or hands them pink slips. (Not desirable, but the way things work.) Because studios don't want to pay animators, lighters and finalers weekly salaries to sit in their cubicles and watch YouTube. ...

And Pixar has a time-honored tradition of canning directors. Why did anyone think this would suddenly change?

That’s nothing compared with the bloodletting earlier this year at DreamWorks Animation, Pixar’s chief rival. In February the company, home of the megahit Shrek series, announced it was laying off about 350 employees from its staff of 2,200.

Things like this happen when features lose money and the cash flow isn't as robust as expected. DreamWorks Animation, after all, is not a subsidiary of one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates, but stand-alone corporation.

The goat this time was the (rare) failure of the expensive Rise of the Guardians, which the company had hoped would kick off a whole new franchise.

The problem with Guardians was: it was gorgeous, it was energetic, but the characters were distant ciphers and there was nobody to root for.

When Santa is depicted as a Rusky, and another character's death is reduced to a hokey plot device when that character comes magically back to life for no reason other than convenience, you run the risk of disaffecting your audiences.

Because there can be no tension with life and death situations when death is banished from the equation.

The company also put another film, Me and My Shadow, back into development.

The word I pick up around DWA's Glendale campus is that Shadow is pretty much kaput. (A shame. I had high hopes for it when Mark Dindal was director.)

Animation giants are feeling the heat of a more competitive marketplace. ...

Sigh. The latest media meme appears to be, holy crap! Animation is in trouble because there's just too much animation!

To which we say, in trouble how? Croods made money, Monsters University made huge amounts of money, and Despicable Me made more than MU.

And even the "failures" Epic and Turbo (sometimes referred to as the "snail and garden slug pictures") brushed up against $300 million. And Jeffrey K. said DreamWorks will lose no money on Turbo, despite the anemic domestic returns.

If this is heat, it must be healthy, life-giving heat. Even Planes was in the black.
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Owning the Franchise

DreamWorks works to control its destiny.

... “Turbo FAST” and the DWA shows that follow have been designed to serve as a marketing template on how to build a franchise. A hit show will help sell more mobile games, toys and other merchandise — all of which can lead to the greenlight of a film sequel. While the $135 million-budgeted “Turbo” earned only $82 million Stateside and $282 million worldwide, DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says the film is profitable for the company when toy sales and homevideo results are factored in.

Netflix could provide DWA with an outlet to engage its family fanbase between theatrical releases, which would help eliminate a dropoff in consumer product sales after a film has played out at the megaplex. ...

DWA is able to bypass the burden of having to answer to notes from a network. “Networks have more processes in place, and standards and practices, things we don’t have for this show,” said “Turbo FAST” executive producer Chris Prynoski, who also runs Titmouse, the animation studio that’s producing the show. “We’ve had to police ourselves on what we felt was good for kids. ...

DreamWorks Animation is actually doing a 21st century variation of what Disney successfully attempted in the 1950s:

THEN, Disney jumped into the new technology of television, becoming the first Hollywood studio to partner with a broadcast network. Walt Disney Productions supplied ABC with "The Mickey Mouse Club" and "Disneyland" at a time when other Hollywood companies were fighting ferociously against the home screen. In turn, ABC underwrote part of the Disneyland amusement park, helping the Disney brothers leverage their empire to greater prosperity and glory.

NOW, DWA has jumped into the new internet delivery system built by Netflix, and will soon create a whole lot of product that A) DreamWorks will own, and B) use as a foundation for merchandise, games and rides in amusement parks.

Seems clear that both companies were (are) working to accomplish similar goals: Use product and leverage to take the organization to the next level.

In the mid fifties, Disney accomplished the tasks that it set for itself. Whether or not Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks Animation succeed in the same way with a new distribution model, remains to be seen.
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Technology's Big Costs

A digital trade paper informs us:

The entertainment industry is having to invest heavily in new technology in order to keep up with consumer demand for their favorite music or television show on any mobile device at any time.

Over the next five years, digital content will account for 87 percent of the growth in spending in the entertainment and media business, according to a new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Those revenues will come from digital advertising, sales, licensing and other internet-based forms of capitalism.

But all that profit will come at a price.

“We’ve reached a tipping point that requires companies to make significant investments to stay on top of the technology,” Cindy McKenzie, managing director of PwC’s entertainment, media and communications practice, said. “The exponential growth in the amount of digital content and the number of formats being used is causing a fundamental shift.”

Overall, information and technology spending in the entertainment sector will hit $60 billion by 2017 and will increase at a compound rate of 9 percent per year, the study finds. That spending will go towards enhancing the way that entertainment companies distribute their content and make it accessible across a dizzying array of devices and internet platform. ...

I've been hanging out in entertainment biz a long time, like since Ullysses Grant was President. When I started, there were three delivery systems for cartoons and/or live-action: Network TV, local TV, and movie theaters.

The TV part came out of a box in your living room or bedroom. There was a big, fat picture tube in the center of the box that showed garish color images. Usually there were tinny speakers. The other distribution point was the downtown movie theater, where you hoped the sound was okay and there weren't too many scratches on the film.

That was then, this is now. Today it's cell phones, tablets, and wall-mounted flat screens, as well as computers on every desk and lap. There's movies, TV episodes and music on demand, straight from the cloud to you. The theft of content is rampant so entertainment has to be priced so that people will pay for it. And the appetite for content is ... well, voracious.

Our fine, entertainment conglomerates are running to catch up. They aren't the all-powerful gatekeepers anymore; not only do they have to sink money into varied distribution technologies and battle copyright infingement, but they have to upgrade internal infrastructure. In Cartoonland, paper is over, pencils are so twentieth century, and you damn well better know the latest upgrade to the hottest software for your Cintiq.

The simplicity of the low-tech 1970s are over ... and all but forgotten. Cathode ray televisions aren't coming back, neither are storyboards on paper, editing machines with sprockets, or 35 mm film. No self-respecting television executive will peer at a production board when there's an animatic with sound effects and music close at hand. As a veteran board artist lamented:

The old, simple storyboards with held poses don't work anymore. Bill Peet, if he were alive, would have to put "101 Dlmations" onto digital story reels with a lot more drawings. If a drawing is on-screen for more than two and a half seconds, production executives get itchy. ...

It's not just a brave new high-tech world for corporations. It's an ever-changing set of challenges for employees as well.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 6

Your flocked, indoor Christmas tree ...

From the middle 1960s. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Buffett Politics

Warren is probably an outlier among most bajillionaires re his political philosophy:

Q: How has your understanding of markets contributed towards your political views?

WB: I wouldn’t say knowledge of markets has. My political views were formed by this process:

Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, “You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. Going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you – determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish, can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What’s the catch?

One catch – just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get – you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. ...

WB: (continued) You have no idea which slip you will get. Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world?

Do you want men to push around females? It’s a 50/50 chance you get female. If you think about the political world, you want a system that gets what people want. You want more and more output because you’ll have more wealth to share around. The US is a great system, turns out $50,000 GDP per capita, 6 times the amount when I was born in just one lifetime.

But not knowing what slip you get, you want a system that once it produces output, you don’t want anyone to be left behind. You want to incentivize the top performers, don’t want equality in results, but do want something that those who get the bad tickets still have a decent life.

You also don’t want fear in people’s minds – fear of lack of money in old age, fear of cost of health care.

I call this the “Ovarian Lottery”. My sisters didn’t get the same ticket. Expectations for them were that they would marry well, or if they work, would work as a nurse, teacher, etc. If you are designing the world knowing 50/50 male or female, you don’t want this type of world for women – you could get female.

Design your world this way; this should be your philosophy. I look at Forbes 400, look at their figures and see how it’s gone up in the last 30 years. Americans at the bottom are also improving, and that is great, but we don’t want that degree of inequality. Only governments can correct that.

Right way to look at it is the standpoint of how you would view the world if you didn’t know who you would be. If you’re not willing to gamble with your slip out of 100 random slips, you are lucky! The top 1% of 7 billion people. Everyone is wired differently. You can’t say you do everything yourself. We all have teachers, and people before us who led us to where we are. We can’t let people fall too far behind. ...

The U.S. stats right now: We have a generous dollop of wealth concentration and income inequality. In my lifetime, the Top Dogs have climbed way higher, and the ratio of top wages to middle wages has expanded by a factor of ten. This is (pretty much) a worldwide phenomenon, and it is helpful in explaining, I think, the roiling unrest around the globe. Egyptians are ticked off, Ukrainians are ticked off, Thais are rioting. (We've even had, so I'm told, a few demonstrations here in the States.)

I'm pretty utilitarian. I want people to do well, but I want the money spread around a bit. Some people keep yelling about the moochers that are sticking it to the successful people, but I often wonder about just who's successful and why. I mean, a hell of a lot of the "successful people" are propped up by the government. Bankers. Big Farmers. Big Oil. I mean, this breakdown is kind of startling: If you're a working stiff making $50,000 per year, $4,000 of your taxes goes for corporate subsidies. You'd almost think the country is as Gore Vidal described it:

"In the U.S., we have socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor."

If you think this is nonsense, then please tell me what the government infusion of 7/10 of a trillion dollars to Wall Street was. It might have saved the GDP from collapsing (and Warren certainly approved) but it was also a massive subsidy to corporate mucky-mucks ... and marked the day when I became a thorough-going, classical Cynic.

If our corporatist state can give $4,000 of middle class taxes to conglomerates, it can damn well spare $60 or $70 for people who really need the dough.
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Continuing Updrafts

Numbers keep expanding.

... As 2013 draws to a close, Adult Swim, Turner Broadcasting’s signature network for young adults, is on track to set new records with its most-watched year in its history among targeted adults 18-34, 18-49 and men 18-34, according to preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research. For the 9th year in a row, Adult Swim also will rank #1 on basic cable in Total Day among adults 18-34 and men 18-34, as well as rank #1 among adults 18-49 and men 18-49. ...

Among Adult Swim’s programming highlights, the Emmy® Award-winning original animated series Robot Chicken (Sundays, 12 a.m.) ranked #1 on basic cable across 2013 in its time period among adults 18-34 & 18-49 and men 18-34 & 18-49. ...

Adult Swim programming – including Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Robot Chicken and American Dad—accounted for 23 of the top 50 telecasts on basic cable this week among adults 18-34, and 25 of the top 50 among men 18-34, both more than any other network.

Adult Swim’s ascendance in the digital arena also continues to climb as the “Adult Swim/Funny or Die Network” ranked #1 this year in the Comscore Humor category among average monthly Unique Visitors: persons 2+ (8.6 million) and men 2+ (5.3 million). Across Adult Swim’s digital platforms, game plays overall grew by 124% vs. 2012 (Omniture, Bango, Facebook, Steam). Adult Swim mobile games reached 55 million app downloads in 2013 to date, boosted by three consecutive #1 apps in the iTunes store—Robot Unicorn Attack 2, Amateur Surgeon 3 and Giant Boulder of Death ...

Some of the above programming isn't made under Animation Guild contracts. Hell, some of the shows aren't even cartoons. But the larger lesson here isn't lost on the fine, entertainment conglomerates who employ so many guild members.

Animation sells, and sells over long periods of time.

This has been true for decades. (Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and Fred Flintstone have been staples inside American culture for fifty years; Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny for eighty and more.) But only recently has mainstream Hollywood figured out that animation can make HUGE buckets of cash.

Until the 1990s, the smart money stayed away from cartoon features because the returns were considered meager, and the organizational headaches large. TV was a low margin sideshow. Disney could make sizable profits from cartoons, but nobody else stood a chance.

Today, that equation has changed. Television animation is cost effective compared to other scripted programming, and if initial margins are narrow, long-term cash flow is steady and continuing. Theatrical CG cartoons are far from cheap, but when even mediocre offerings make $200 million or more, then animation is a business lots of movie studios want to be in.

I started working in animation when the industry was thought of as a sleepy backwater to "real" movie-making. Spielberg was interested in cartoons, but nobody else was. Active Guild membership fell to 700 members in 1989, but the animation boom of the early 1990s soon drove union numbers higher. A lot of rising animation employment happened on the theatrical side, but television animation also expanded. Syndication, cable networks, and prime time cartoons all happened in the nineties.

Here in the 21st century, big-ticket theatrical animation is almost all computer generated because that's what audiences have flocked to see, but a major part of television animation is still hand-drawn. Cartoon distributors keep smacking up against rating numbers that are no better for CG shows than hand-drawn ones. And since hand-drawn shows cost less than their CG cousins, producers keep making hand-drawn TV cartoons.

And they're making a LOT of them. Cartoon Network is bringing new shows into being; ditto for Nickelodeon. And DreamWorks Animation will be hiring staff to make a large number of animated half-hours for Netflix over the next three years. There is (did I mention?) a simple reason for this.

People watch cartoons in ever-increasing numbers.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Buy Back, Pay Back

The Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates reveals a wee bit of its corporate blue-print.

Jay Rasulo says company will use the same blueprint to integrate LucasFilm into its plans

The Walt Disney Company may not be done shopping, Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York on Tuesday.

The media conglomerate has been responsible for some of the biggest entertainment deals in the past decade — plunking down $7.4 billion for Pixar Animation in 2006 and following that up with $4 billion deals for Marvel and LucasFilm in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

However, the company’s recent decision to increase its buyback plans and repurchase $6 billion to $8 billion of stock starting in 2014 made it look as though Disney was done with blockbuster purchases.

“It’s safe to say you’ll continue to see us doing acquisitions in the future,” Rasulo told the Wall Street heavy crowd, advising them to not read too much into the buyback plans. ...

As a wise old animation producer said to me today over lunch:

"Disney is a manager of brands now. It's not in the movie business the way it used to be. These days, it just watches over all the different franchises it owns." ...

The House of Walt has its Lucas division (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, its Marvel division Hulk, Iron Man, Spidey), its small, in-house live-action group, and its cartoon division (Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Toon Studios, Disney Television Animation, Marvel Animation, etc.), the division of amusement parks, and the expansive land of merchandise and games.

And, of course, the broadcast/radio/cable network empire. (ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC, among others.)

It really isn't a studio in the old-time sense of the word, when the animation, live-action features and t.v. shows were hand-crafted at 500 S. Buena Vista Street. When that was 87.2% of what the company was.

All that is so 20th century, that it's quaint.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 5

One more Christmas candle still-life, this one without the textures ...

Heavy on highlights and Christmas reds. Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 09, 2013

Little Silver Disks

A whole lot of animation going on.

Top 10 DVD and Blu-ray sales

1. "Monsters University" (Disney). Week 5.

2. "Turbo" (Fox). Week 3.

3. "Red 2" (Summit Entertainment). Week 1.

4. "Planes" (Disney). Week 2.

5. "Man of Steel" (Warner Bros.). Week 3.

6. "We’re the Millers" (Warner Bros.). Week 2.

7. "The Croods" (Fox). Week 9. ...

Blu-ray and DVD sales have been shrinking for years. (As one of my kids says: "Why get round metal when you can download?")

But the stuff that does sell seems to be animation. The gargantuan numbers of yesteryear are over, but there's still a market for our fine, entertainment conglomerates to be in. And that warms my heart.
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TV Cartoons UP

Good news for Fox:

... With a strong lead-in from NFL overrun (6.0 adults), Fox's animation lineup saw growth across much of the two-hour block. Starting with a steady Simpsons (3.0 adults), Bob's Burgers (2.1 adults) improved half of a point -- while Family Guy (2.6 adults) and American Dad (2.1 adults) both grew by four-tenths from their last originals. Fox averaged a 3.3 rating with adults 18-49 and 8.5 million viewers. ...

Fox-News Corp. has consistently done well with animation. (Well ... done well since losing their Arizona studio a decade ago.)

Fox is the only entertainment conglomerate that's done a deal with the WGAw, and it's paid off big time. The company's Sunday night block of prime-time cartoons has been a ratings winner for a long while, and it looks to continue. Fox has also moved aggressively on the theatrical animation front, releasing the output of Blue Sky Animation Stuiods (which it owns and DreamWorks Animation (which it doesn't ... yet.)

Of course, not everything is rosy. (Nothing ever is.) The flies now swimming in the ointment?

1) Seth MacFarlane is disinclined to produce 22 new episodes of Family Guy going forward. (Eighteen is the number for the upcoming season, and the reason is: he's way busy with other projects and still likes to approve each of the episodes of his signature show. So, eighteen (18) is Mr. M.'s doable number.

2) American Dad is moving to Turner. With fewer episodes, but that isn't Fox Broadcasting's problem. Its problem is ...

3) New "Animation Domination" misfires. Bob's Burgers made the cut, but Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite quickly came and went. Murder Police, with a thirteen episode order, was cancelled before it aired.

The big challenge for Fox is to find solid replacements for its old stalwarts. The Simpsons could well continue for three or four more seasons, but the rest of the lineup is open for change. Finding suitable replacements seems to be an ongoing issue.
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