Wednesday, July 31, 2013

DreamWorks Animation, Television Division

Part II.

DreamWorks Animation has tapped former Nickelodeon executive Marjorie Cohn as its first head of television, overseeing the production and development of the studio's new TV group.

During her 26-year tenure at Viacom's Nickelodeon, Cohn was involved in the creation and production of some of the industry's most successful children's programs, including "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Rugrats," "iCarly" and the Kids' Choice Awards.

In her new job at DreamWorks Animation, Cohn will head up a new TV team at the Glendale-based studio that will develop and produce 1,200 hours of original episodes over the next five years. This production slate will feature TV series that are based on DreamWorks’ current franchises, future films and the most popular heritage properties from Classic Media, which DreamWorks acquired last year. ...

Good news long-term. DreamWorks Animation had a television division eighteen years ago, headquartered in Encino on Ventura Boulevard. That first t.v. division was headed up by Gary Krisel (former head of Disney TVA) but did not last long. The syndication and broadcast markets were changing as it came into existence, and after a couple of series orders DreamWorks Animation Television Uno faded from view.

Back back in the present era, I was this afternoon over at DreamWEorks Animation's Glendale campus, where a new round of feature layoffs have been happening and morale is not upbeat. As one employee said to me:

"I survived 'D Day' [the DWA layoffs that happened early in the year] and H.R. told me that I was good to stay. But now that I'm near the end of my assignment, they're telling me I won't swing onto another picture after all. So I'm getting let go along with other people in my department."

I told the staffer that things change, and it would be good if H.R. could follow through on earler promises, but circumstances change. (Turbo?) I said that at the turn of the century, Disney's animation top-kick Tom Schumacher told a lot of Feature Animation employees that there would be no more department-wide layoffs, that everybody still gainfully employed at the division were safe, and then ...

There were more layoffs.

So it happens. And it usually makes for bruised feelings sour outlooks, but that's the movie bizz: There is often a generous dollop of "It's a business" inside the "We're a family!" happy talk.

In the meantime:

--Dreamworks(DWA_) beat Wall Street estimates as profits surged 75% thanks to The Croods worldwide.

Dreamworks jumped 1.93% to close Wednesday trading at $24.76, extending the animation studio's 2013 advance to 48% this year to date, surpassing the S&P 500 which has tacked on 19% this year.

Second-quarter revenue was expected to climb 16% to $188.9 million, or 20 cents a share, from $162.8 million, or 15 cents.

However, Dreamworks was able to outstrip the forecasts by reporting $213.4 million in revenue. Net income rose to $22.3 million, or 26 cents a share, from $12.8 million, or 15 cents a share. Much of the success in attributed to The Croods. The film brought in $583.9 million worldwide to date, contributing $71.8 million to this quarter's revenue. ...

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We'll file this under "Why animated features keep getting made."

NBCUniversal bigwig Steve Burke said in a conference call that ‘Despicable Me 2’ will become “the single most profitable film in the 100 year history of Universal Studios”. ...

Which explains why every conglomerate is doing animated features, and the ones who've only had a passing interest (Time-Warner, you listening?) are now getting more involved.

Which also explains why TAG has done relatively well during these times of economic flux. We're out on the surfboard, riding the wave.

(You will find Kim Masters interviewing Illumination Entertainment's topkick Chris Meledandri about how he broke into animation here.)
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Walt Peregoy: Drawing!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Timm at Comic-Con

Very nice piece on Bruce Timm in San Diego. On his rumored exit from WBA:

Talk of his departure from the studio stemmed from the announcement at this year's WonderCon that he would no longer produce the line of Warner Brothers' direct-to-DVD animated movies. "It's absolutely not true. I'm still at Warner Brothers, and still happy to be there. This is my 24th year there, which is mind-boggling.

"Somehow, that information translated to 'OMG! Bruce Timm leaves Warner Brothers; Bruce Timm going to Marvel; Bruce Timm doing this and that.'"

Even several months removed from the announcement, Timm is still approached by confused fans. "To this day, fans still come up to me asking, 'So now that you're retired...' and I'm like, 'Dude, I'm not retired!'" ...

I got a couple of calls asking about Mr. Timm leaving Warner Bros. Animation. So I called up Bruce Timm's secretary to ask if he'd left. She said:

"He was here an hour ago. If he left he didn't tell me." ...

And Bruce Timm on his "failures."

... One example Timm gave was not being able to devote enough time to Dick Grayson when they had redesigned the original "Batman: The Animated Series" into "The New Batman Adventures", in which Grayson transitioned not just into Nightwing, but also as a grown man striking it out on his own.

"Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to do a whole lot with that character. He was in only three or four episodes of that run. We had plans to do more with him, but that series got cut short." ...

Go read the whole article. Excellent stuff.
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Travails of the Moving View Master

Three Dee, it seems to be in a bit of trouble.

Americans are putting down their tinted 3D glasses and choosing to see more films in old-fashioned, cheaper two dimensions this summer, according to a report by B. Riley & Co analyst Eric Wold.

Ticket sales for 3D versions of films including last weekend's "The Wolverine" and the recent animated offering "Turbo" hit new lows for the format over the last two weekends, Wold reports, dipping to just 25 percent of the total box office in the case of "Turbo."

"We have become increasingly concerned that these lower levels will actually represent the norm going forward versus a recent exception as consumers are likely to remain increasingly choosy with 3D premiums," Wold wrote in a note to investors. ...

The novelty aspect of three dimensions has lasted a lot longer than it did in the 1950s. Then, the craze was over in eighteen months. This time the format has gone on for years.

This is a lot longer than I imagined it would last. (And, of course, it's still going strong in other parts of the world.)

I saw a lot of 3-D went it first came out. I saw all the early DreamWorks Animation offerings, and thought they were well done. I enjoyed Avatar. I saw Zemeckis's Christmas Carol in the dimensional aspect and found parts of it good and parts of it irritating. But I gave up on the format when, after watching Toy Story 3 with the annoying glasses on a dim screen, my teen-aged son turned to me and said:

"So why is it that we're watching this in 3-D?"

I had no answer. And I haven't seen a 3-D feature -- live-action or animated -- since. I would disagree with Mr. Katzenberg when he compares three dimensions to Technicolor back in the thirties and forties. I don't think there's really any comparison, but everyone is entitled to their own view of the world. Basically, I think 3-D is a gimmick that Americans are getting tired of, particularly when they have to pay extra money to see it.

Nevertheless, Moving View Master will be with us awhile yet, since foreign lands still watch it a lot, and there is money yet to be made. But I don't think it will be the End-All and Be-All of 21st century cinema.
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Complete 2013 Wage Survey

At last!

The median wage rates for a majority of categories are up. (Some, of course, are down. But how could it be otherwise?)

Below, some selected categories:

Median Animation Wages -- 2013 -- (2012)

Directors (features; D-T-V) -- $3,350 -- ($3,552.50)

Directors (TV, etc.) -- $2,593.75 00 ($2,500)

Timing Directors -- $1,987.50 -- (1,884.09)

Story Artists (features, D-T-V) -- $2,200 -- ($1,987)

Production Board -- $1,962 -- ($2,000)

Character Layout -- $1,800 -- ($1,762.33)

Previs Artists -- $1,960 -- ($1,754)

Art Directors -- $2,472.73 -- ($2,400)

Prop Designers -- $1,769.68 -- ($1,725)

Tech Directors -- $1,800 -- ($1,563.65)

Riggers -- $1,868.50 -- ($1,328.68)

Surfacers/Cloth & Hair -- $2,150 -- ($2,160.70)

Staff Writers (TV) -- $2,100 -- ($2,202.50) ...

Most categories had a 20% (or more) response rate. Writers had an overall 9% response, and producers, a 12% rate.

The three highest categories were Story Art (response: 36%), Design/Color (response: 35%), and Layout/Background (response: 34%). These were out of a total of 3,585.

This year and last, the return of surveys has gone up. (24% to over 26%.) For the complete survey, go here. Overall, there wasn't a lot of movement in the wage totals. Some of the biggest swings occurred in job classifications with the lowest response rates.

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T.V. Animation Successes!

Diz has reupped a #1 show. There's a surprise.

Disney Channel is going for a second round of Gravity Falls. It’s TV’s No. 1 animated series across Kids 2-11 (2 million viewers/5.1), Kids 6-11 (1.6 million/6.7) and Tweens 9-14 (1.3 million/5.4). ...

But if you want to talk about a REALLY big deal ...

Twenty-four years after its premiere, The Simpsons is finally going to get an off-network syndication sale on cable. Twentieth Television, the syndication arm of 20th Century Fox TV, is preparing to take out the monster property to cable networks. The plan, first reported by TVGuide, would allow the longest-running entertainment series currently on TV for the first time to air simultaneously in cable and broadcast syndication.

When The Simpsons, a rare broadcast animated series, was sold in broadcast syndication in 1993 as cable TV was still in its infancy, the stations that bought it were in position to secure exclusivity while the show was on Fox’s air. Other series with similar deals are long gone, but The Simpsons has kept going, periodically raising the issue of lost revenue from a potential cable sale in a time where a combo broadcast and cable off-network sales is the norm. ... Twentieth TV’s pacts with broadcast stations have been gradually tweaked over the years to allow the carving out of a cable window that will not impact the broadcast syndie run. A cable sale, which could fetch as much as $1 billion for the 530 episodes and counting, also won’t have an impact on Fox’s future plans for The Simpsons, which can continue on the network while airing in broadcast and cable off-network syndication.

The Simpsons has been a mint of gargantuan proportions for News Corp. and Gracie Films since the time of Bill Clinton's first inauguration. It's been a worldwide hit for almost as long, and toys, t-shirts, games, and ongoing DVD collections have all contributed to the flood of money. (I once did a back-of-the envelope calculation on the bucks pulled in by domestic sales of The Simpsons' little silver disks, and figured it had to be around $150 million of pure profit in the U.S. alone. And that dough was just one corner of the top of a mammoth iceberg.)

The syndication deal will pull in lots more cash. I'm sure all the stakeholders will be delighted. And maybe the artists will get to work a few more seasons. Win-win!

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Analysts think DWA's margins will widen.

Wall Street is expecting higher profit for DreamWorks Animation DWA -0.72% when the company reports its second quarter results on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. The consensus estimate is calling for profit of 20 cents a share, a rise from 15 cents per share a year ago.

The consensus estimate has risen from 10 cents over the past three months. Analysts are expecting earnings of 74 cents per share for the fiscal year. Revenue is projected to be $189.7 million for the quarter, 17% above the year-earlier total of $162.8 million. For the year, revenue is expected to come in at $745.7 million. ...

So maybe restructuring and broadening the business model is paying off. Here's hoping. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Foreign Accumulations

Cartoons are making nice coin here and around the world.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- WORLDWIDE TOTALS

#1 -- Wolverine -- $86,100,000 -- $141,100,000

#2 -- Despicable Me 2 -- $24,500,000 -- $660,912,945

#4 -- Turbo -- $12,500,000 -- $98,567,998

#8 -- Monsters University -- $15,600,000 -- $576,945,000

It looks as through MU will do somewhat better than DWA's The Croods, which accumulated $582,651,619 in theatrical grosses after 129 days in release. Click here to read entire post

Cartoon Wars

Apparently there's a wee bit of rivalry in TV land.

Last night Fox entered the late-night animated comedy space with the launch of Animation Domination High-Def, and incumbent Adult Swim had something to say about it. In a stealth move through local buys as it was done without Fox’s knowledge, the Turner network aired two ads, one at 11:30 PM after the two ADHD premieres of High School USA and Axe Cop, and one at midnight, following the encores of the two animated debuts. The stripped-down ads featured words on black screen, with elevator music in the background.

“The preceding content has been a work of fiction,” the first ad, which followed the ADHD premieres. (Video below.) “Any resemblance to networks, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Pay close attention to the label. Many suitcases look alike. You may find yourself at a beautiful network with a beautiful suitcase. You may ask yourself: How did I get here? [adult swim]” The second: “Congratulations to the crew at ADHD on the launch of their new shows. We wish you all the best…. Nice place you got here… How are the kids?… Great, Great stuff. We’re going to go home now [adult swim].” ...

We say: The more rivalry, the more publicity. And the more publicity, the more eyeballs. And eyeballs mean ratings, which means more employed artists to create content. Long live battles royal, particulalry if it means that the marketplace expands.

... [T]he 11-11:30 PM ADHD debut posted a 0.5 among adults 18-49. That was half of the 1.1 rating that the special primetime ADHD preview scored last Sunday and a fraction of Fox’s more mainstream fare in the slot in the last decade, like MadTV. Vs. its new main competitor, Adult Swim, ADHD couldn’t top some of Adult Swim’s strongest performers like Robot Chicken and Childrens Hospital but was roughly on par with the cable block’s average.
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Saturday, July 27, 2013

From Sperm to Fertilization ...

To Birth ... through tumultuous Life ... to The End.

As told via a whole lot of movies.

(You can click on any frame to see THAT particular clip. ...)

There's animation sprinkled throughout, and I thought the whole package hypnotic. But maybe I'm just jet-lagged.

h/t The Big Picture (which got it from Slate.)
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The Weekend Dog Race

Wolverine doesn't have quite the awesome box office that Fox News Corp. was hoping for. Still in all, it stands snarling at the top of the heap.

1. The Wolverine 3D (20th Century Fox) NEW [Runs 3,924] PG13 Friday $20.5M, Weekend $55.0M

2. The Conjuring (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,022] R Friday $7.3M (-57%), Weekend $24.3M, Cume $86.0M

3. Despicable Me 2 3D (Illumination/Universal) Week 4 [Runs 3,476] PG Friday $4.8M, Weekend $16.0M, Cume $306.3M

4. Turbo 3D (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) Week 2 [Runs 3,809] Friday $4.0M (-39%), Weekend $13.1M, Cume $55.5M

5. Grown Ups 2 (Columbia/Sony) Week 3 [Runs 3,258] PG13 Friday $3.6M, Weekend $11.4M, Cume $101.5M

6. Red 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 2 [Runs 3,016] PG13 Friday $2.7M (-57%), Weekend $8.7M, Cume $34.4M

7. Pacific Rim 3D (Legendary/Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 2,602] PG13 Friday $2.2M, Weekend $7.3M, Cume $83.8M

8. The Heat (Twentieth Century Fox) Week 5 [Runs 2,384] R Friday $2.0M, Weekend $6.8M, Cume $141.1M

9. R.I.P.D. 3D (Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,850] PG13 Friday $1.8M (-62%), Weekend $5.8M, Cume $24.2M

10. Fruitvale Station (Weinstein) Week 3 [Runs 1,064] R Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.1M, Cume $5.8M ...

Monsters U. has now fallen out of the Top Ten to #12, with a running total (as of Friday) of $253,416,000.

Add On: DM2 continues to outperform:

“Despicable Me 2” keeps rolling up the box office dough. The animated kids film crossed the $300 million mark domestically in its fourth week and is now the second-highest grossing movie of the year, behind only “Iron Man 3.” And it has brought in more than $660 million worldwide for Universal and Illumination Entertainment.

DreamWorks Animation’s family film “Turbo” couldn’t catch the minions despite dropping just 36 percent from its first week, and the snail tale has now taken in $56 million in two weeks of domestic release for distributor Fox. ...
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Musical Chairs

The churn in the VFX business continues.

Digital Domain 3.0, the post-bankruptcy incarnation of the Venice, Calif.-based visual effects company ... has yet another new owner.

Sun Innovation, a publicly traded Hong Kong company, has acquired the parent company of Galloping Horse U.S., which bought 70% of Digital Domain in the bankruptcy auction last September. Reliance MediaWorks will retain the remaining 30%.

Sun has not acquired Beijing Galloping Horse, which has apparently shed its majority stake in its former partner, DD, only 10 months after acquiring it. However, Galloping Horse appears to have turned a tidy profit on the investment. DD sold for a total of $30.2 million out of the bankruptcy auction. Sun paid $50.5 million for Galloping Horse U.S., whose main asset was its stake in Digital Domain. ...

So a quick $20 million profit has resulted. Visual effects studios seem to equal poker chips just now.

And how did the profit-margin happen?

The Galloping Horse-Reliance ownership, in the words of the Sun filing, “implemented a series of stringent cost control measures” at Digital Domain, “including among others, (i) reducing the number of unutilized production employees without jeopardizing the fluency of workflow; (ii) dismissing employees who have unsatisfactory performance,” and “implementing stricter cost control on other expenditures such as equipment purchases and office supplies.” The phrase “stringent cost controls” appears 10 times in the filing.

Salaries, benefits and staffing levels at DD were slashed following the bankruptcy. ...

When in doubt, slash wages and bennies. That always increases profits.
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Friday, July 26, 2013

SIGGRAPH Postmortem

* The IATSE Booth Crew: yours truly, Michael Chambliss (Local 600), Dusty Kelly (Local 891), and Rob Callahan (Local 700)

Today marks my first day back to the office after helping wave the IATSE flag at the SIGGRAPH convention. This year saw the most support for visual effects unionization than any other conference I've attended. I talked myself horse on the exhibit floor, witnessed vfx artists openly signing rep cards at the booth, and honored to take part in two discussions that focused on improving conditions at the workplace.

It's no surprise that this was such a hot topic. With the Rhythm and Hues bankruptcy and sale, as well as the decision by Digital Domain to copy Imageworks and move their feature work to Vancouver*, Los Angeles artists are panicking and believe "all the work is leaving". Times like these tend to give discussions of improving conditions and establishing protections a boost in interest.

The first of the two discussions I participated in took place on Tuesday morning. Besides myself, the panel was made up of David Cohen (author and distinguished columnist from Variety), Bill Gillman and Mariana Acuña Acosta (VFX artists and VFX Town Hall founders), Scott Squires (VFX Supervisor and VES Board Member) and TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito. What I thought was going to be a discussion on where the industry is headed turned into two hours of Union questions. I was overjoyed to interact with a packed room of people with questions and concerns, as well as a panel of experts that have as much experience as they do.

The second discussion took place Thursday afternoon. I was again sitting with pillars of the community: Dave Rand (TAG member, VFX artist and union supporter), Scott Squires, Scott Ross (legendary VFX industry executive) and David Yocis of the law firm Picard Kentz & Rowe. This discussion was moderated by Jim Hillin (TAG member and VFX professional). The two Scott's opened the panel by giving a portion of their NAB "State of the Industry" presentation. Dave Rand then presented his "Thoughts of the Future" which focused on his desire to inspire and educate vfx artists on taking control of their destinies.

The floor was then given to Mr. Yocis who discussed his appointment by VFX Soldier to conduct a feasibility study on the best approach to defeat the prevalent entertainment tax subsidies in production. Mr. Yocis and the firms suggestion of utilizing the Countervailing Duties laws was the focus of the rest of our discussion and offered explanations to the law firms results.

I left feeling that another milestone has been reached in the effort to bring unionization to the visual effects industry. I hope the IATSE sees fit to ask me to attend next year's conference in Vancouver. I would relish the opportunity to continue fostering discussions and raising awareness of the best option available to visual effects artists seeking to better their conditions as well as making important and lasting change in the industry.

* I can only hope Digital Domain follows Imagework's example. SPI had hundreds of artists working in Culver City for months on Smurfs 2 and Cloudy 2. How's that for "its all going away"?
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Levitow collection goes to AMPAS

The family of the late ABE LEVITOW (left), director of Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth, has donated his collection of animation art to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

From Variety:

The gift, from Levitow’s children Roberta, Judy and Jon, announced Thursday, features animation cels, backgrounds, storyboards, graphic art materials and related film prints. Along with the more than 500 pieces of original production art, the collection contains scripts and sound recordings.

Levitow began his career at the Chuck Jones unit at Warners, where he animated on a number of shorts including the Oscar-winning For Scent-imental Reasons. His work at UPA included 1001 Arabian Nights and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Later he worked in the Tom and Jerry unit at MGM. Levitow died in 1975 at the age of fifty-two.

According to the Hollywood Reporter:

All of the production materials may be accessed by filmmakers, historians, journalists, students and the public at the library, located in the Academy’s Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills. Many of the pieces in the Levitow Collection are available for viewing online through the library’s Production Art Database.
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Sam Simon

Others knew of this, but not me. (I found out late last night.) One of the long-time pillars of The Yellow Family has health issues.

The co-creator of “The Simpsons” never imagined he would earn tens of millions of dollars from the show’s royalties when it launched in 1989, but as Sam Simon, 58, faces a terminal diagnosis, he’s decided to give it nearly all away.

When he was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer, the comedic genius behind "Taxi" and "The Drew Carey Show" was given three to six months to live. Simon has wasted no time mulling over his fate, and has decided to focus his waning days on carving out his philanthropic legacy by leaving most of his fortune to the causes he cares for most, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"In the hospital, right after that [colon surgery], I realized I had to start making plans," Simon told TMZ about when he decided to make such a benevolent contribution.

There's a staffer at Film Roman who has pictures up of Sam at different Emmy awards functions. In al the pictures Mr. Simon is tall and robust.

I'm sorry to find out about Sam Simon's terminal cancer. Disney storyboard wizard Vance Gerry died of the same disease a few years ago. I always find it bum* when somebody with powerful creative chops gets taken too soon. I can't avoid thinking, What would they have contributed if they'd had another month ... year ... decade?

* And yeah, it's a down-trip when anyone dies young.
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IA Convention Travel Day

Today is Exit Boston day, and I don't know how much blogging I'm going to get done. But here's the skinny on yesterday's session: ...

IATSE President Loeb and the entire slate of IA officers were nominated without opposition, and so by "white ballot" commence new four-year terms:

International President Matthew D. Loeb was re-elected by acclamation this morning to serve another four-year term in the position he has held since 2008. The vote came during the last session of the IATSE’s 67th Quadrennial Convention being held here for the past week at the Boston Sheraton Hotel. Over 800 delegates from nearly 400 locals in the U.S. and Canada contributed to the unanimous and vocal support for President Loeb and the General Executive Board, which was also re-elected. Loeb and his slate, known popularly as “Matt’s Team,” ran unopposed.

In addition to General Secretary-Treasurer James Wood, the slate includes 13 International Vice Presidents, three trustees, and the delegate to the Canadian Labor Congress. During the last four years, Loeb has engineered successful organizing drives across the seven departments of the IA, increased training and emphasized the importance of safer working conditions, led the membership in supporting labor-friendly political candidates, and opened lines of communication through social media.

This isn't unusual for most of the IA conventions I've attended over the years. Sometimes there are contested offices inside the International, but most times not. (You would have to go back decades to find a real electoral brawl at one of the conventions. I haven't seen it in the time I've been a delegate, but then I'm green and inexperienced in these matters.)

We wrap up later today, then conventioneers begin traveling home.
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Thursday, July 25, 2013


Fox continues to focus on out-Disneying Disney.

It's a fast, crazy, cheap, out-of-control approach to animation. At least that's how Animation Domination High-Def's spark-plug creative director Ben Jones describes the work his team is doing as part of Fox's new Saturday night comedy block.

"We don't really take pitches, per se," Jones says. "We're just really passionate about talent, ideas, people and things we love."

Those things include Axe Cop and High School USA!, two new comedies that previewed in prime time Sunday night to 2.4 million viewers. ...

What they're not passionate about is paying guild wages and benefits.

The ADHD studio on Sunset is staffed with a combination of young up-and-comers and veterans. It pays less than other L.A. tv studios, but TAG will be working to change that. If News Corp. can pay full freight for their other television shows, why not ADHD?
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Dave's Letter to the DGA

Brother Rand (as usual) comes up with insightful stuff.

...The largest cost in visual effects is not labor it is waste due to lack of live pure direction.

Wasted time, wasted money, and even worse, wasted creativity. On the traditional movie set the meter is always on. Each second costs money. The director is compelled to be present at all costs. Like author to reader. For a century directors have been in the same human space as the talent on the set, and the focus is paramount and sharp. Waste is minimized. The pace is lively. Creativity is nurtured. The story is pure. It feels human. ...


Communication in visual effects is no longer live, it’s gone in vitro. It’s long been known that a baby can recognize a human face at birth. No one knows why. This very first human communication is one clue of many to the depths of our innate ability to communicate. You could raise your children by video conference, but you’d pay a price. ...

The director is no longer required to be involved with the visual effects talent. They are spoon fed their monthlies from the black box by a creative hierarchy. They are just an occasional spectator. Direction has been subcontracted and lost. Stories are manufactured assembly line style based on last years best selling model, and all out of fear instead of creativity. ...

Studios used to hire and manage their own visual effects artists. Some still do, the feature animation studios, focus is often great, bidding is replaced by budgets. Outsourcing and chasing subsidies is being attempted but not depended on, not yet anyway. All the large feature production studios, however, abandoned the in-house team completely for an outsourcing model, they may have given the appearance of managing risk, but they’ve abandoned so much of what was working. ...

I’ve been on teams and organized teams where the director is present on a daily basis as some of our directors really get this, and the ones that do are the most successful. The difference is ASTOUNDING. It does not take much effort. I’ve organized the visual effects crews for successful shows with one of your great directors that came in at one half of the lowest bidder from subsidized areas while working without subsidies on billable hours, director present, not all day, but every day walking amongst the artists, even sitting besides them working on shots, just for the sheer fun of it.

You do not have to sit there “watching paint dry” but if you do not personally witness the creation on a daily basis with the actual artists making it, you will be witness to money, value, creativity, and profits burning. ...

Robert Heinlein, science fiction writer, advised budding novelists:

Write your story right the first time. If you're going to be a working writer, you don't have time to do it over and over. ...

Darryl Zanuck could only get Fox's board of directors to okay production on "How Green Was My Valley" by lowering "Valley's" production budget and assigning the movie to John Ford, who was famous shooting one to three takes. (William Wyler, the original director, was famous for doing thirty or forty takes, which made the movie a tad more expensive.)

One thing I've learned about the animation industry is that labor costs are important, but good management is more important. Make a picture once (the Chris Meladandri/Illumination Entertainment model) and you can create a highly successful animated feature.

Make a picture multiple times (the Pixar model) and you can also get a highly successful animated feature. But you spend a lot more money creating it.

I'm old-fashioned. I'm in favor of good management and good wages. When you have both, you get quality, cost-efficient movies.
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Next Tuesday, an evening with Tom Sito

The general membership meeting on Tuesday, July 30 will feature a discussion with TOM SITO, the Guild's President Emeritus and author of the new book, Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation.

Computer graphics has changed the way we experience the art of moving images. Computer graphics are the difference between Steamboat Willie and Buzz Lightyear, between ping pong and PONG. It began in 1963 when an MIT graduate student named Ivan Sutherland created the first true computer animation program. Instead of presenting a series of numbers, Sutherland’s Sketchpad program drew lines that created recognizable images. Sutherland noted: “Since motion can be put into Sketchpad drawings, it might be exciting to try making cartoons.” Moving Innovation, the first full-length history of CG, shows us how Sutherland’s seemingly offhand idea grew into a multibillion-dollar industry.

Sito is the author of Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions. At the meeting, Sito will be available to answer questions and autograph his book. The meeting will also feature a discussion of the upcoming officers' election.

The meeting will be held at the Guild's offices at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. Pizza and refreshments will be served at 6:30 pm followed by the meeting at 7 pm.
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wage survey: The first numbers

Below the fold, we have some very preliminary numbers on the 2013 wage survey.

For comparison purposes, all numbers have been adjusted to a forty-hour week.

minimum: $1,562.50
median: $2,000.00
maximum: $4,300.00
2012 median: $2,202.50
change: -$202.50

minimum: $1,375.00
median: $2,593.75
maximum: $4,510.00
2012 median: $2,500.00
change: +$93.75

minimum: $1,250.00
median: $2,200.00
maximum: $4,000.00
2012 median: $1,987.00
change: +$213.00

minimum: $1,091.59
median: $1,961.26
maximum: $3,137.00
2012 median: $2,000.00
change: -$38.74

minimum: $1,050.00
median: $2,130.50
maximum: $3,300.00
2012 median: $2,100.00
change: +$30.50

minimum: $1,075.52
median: $2,064.00
maximum: $3,250.00
2012 median: $1,913.16
change: +$150.84

minimum: $1,258.18
median: $2,100.00
maximum: $2,700.00
2012 median: $1,911.77
change: +$188.23

All numbers are subject to adjustment and change in the final tally.

The final numbers should be ready sometime next week, at which time they'll be posted on the website and linked on the blog and the e-mail list, and they'll also appear in the August Peg-Board.
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Animation Caucus

Here in Boston on Tuesday, TAG held an Animation Caucus for IATSE Convention delegates. Summarized, the caucus presentation included:

* A brief history of unionized animation:
* One of first attempts to unionize an animation studio -- the Fleischer Strike (New York) in 1937.
* First Hollywood animation studios organized -- 1940-41.
* Local 839 formed -- 1951-52. Today represents 80% of L.A. animation employees in t.v. and movies. ...

* Theatrical animated features are the most profitable type of feature.

* In 1965, The Animation Guild represented 1500 animation employees.
* Covered 95% of television animation.
* Covered 98% theatrical animation in L.A.
* Covered 97% of t.v. animation based in L.A.

* In 2013, The Animation Guild represents 2670 animation employees.
* Covers 75% of t.v. animation in L.A.
* Covers 88% of theatrical animation in L.A.

* In 2013, far less of the animation industry is based in Los Angeles than in 1965, but the U.S. (and global) animation business is far larger than in 1965. (The reason that TAG's total membership is larger.)

* Visual Effects was mostly unionized prior to digital effects. Miniatures and matte painting were produced on studio lots by union employees, or at unionized (analog effects houses). Work was photographed on film.

* Since the early 1990s, when effects went digital, VFX work has left studio lots and unionized companies and become non-union, sub-contracting work.

* Today, the business model for visual effects is a sub-contracting model:
* Studios/conglomerates put visual effects work out for bid to sub-contractors;
* VFX studios low-ball their price to secure work;
* As a result, many VFX sub-contractors have gone out of business.

* Visual effects are no longer part of the unionized production process.

* Experienced CGI employees, in great demand in the 1990s, no longer command the wages and benefits of eighteen years ago because the labor supply has caught up with the market's demand. CG work is still expanding, but the talent pool is much larger. More abuses (and lower wages) for CG employees have resulted.

* CG animation, live-action visual effects, and video games are all produced on the same hardware and software, by many of the same employees, [to wit:

... Even as major studios cut back on the number of movies they release, the growth of the video games sector has been a welcome reprieve for California's visual effects industry, which has been hard hit by outsourcing and global competition. Two of California's most prominent visual-effects companies filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors in the last year, at least in part because of reductions in work from the major studios.

But the fast-growing video-game industry has been picking up some of the slack, creating new growth opportunities for local effects houses. Their services are increasingly in demand as game companies look to create more realistic, movie-like images in response to consumer demand. ... ]

* High-end animated features, while being the most profitable movies, have been high cost.
* In the late 1930s, Disney features were, minute for minute, among the most expensive movies made.
* Snow White cost $2.2 million and ran 84 minutes. Adventures or Robin Hood cost $2.25 million and ran 110 minutes.
* Pinocchio cost $3.25 million and ran 86 minutes. Gone With the Wind cost $4.25 million and ran 3 hours, 42 minutes.
* Today, high-end CG animated features cost from $74 million (Despicable Me 2) to $185 million (Brave). Minute for minute, they are still high-cost productions.

* Visual effects workers were libertarian in the 1990s, and saw little need to be in a union. In 2013, wages have fallen and abuses have grown. Many CG employees are abused. The CG culture and outlook has changed as market conditions have changed. Today CG employees are more receptive to unionization, although labor unions have a long way to go to organize the industry.

* The game industry is another area that could use labor unions; however, TAG and other unions have less leverage in games than they do in television and movie production.
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bad New For the Minions

The Middle Kingdom has flipped the small yellow guys the Middle Finger.

"Despicable Me 2" has been denied a theatrical release in China, TheWrap has learned.

It is not clear why the country rejected the film and whether it had to do with censorship issues, but the Universal film -- a juggernaut at the global box office -- will not get a chance to crack the second largest film market in the world, according to a Chinese film executive. ...

This will cut into the picture's total take. (Maybe they should have put a panda in it.) Click here to read entire post

Netflix Not Worried

... So they say.

Netflix isn’t sweating the underwhelming performance from the latest offering at the box office by DreamWorks Animation, which struck a pair of deals with the streaming service beginning in 2011.

While acknowledging that new animated movie “Turbo” opened a “little soft,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos stuck up for DWA. “I’m very comfortable with DreamWorks performance at the box office,” he said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call Monday. ...
Sarandos waxed hopeful. “Turbo” had the momentum to transition to a serial [Turbo F.A.S.T.]. ”Iconic characters tend to last a long time ,way beyond opening weekend box office performance,” he said ...

Whether having a snail as the leading man of a movie was an inspired idea or not, the snail picture is now out and everyone has to work with that reality. The feature, with an "A" Cinemascore and more than decent reviews, didn't get enough eyeballs into U.S. and Canadian theaters on opening weekend, and pulled better audience numbers overseas.

To date, Turbo has taken in $33,719,154 domestically, not great by DWA's historical standards, but it's going full bore in foreign markets:

... Lazard Capital’s Barton Crockett ... raised his international box office estimate for Turbo by 10% to $351M observing that this weekend’s results in countries including Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Thailand were higher than he expected. ...

So why not better stateside? Who knows? Bambi, a tale about another forest creature who went fast, didn't open well either. Netflix isn't overly concerned.
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The best of times, the worst of times...

Saying that it is both an “incredible and the worst” time for animation, director Henry Selick -- whose credits include the Oscar-nominated stop motion films Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas -- warned that high budgets and box office pressures mean animation directors “can’t afford” to take risks.
-- Hollywood Reporter

Selick spoke at the keynote panel for this year's SIGGRAPH computer graphics convention, held at the Anaheim Convention Center. The panel also served as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual Marc Davis Lecture. Other panelists included Pete Docter, Chris Sanders, David Silverman, Ron Clements, Eric Goldberg, Kevin Lima, Mike Mitchell and Kirk Wise.
The panelists’ work of course ranges from CG to hand drawn to stop motion animation. Goldberg was applauded when he pointed out that “no matter where we ended up, all of us did hand drawn films at one point, because we needed to know those principles. My advice is never ignore the technology, but doing forget what [it] took to get there.”
SIGGRAPH runs through Thursday.
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Monday, July 22, 2013


As it's so eloquently put on their website:

Now in its 40th year, the SIGGRAPH conference is the premier international event on computer graphics and interactive techniques. SIGGRAPH 2013 is expected to draw more than 20,000 professionals from five continents to Anaheim, California.

I've been attending the SIGGRAPH conference since the late 90's when I started working in VFX. I've always enjoyed meandering through the exhibition hall to gawk at the new updates and technology that is typically shown there. It's only in the last few that I started to appreciate the "conference" part of the conference by attending discussions and presentations.

This year, I'll be spending most of my time at the IATSE Exhibit Hall booth along with reps from Local 600, Local 700 and Local 891. Here's a map of the exhibit hall highlighting the IA booth.

I'm also participating in two discussions: a Birds of a Feather discussion called From Golden Statue to Pink Slip: A Conversation on the State of the Industry, and a panel discussion called The State of the Visual Effects Industry.

If you're planning to attend the conference, stop by any of those and say hello.

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The final count ...

962 surveys received, 26.2% of the total sent.

Congratulations to the participants!

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Biting the Dust

Crest Animation (India), it has problems, yes?

One the country's largest animation companies is on the brink of closure. On Saturday, Crest Animation Studio, Ghatkopar, asked most its employees to leave as it was unable to pay them. The 250-odd animators however refused to quit and demanded they be paid their dues, which have been pending for the past nine months, leading to a stalemate between the cash-strapped firm and its equally broke employees.

In the evening, employees finally left for the day but not before they roped in Maharashtra Navnirman Workers Sena to keep a check on the managment and ensure they did not shut shop overnight, leaving them high and dry. ...

Which probably means that Crest Animation Burbank (California) has problems or will close.

Crest Animation made some animated features that didn't succeed in the marketplace, and now (apparently) is in receivership.

As VFX Soldier relates:

... [There has been] a combination of problems in India’s VFX & animation industry this year: R+H’s bankruptcy, Prime Focus running very low on cash late 2012, Reliance Mediaworks continuing to blow money away year after year, and outright fraud by bogus industry reports of growth and crooked education facilities. ...

Regardless of failed business models, it's always tough when employees lose their jobs, and also don't get paid. Our sympathies to the staff of Crest Animation.
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your Foreign B.O.

Cartoons are doing well.

And the cartoon about a speed-racing snail is doing weller than it is in the U.S. of A.

"Despicable Me 2" was the No. 1 film at the worldwide box office for the third week running, as the minions added another $35.4 million from overseas this weekend.

That ups its international total to $308 million and pushes it past the lifetime international gross of the original, which took in $293 million from abroad in 2010. Combined with its U.S. gross of $276 million, “Despicable Me 2” is now at $587 million worldwide. ...

DreamWorks Animation’s 3D family film “Turbo” brought in a solid $22.6 million from 28 markets for distributor Fox, roughly a quarter of its eventual foreign rollout. ...

CARTOONS! -- Weekend International Take -- (Worldwide Total)

Despicable Me 2 -- $35,400,000 -- ($584,559,235)

Monsters University -- $20,700,000 -- ($532,898,000)

Turbo -- $22,600,000 -- ($53,802,579)
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Too Much Time On His Hands


... [Jon] Negroni suggests that everything in every Pixar film takes place in one universe, albeit at different periods in this universe's history. Magic unearthed in Brave – the stuff that turns Emma Thompson's character into a bear – ultimately evolves and spreads, creating the talking fish of Finding Nemo and every other human-like animal in Pixar's universe. Technology developed by the villain in The Incredibles kick-starts a world with self-aware toys like Buzz Lightyear and chatty cars like Lightning McQueen. ...

Immensely complex. And pretty dumb.

A couple of lifetimes ago, I was in a college literature class studying one of the novels of author John Barth.

The book was thick, and complicated, and not one of my favorite pieces of literature. But it was assigned reading, so I read it.

One of the more ambitious students was more enthusiastic than I was, and wrote a long letter to Barth detailing a loong analysis of the novel (which was The Sot-Weed Factor). She told Barth what a genius he was, what she knew he was trying to get at in his 850 page story, what a brilliant, allegorical world he was creating and what each of the characters in it actually symbolized.

She set all this down in great detail, tying each player in the story back to John Barth's main theme, and how he had created a very rich universe.

By and by, Mr. Barth wrote her back a letter on heavy stock paper with a University's letterhead. He had her name and address typed at the top, a salutation, and then these five words:


Yours sincerely, John Barth

The same thing is happening with the Pixar canon. Mr. Negroni is up in his bedroom building a universe out of his own head, and putting it on the internet. Only now the media -- also with too much time on its hands -- has picked up on the story. And bored the rest of us with it.
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Saturday, July 20, 2013


Warner Bros. has been doing animated versions of their super hero catalog way longer than Disney, and rolled out upcoming product at Comic Con (doesn't everybody?)

Warner Bros. took the opportunity to announce its 2014 DC Universe Animated Original Movie to those in attendance at the Con.

In addition to the recently announced Justice League: War - which is based upon Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's first New 52 story arc, Justice League: Origin - Warner Bros. plans to release two Dark Knight-themed movies in Son of Batman, an adaptation of Grant Morrison's 2006 comic book arc Batman & Son which reintroduced Damian Wayne into mainstream DC continuity, and Batman: Assault on Arkham, which is said to take place within the world of the Arkham video game franchise. ...

Lately I've read columnists that rend their garments about Disney being in "decline" because it, you know, has diluted its central brand by purchasing Lucasfilm, Marvel and other non-Disney things. (Pixar was pretty much Disney before it was Disney.)

But that's kind of like complaining that San Francisco has been ruined because of the big sky scrapers and lack of cable car lines running up and down the steep hills.

All these things are true in their way, but the Mouse's stock price is up and the company is making boatloads of money and it just isn't a simple little Burbank cartoon and film studio anymore. So yeah, the brand has been ruined/transformed (choose one) now that we live in the 21st century.

The Mouse house is now a clearing house, deal with it:

While a future dominated by Star Wars and Iron Man might make Disney more profitable, it could also mean a future where Disney releases movies that could have been made by any studio — and in many cases, used to be made by other studios. ...

All things change.

Warner Bros. (a.k.a. Time-Warner) doesn't have Disney's "strong brand" handicap to make lovers of the old days weep. It's been a hybrid film-cable-game company for freaking decades, with nobody whining that WB execs are wrecking the fine Bette Davis-Jimmy Cagney-Errol Flynn-Humphrey Bogart heritage from seventy years ago. Nobody but 38,575 film geeks even remember, let alone care. So Warner Bros. is free to make its cartoons, super hero features, and action blockbusters without somebody lamenting the sadness of the loss of the good old times.

Conglomerates don't have anything to do except make money. Artistic heritages, be they Bugs Bunny or hand-drawn features, are only useful if they create large profits.
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Now It Can Be Told

Disney TV Animation made an announcement this day.

Announced today at Comic Con, Disney animated hit series Phineas and Ferb is planing another company-wide crossover, this time with Lucasfilm. The series creators are palnning "an epic ode to Star Wars" now in production.

A one hour event episode will premiere next year on Disney Channel and Disney XD. According to the press release, "It places the characters of Phineas and Ferb in the same space and time as the world of Star Wars.

The announcement was made today by Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, creators and executive producers of "Phineas and Ferb" and ardent Star Wars fans, at Comic-Con International in San Diego. ...

Where else to announce it but Comic Con?

A well-kept secret, as we can see.
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Late July Steeple Chase

Turbo at #5, per the Nikkster:

1. The Conjuring (New Line/Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 2,903] R Friday $16.5M, Weekend $39.0M

2. Despicable Me 2 (Illumination/Universal) Week 3 [Runs 3,820] PG Friday $7.5M (-44%), Weekend $24.0M, Cume $275.0M

3. Grown Ups 2 (Columbia/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,491] PG13 Friday $6.5M (-60%), Weekend $20.0M, Cume $79.5M

4. Red 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 3,016] PG13 Friday $6.2M, Weekend $18.0M

5. Turbo (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) Week [Runs 3,806] PG Friday $6.0M, Weekend $19.0M, Cume $27.7M

6. Pacific Rim (Legendary/Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,285] PG13 Friday $4.8M, Weekend $16.0M, Cume $68.0M

7. R.I.P.D. (Universal) NEW [Runs 2,852] PG13 Friday $4.8M, Weekend $12.0M

8. The Heat (Twentieth Century Fox) Week 4 [Runs 2,689] R Friday $2.9M, Weekend $9.5M, Cume $129.5M

9. Monsters University (Pixar/Disney) Week 5 [Runs 2,186] G Friday $1.6M, Weekend $5.3M, Cume $249.3M

10. World War Z (Paramount) Week 5 [Runs 2,066] PG13 Friday $1.5M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $186.8M

On the one hand, there are three animated features in the Top Ten. On the other hand, Turbo is under-performing so maybe it's good to be a hot sequel when the field is a wee bit crowded.

Animated features with mollusks don't seem to connect well with the general public. Who knew?
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Last chance for your wage survey

As of today, 935 surveys received -- 26.1% of those sent.

Today at 5 pm is the deadline for us to receive paper surveys, so unless you're driving it over here in the next 2½ hours, you'll have to post it online to make the ultimate deadline of 8 am PDT on Monday, July 22.

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Baby Disney

DWA charts a new course.

[Turbo marks] the beginning of an era where DWA depends less on box-office and more on TV, video games, theme parks and merchandising.

The film is tracking from $30 million to $35 million over its five-day opening weekend, a lower-than-desired result for the company. ... DWA is at work on Turbo-based TV series, which will premiere on Netflix in December. Though not the company's first small-screen foray, the Turbo deal augured a far more ambitious future for the company in the TV business. ...

Turbo is not just a film. It's a TV series, a video game, a theme park attraction and, first and foremost, a brand.

It's a page from the Disney playbook: "Cars" grossed $461 million at the box office, solid for a Pixar movie but nothing extraordinary. Yet Disney took that movie and sold toys, a video game, and a theme park that has helped boost sales both at California Adventure and the adjacent hotel. ...

Jeffrey Katzenberg often says he learned the cartoon business from Walt, going over old sweat-box notes to figure out how the D.W. Griffith/John Ford of animated features put them together several lifetimes ago.
Stands to reason that he's taking another leaf out of the Disney playbook and diversifying into amusement parks, games and merchandise. When your business model is "Make a hit movie ... make another hit movie ... make another hit movie ..." ad infinitum, you're bound to hit rough patches, because they ain't all going to be hits.

It's tough to run your company like it's a sub-set of a conglomerate when it's not. And it's a challenge to expand into new areas, but it's a move that needs to be made. Otherwise your cartoon studio goes the way of the Fleischers rather than Uncle Walt.
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Dad Moving On

So, as mentioned below, the Seth M. show-block is changing. And American Cad moving from broadcast to cable.

American Dad! will be switching networks, moving from Fox to TBS for Season 11 in late 2014.

The Seth MacFarlane animated comedy will be on Fox's schedule this fall for its 10th season, before making the jump.

The cable network has ordered 15 Season-11 episodes, which will run as encores on sister network Adult Swim after the initial TBS broadcast. Both TBS and Adult Swim broadcast American Dad! reruns. ...

As time goes on, the difference between broadcast and cable has continued to shrink. "Broadcast" networks are just one more outlet in various cable networks, embedded next to cnbc or bloomberg or Cartoon Network. The days of "Bonanza" or "ILove Lucy," when television shows pulled in forty or fifty million viewers on a given night, are as dead and gone as the Eisenhower Administration. Now, if advertisers get five more of six million sets of eyeballs in their key demographic (18-34), they're ecstatic.

But of course they're kidding themselves, since most tv watchers are speed DVRing through the commercials anyway. But hey.

If advertisers are happy kidding themselves, the viewing audience is happy to help them kid. Advertising money has to go somewhere for Cripes sake, and phantom viewers are better than better than no viewers at all. What the hell are the alternatives?

My bet is that Seth's shows will continue to pull in audiences no matter what platform they're being shown on.

H.t. Roberto Severino
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guest Shots

So it was bound to happen, just like when John Wayne visited the Ricardos.

The Griffins and the Simpsons will finally meet face to face in fall 2014, in a special crossover episode of the two Fox "Animation Domination" cartoons. While Homer, Marge and the gang will have homefield advantage, the crossover will occur on an episode of Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy."

“Fox hasn’t spent this much money since they took Simon Cowell tight t-shirt shopping,” said "Family Guy" patriarch Peter Griffin in a statement from Fox. ...

And I'm assuming that this gets done at Fox Animation and not Film Roman (since it's a Seth M. show.) Guess it's good the episode isn't being done at Fox's ADHD non-union shop on Sunset. Click here to read entire post

Where the jobs have been going ...

... in the four months since the last time we compiled this chart.

These numbers do not include the new members due to be taken in as a result of the new contract for the Nickelodeon CG department.
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IATSE Executive Board!

I've been in Boston attending our Mother International's executive board meeting. Among the highlights:

* The Mother International is organizing an increasing number of reality shows.

* The Mother International has pretty much blanketed all the high and low-budget features that are out there; the difficult ones to cover are theatrical features budgeted at $250,000 and thereabouts, sine they don't have much money for higher wages and benefits.

* The Mother International is organizing an increasing number of technicians and camera crews for sports on cable.

And the Mother International talked about the current health of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan ...


1) $7.2 billion in total assets

2) 8.1% return on investments (past ten years)

3) 7.8 million contribution hours past year.

4) Active Health Plan outlays -- $10,400 per participant (annual)

5) $13 million more in residuals into Plan ($400 million past year)

6) Pension Assets in "green zone." (highest federal rating)

7) 19 months or reserves for Health Plan (active) participants.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oncoming Weakness?

Now with box office Add On.

The Times projects.

Shares of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. fell Wednesday after box office forecasters said its animated film "Turbo" could disappoint at the box office.

"Turbo," which features the voice of Ryan Reynolds as a garden snail with dreams of winning the Indy 500, is expected to take in about $35 million over five days in its first weekend, according to early industry projections. The film, which cost $135 million, opens Wednesday. ...

The previous two animated entries (Despicable Me 2, Monsters University) have done gangbusters at the domestic box office, and The Croods, DWA's previous release, also did well.

How a snail fares is today's question. Turbo has gotten positive reviews, but the box office is what counts. By Sunday (or earlier) we should know how the snail's race comes out. (I'm hoping for a win, for obvious reasons.)

Add On: Turbo has an okay Wednesday:

According to matinee returns, Turbo should gross in the $6 million range for the day, likely enough to top the Wednesday box office chart and edge out Despicable Me 2, Universal's megahit.

Turbo is eyeing a five-day debut in the $35 million range, a solid but unspectacular start. Box office observers believe the 3D toon could suffer from animation fatigue, considering it opens only two weeks after Despicable 2 and four weeks after Disney and Pixar's Monsters University. ...

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The latest stats

Despite the bad news from DreamWorks, employment is back to where it was at the beginning of the year. In fact, we've got forty-seven more active members than we did three months ago.

Tomorrow, we'll tell you where we're working.
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The VFX Society's Colonoscopy

From the Society's point of view ...

The Visual Effects Society’s 2013 white paper on the state of the global visual effects industry paints an image of a sector under siege that must heal its internal problems if it’s to survive the external forces arrayed against it. ...

“We tried to address the things that are within the industry’s power to effect change,” said the report’s co-author Ken Williams, CEO and executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC and a co‐founder of Sony Pictures Imageworks. ”It’s one thing to sort of gnash your teeth over the uncontrollables, but we tried to identify things that the industry could do that would raise all boats.” ...

It shows an industry making the transition from an invention phase, where major new breakthroughs seemed to come yearly, to a manufacturing stage where many vfx tasks are commoditized and innovation is focused on cutting costs and streamlining production. ...

The report identifies four major areas that are bedeviling the vfx industry:

* Government dynamics — subsidies and tax incentives;

* Growing competition — lower barriers of entry and more qualified artists able to do visual effects and animation production;

* Industry dynamics — the small number of studio clients, globalization and the volatility of the production pipeline;

* Non-Business motivations — the passion to be in the film business that drives artists and facilities to make emotional decisions with a short-term focus. ...

The report says the industry’s fixed-bid pricing system, which dates back to the birth of the modern vfx industry in the 1970s, no longer works in the digital age. ...

Doesn't work? You think? ...

As I roll through one CG animation studio or another, the costs of overhead come into focus: the large administrative staffs and generous executive salaries all play a part in how expensive animation often becomes.

As we've pointed out before, the reasons facilities exist are to make movies, not to support large administrations. Visual effects studios, of course, are a different animal, but they house most of the same skill sets as Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar and Blue Sky.

The way the vfx world is now makes it designed for failure: visual effects sub-contractors that "win" are the ones which low-ball bid the sub-contract job, then go into the red when they rework a complicated shot for the third (or fourth?) time, then go out of business.

The current practice of having governments subsidize labor costs makes for an unstable environment. It's tough to build a business based on the generosity of the state, because when subsidies and rebates end, big conglomerates move on to the next big handout in Australia, Great Britain or Germany, and the studios they leave behind wither and die.

Part of the solution is to make visual effects an integrated part of the production process, not some add-on at the end to which the director and producer pay less than total attention.
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wage surveys: in the home stretch

As of today we have 901 wage surveys, 25.2% of the total sent.

The last day paper surveys will be accepted is this Friday, July 19. Those wishing to fill out the survey on our website have until 9 am on Monday, July 22.

Thanks to everyone who helped push our returns past the 25% mark!
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The Uncomped

The subject of "working for free" came up at the Brew a couple of days ago. Amid posted about the contract ratification vote at Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios. That triggered some back-and-forth whether the CG crew "going union" was actually a good thing of not. And commenter "coolzone" wrote:

... [H]ealth benefits are fine and all, but a union should do more than just manage health benefits for it's members.

Steve ignored the problems of BLACKLISTING addressed last meeting. blacking listing (sic) that happens when artists don't do free over time and don't hit unrealistic deadlines. We all the know the game. In fact people admitted at the meeting that blacklisting in does fact happen. So the grievance system is broken, because while you can file a grievance that doesn't mean it you will not have serious negative consequences. ...

Let me clear up a few things about the above. There is no blacklisting in the way it's used above. Studios don't go around fingering artists and telling other studios not to hire them. Studios are fanatical about doing nothing more than confirming an employee's job status. They don't want lawsuits.

What most employees believe is that if they ask for an hour of authorized overtime, they won't be called back at the end of the season. ...

Here's the reality inside L.A. cartoon studios, both union and non-union:

1) Studios want to get the most done for the least possible money.

2) Employees want to do a quality job for their employer, but they don't want to kill themselves.

3) Working conditions inside studios vary widely, influenced by

a) Demands and requirements of the show-runner/producer,

b) A show's budget

c) The cohesiveness of the crew, and its ability not to be bullied and/or intimidated.

I know artists who NEVER work unpaid o.t., who ALWAYS ask authorization to work o.t. (and get it), and don't brook intimidation. And also don't get laid off. There was an artist at Nick who pushed back whenever they were messed with, and the studio backed off every time. And (here's the good part) the artist was never once laid off in the five years I knew about those dynamics.

I also know artists who jump through whatever hoops they're confronted with, who work late nights and unpaid Saturdays, who take home work to keep up. (Sometimes they're new and a whole lot slower than everybody else. Sometimes they're overly demanding on themselves. And sometimes ... let's face it ... the schedule is unrealistic.)

Artists have trained themselves to assume they'll be cut loose if they don't hit the deadline (no matter how truncated it might be) without asking for paid "authorized" o.t. The assumption is based on their knowledge of somebody else asking for o.t. and then "not coming back for Season Two."

Sometimes this is true. Often it's not true. More often the artist was "let go" for other reasons.

So what does the guild do to counteract the paranoia? I tell artists I'm happy to talk to management about scheduling problems, overlong scripts, too many passes on the animatic, or whatever else it is. I tell artists I can file a grievance, or simply walk through a studio on a weekend or late evening and take down the names of people who are there working uncompensated overtime. I can be the bad guy.

I've said this before, but there are departments in studios right now who stick together and always get paid o.t. And there are artists in the same studio who work uncomped overtime reflexively. (This isn't new. At Disney features in the 1990s there were departments who were paid every nickel of the overtime they were owed, and other departments that did "free work." I had a department head who complained to me that the policing of the contract at Walt Disney Animation Studios caused management to put an end to the uncomped work ... which he thought had been great, and I was a schmuck for pushing the issue.)

In the end, uncomped o.t. proliferates when fear rules. It's kind of like Mark Twain's axiom:

"When a cat jumps on a hot stove, he never jumps on another one. But he never jumps on a cold stove, either."

There aren't as many hot stoves as people think, but there don't have to be. A few is more than enough.
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Monday, July 15, 2013

Organizers Notes: The Organizing of Nick CG

*NB - this is a reprint of an Organizer's Notes post put up last night. I thought it would be good to share on the TAG Blog as well
You may have seen our post that memorializes the ratification vote at Nick CG a few days ago. Between the hours of 12pm and 2pm on Friday, July 12th, 61 of the 70 eligible voters cast their ballots to decide if the agreement struck between the negotiation committee and the studio was acceptable. 55 of those 61 people said it was, and with that, the artists of Nickelodeon CG will join their traditional animation colleagues as members of Local 839, IATSE - The Animation Guild on August 1st.

This unit holds a special place with me. It was the first assignment that I was given by Steve Hulett when I started with the Guild. I learned quite a lot from what transpired in the past three years, and I'd like to share some of the important points here.

When I first connected with some of the supporters of the unionization effort at the studio, the effort was about to hit a snag. I was fresh into the position and eager to reinvigorate those who wanted union representation. I created a website dedicated to providing information and feedback for the artists. I had some repcards that artists had signed, and gathered email addresses.

For all my outreach efforts, I got little return. Eventually, one of the artists met with me and talked about the strong anti-union sentiment among some of the crew. At this stage, that sentiment was held at positions of authority and the supporters didn't feel comfortable making a push. They asked that I stopped messaging them, for the time being.

I was dismayed and disappointed. I explained this to Steve who assured me that "they just need to cool off a bit. They'll be back, and you never know what may come up". After some time, and much to my surprise, he was right. I was approached by artists who had just joined the studio and wanted to find out why the CG Unit was not represented by TAG when the traditional animation artists and writers were. These people became the cornerstone to a renewed push.

To a large degree, organizing has strong parallels to sales. As a former salesperson and sales manager, I found myself slipping into old habits of talking up the good points while avoiding the problem areas. I made some speculative statements to some of the artists which turned out to be completely false. This, rightfully, caused my credibility to drop. I learned that it was just as important to jump into the potholes as it was to highlight the benefits.

Being forthright about such things as the six-month gap that artists face before being able to participate in the health plan and then explaining that in negotiations, we could possibly get a pre-payment for their participation (as was negotiated back in 2003), helped to instill more confidence in the union's intentions and goals. This lesson has been one of the most important for me since taking the job.

The above lesson led to this epiphany. The real organizers are those who desire representation. Union organizers are nothing more than a repository of information that, mostly, is used to counter and defeat anti-union arguments.

As I mentioned, the effort to organize the studio stalled shortly after I started at the Guild. I kept in contact with some of my original organizing group, but the effort was jump started again when new artists contacted me. These artists had questions about what Guild representation could bring, and why the CG Unit wasn't represented. Through a series of meetings and email discussions, I was able to empower artists to speak to their colleagues and get more questions to answer. More people became interested, and I had a core group of "Point People".

These "Points" were the ones who spoke to their colleagues, answered the hard questions, and got artists to sign cards. They were the ones who did the hard work. Their numbers changed but their resolve never did. As much as I'd like to name them all, they know who they are and how much their efforts were responsible for the contract now in place.

Steve Hulett was very kind in writing the Press Release highlighted in the blog post. While I'd like to think that my presence and availability was the reason the effort was reinvigorated, it really wasn't. It played a part, but there were many other factors that pushed things along: the channel's ratings, the overhauling of the management and the push for new IP, the overall change in the entertainment delivery business .. all of these influenced the change in sentiment towards unionization from the artists.

Steve H. describes this as the "tipping point". A fixed moment in time where a confluence of factors brings the option of unionization and the protections and benefits it provides to the forefront of people's minds. I certainly see this as the way Visual Effects will be organized.

Take part in any of the public conversations about unionization of VFX, and you'll be faced with the persistent counter-arguments/fears. Those fears parallel the ones I faced in this campaign. VFX organizing will take the same resolve from dedicated artists who are willing to be the organizers and see their campaigns move forward and succeed.

Click here to read entire post

A big night at Gallery 839

Bliss, by Bao Nguyen. Framed oil on canvas, 24" by 18", $1,500; unframed limited edition giclee prints on archival watercolor paper, $50.

Congrats to PAT KOCHAKJI, PETE MICHELS and BAO NGUYEN, whose Gallery 839 group show opening on Friday was a huge success.

Umber Root, Amber Root, Golden Root* and Silver Root by Patrick Kochakji, Framed oil, on panel, 6" by 6", $250 each.

The show attracted a huge crowd that hung around from the 6 pm start until almost midnight. And the artists sold $5,000 worth of their artwork! The show is up until August 31.

Summer Umbrella by Pete Michels. Not for sale.

If you're a Guild member (or part of a group that includes at least one Guild member), and you're interested in scheduling a Gallery 839 show, contact Jeff Massie by e-mail or by phone at (818) 845-7500. (Understand that the gallery is booked almost a year in advance)

* sold
Click here to read entire post

Dog Movie

The L.A. Times says:

... DreamWorks Animation ... plans to put Lassie [the collie] back in the public eye, along with Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and other decades-old characters ...

I get Rocky, Bullwinkle and the rest. They're cartoon characters. I even understand Scooby Doo. But a live-action collie dog? That a bunch of five-year-old kids (including me) used to watch on their parents' black-and-white Philcos?

Okay, so maybe it could work. If a panda practicing martial arts can score a global knockout, why not a collie?
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Screen Shape Then ...

Screen shape now ...

You go on YouTube, you see that all those old Disney and Fleischer cartoons, those Popeye and Mickey shorts, were kind of ... squarish.

Not anymore. The Simpsons have long-since gone to a high-def t.v. screen ratio, and animated features don't have the viewing dimensions of well-loved favorites like Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and other cartoons of the thirties and forties.

Lady and the Tramp was the first wide-screen feature (shot in both CinemaScope and traditional formats), followed by the 70mm Sleeping Beauty. And now, of course, everything is in wide-screen digital splendor.

But it's still fun to take an eighteen-minute history lesson to find out why movies over the past century have looked the way they've looked.
Click here to read entire post

Foreign Takings

In lands across the seas, animation in comedy movies or animation in scary live-action movies is all the rage.

The minions of “Despicable Me 2" edged the monsters of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” at the international box office over the weekend, just as they did Stateside. ...

"DM 2's" overall global gross is now $472 million. ...

Disney's "Monsters University" was third internationally, adding $30.2 million from 46 territories. That gave it a total of $236.4 million from overseas, and a global total of nearly $475 million after four weeks. ...

So Minions and Monsters are running neck and neck, but of course Despicable Me 2 has had a week's less release time.


Despicable Me 2 -- $55,500,000 -- ($472,437,420)

Pacific Rim --$53,000,000 -- ($91,300,000)

Grown Ups 2 -- $1,700,000 -- ($44,200,000)

Monsters University -- $30,200,000 -- ($474,200,000)

World War Z -- $22,400,000 -- ($423,086,920)

The Lone Ranger -- $12,700,000 -- ($119,100,000)

The Heat -- $8,100,000 -- ($128,463,500)

Man Of Steel -- $13,300,000 -- ($619,194,878)

After Earth -- $13,700,000 -- ($214,775,142)

White House Down -- $1,800,000 -- ($82,662,933)

Click here to read entire post

In Transit

I will be in Boston for the next two weeks, communing with the Mother International (the IATSE.)

Today I will be in airports and airliners a lot, so blogging will be --- intermittent.

Enjoy your Sunday, wherever it is for you. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Sequels are good business, yes?

Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment made the announcement this morning. With Friday’s estimated domestic grosses of $197.8 million and an international estimated gross of $206.8 million, Despicable Me 2 reached $404.6 million at the worldwide box office today. Domestically, the studios’ estimates are showing that the 3D toon will cross $200 million late Saturday after just one week in release. ...

We should add that the other animated feature in release hasn't done badly either. To date the Pixar offering has gathered in $414,808,000 at the world box office, $230,408,000 of that in the U.S. and Canada. Click here to read entire post


... and the sequel*.

DreamWorks Animation returns to the world of dragons and Vikings in this sequel to their successful 2010 outing How to Train Your Dragon. The original film followed the exploits of a Viking chief's son, who must capture a dragon in order to mark his passage into manhood and prove his worthiness to the tribe. -- Rotten Tomatoes

The scuttlebutt around DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus is that Number Two is a quality followup.

I think it will do better than the first installment, but I guess we'll see.

* Looking at this teaser, I was reminded that William Wellman, director of the World War I epic Wings and a lot of other classics, was the first director to understand that scenes of flight were pretty limp without clouds to give audiences a sense of speed and scale. This trailer is a good example of what Wellman figured out in 1927.

Click here to read entire post

Who Needs Canada?

New York gives significant subsidies, which is why Buffalo is working to be a go-to place for VFX.

... Empire Visual Effects, which will partner with Daemen College, projects 150 new high-tech jobs in the next five years while carving a new niche industry in Buffalo. ...

Aside from the $4.5 million from the state, New York’s aggressive tax-credit program will also provide the film industry as much as a 45 percent tax credit on labor costs.

In addition, Empire Visual Effects might qualify for the new START-UP NY program, which provides tax-free zones for start-up companies located on or near college campuses. ...

Up-state New York isn't exactly a visual effects hub at the present time, so we'll see how long it takes to build a talent pool, even with all the government tax breaks and rebates. (That wind and snow off the lake can be less than invigorating. And maybe not super enticing to a twenty-three year-old looking to launch her CG career.)

Targeting subsidies in foreign lands for import tariffs could be a useful strategy, but how do you target states inside the country who grant tax breaks and subsidies? Hard to do import tariffs on them.
Click here to read entire post

Your Hot July Box Office

The minions still prosper.

1. Grown-Ups 2 (Sony) NEW [Runs 3,491] PG13 Friday $16.5M, Weekend $46.0M

2. Despicable Me 2 (Illumination/Universal) Week 2 [Runs 4,003] PG Friday $15.0M (-56%), Weekend $47.0M, Cume $230.0M

3. Pacific Rim (Legendary/Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 3,275] PG13 Friday $13.5M, Weekend $37.0M

4. The Heat (Fox) Week 3 [Runs 3,128] R Friday $4.2M, Weekend $13.0M, Cume $111.4M

5. The Lone Ranger (Disney) Week 2 [Runs 3,904] PG13 Friday $3.4M (-68%), Weekend $10.4M, Cume $70.5M

6. Monsters University (Pixar/Disney) Week 4 [Runs 3,142] G Friday $3.3M, Weekend $10.5M, Cume $237.6M

7. World War Z (Paramount) Week 4 [Runs 3,003] PG13 Friday $2.8M, Weekend $9.3M, Cume $177.0M

8. White House Down (Columbia/Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,566] PG13 Friday $1.8M, Weekend $6.0M, Cume $62.8M

9. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 2 [Runs 892] R Friday $1.5M (-59%), Weekend $4.7M, Cume $26.1M

10. Man Of Steel (Legendary/Warner Bros) Week 5 [Runs 2,150] PG13 Friday $1.4M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $281.2M

Monster and DM 2 will both end up well over a quarter billion dollars at the domestic box office. So I guess animation doesn't necessarily eat its own. Click here to read entire post
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