Monday, September 30, 2013

Shareholder Value

Despite what you may hear about "creating new cinema classics" or "finding and developing exciting new talent," it's all actually about this:

Sony, Viacom, CBS Lead Entertainment Stocks After Three Quarters

... Sony stock surged 92 percent in the first three quarters of 2013, which ended Monday, outperforming all other media conglomerates.

The next-biggest gainers among conglomerates is Viacom, up 61 percent through three quarters, followed by CBS (up 46 percent), Time Warner (up 40 percent), Walt Disney (up 30 percent) and Comcast (up 22 percent). While 21st Century Fox has only been separated from News Corp since June, its shares are up 50 percent in the first three quarters this year on an adjusted basis. ...

And despite Turbo’s unimpressive box office, DreamWorks Animation is up 72 percent through three quarters, better than all conglomerates except Sony. ...

The CEOs of all the listed companies are rich for a reason. They're at the top of a glamorous industry that everyone (and his nephew) wants to be in. And they have pliable boards of directors eager to shower them with loot.

Rupert Murdoch, Michael Eisner, Sumner Redstone, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Robert Iger are rich for definite reasons. They've been in the right businesses at the right time.
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Marc Davis's Handiwork Lives On

Okay, not Mr. D.'s, exactly, but the sum total of Dodie Smith's, Bill Peet's, and Marc's efforts embedded in an older animated feature.

Aline Brosh McKenna has been hired to pen Cruella, which will bring the dog-fur-loving fashionista from 101 Dalmatians into a live-action feature to be produced by Andrew Gunn, who produced Sky High and Bedtime Stories for the studio. McKenna will also produce.

De Vil first appeared in Dodie Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians but became a Disney icon with the 1961 animated movie. And it's not the character's first incarnation in a live-action feature. Glenn Close memorably played the character in 1996's 101 Dalmatians and the 2000 sequel, 102 Dalmatians.

In fact, Close is in involved with Cruella, acting as an executive producer. ...

So I guess we'll be seeing the back-story, whatever it turns out to be. Conglomerates have come to understand that they can't go far wrong mining the deep veins of well-loved films.

Beats coming up with new ideas.
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Charity Work

Had a sobering lunch last week with a supervisor at one of our fine, L.A.-based animation studios (TV division.) He told me:

"I'm very frustrated. I have some board revisionists who work fifteen to twenty-five hours of free overtime week in and week out. It's driving me nuts. I tell them not to do it. I order them not to do it. They do it anyway. They tell me they want to look good, that they have to do the extra work, they're paranoid about management and afraid they'll lose their jobs if they don't. I leave at six anyway, and they make me look bad. I refuse to work more than forty without pay.

"And then they complain to me about how the schedules are getting shorter. And how they can't keep up." ...

The above is verbatim. Sad, but verbatim.

The veteran who told me this was semi-beside himself. He comes in, works his butt of for forty hours, then goes home. And of course he's nervous, because others on the crew are working extra hours for free. (As I put it to the supe: "They are slicing their own throats and then complaining about it: Stop me before I kill again!")

I've gotten variations of this scenario many of the years I've been doing this job. I've never gotten the complaint from a supervisor before, but it really doesn't surprise me much. Why not a supervisor? All the folks doing charity work on behalf of our poor, suffering conglomerates make it increasingly tough for other employees who don't want to perform charity work, including the leads.

Just so you know, I'm willing to combat this. Just call or e-mail me, tip me off when employees are working for free on the weekends, or at night. I will trot over to the studio where the charity work is being done, and work to put a stop to it. Of course, it will mean the employees will need to tell me they are performing charity (i.e., working for free) but that's a bridge I will cross when I get there.

A journey begins with the first step.
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Da Merchandise! Da Merchandise!

Deadline tells us:

There appears to be a trend here that might disturb studios that released family films with the expectation of seeing a windfall from licensed merchandise sales. The new pre-holiday recommendations from Toys ‘R Us (it lists its “Fabulous 15″) and Walmart (it has 23 items it says were “Chosen by Kids”) feature TV characters including Disney Junior’s Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Sesame Street’s Elmo.

But when it comes to films, Toys ‘R Us suggests one from Universal’s Despicable Me 2, and Walmart has something from Disney’s Planes — but there’s nothing from DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo, Fox’s Epic, Pixar’s Monsters University, or Sony’s Smurfs 2. It’s a sign of a larger trend says International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association SVP Marty Brochstein. “TV seems to be grabbing more of the attention and shelf space,” he says. Some film properties were hurt by the summer’s animation glut.

Planes' merchandising bonanza is hardly a surprise. The picture continues where the Cars franchise left off, and the two Pixar features sold a HUGE number of toys.

It's also not very startling that non-sequels which under-performed at the box office (Epic, Turbo) didn't get a lot of traction in the merchandise department. Word around DreamWorks Animation was that DWA management expected to move a lot of toy race cars because that was a major tie-in, but maybe the lead character Turbo got a teensy bit in the way. ("Gee thanks Mom and Dad! A rubber snail! Neato!")

But TV cartoons as advertisements for kiddy merchandise is a natural. It's been going on since the days of black-and-white Philcos, when Disney was selling millions of coonskin hats to eight-year-old worshippers of Davy Crockett. Hit shows are seen by children week after week, so why wouldn't the demand for Princess dolls and battling turtles be high? It's probably a disappointment to producers of some of the summer's theatrical features that their projects didn't generate big sales of games, action figures, and mobile apps (I'm surprised a hit sequel like Monsters University didn't move more product, but there you are.) I guess not every project activates secondary markets.

But good management adapts to new market realities. If TV is what excites the customers of Toys R Us, then TV is where the corporate push will be. (It's not for nothing that DreamWorks Animation is getting into television in a big way. There's gold in all those plush toys.)
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SAG-AFTRA Convention

The new combined union wraps up its convention.

More than 350 delegates, officers and guests on Sunday brought down the curtain on SAG-AFTRA’s first combined convention.

“What we have done this weekend is beginning the shape of our foundation,” said newly elected national executive vice president Gabrielle Carteris in closing remarks at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

“We have listened, we have debated, we have worked through interests and concerns. What we have done has created a framework to better members’ lives. I believe we have begun a proud and enduring legacy upon which our later generations will reflect and benefit.”

They also have the usual troubles all American labor unions have in 21st century corporatist America. They are on the fuzzy end of the popsicle stick power-wise, so they have to be creative as all get-out.

SAG-AFTRA also has to contend with contract talks next year, and disgruntled members suing them over foreign residuals. But if there wasn't wrangling in and around the House of Labor, it wouldn't be the House of Labor.

Add On: Then there are LGBT issues.

A survey of SAG-AFTRA members found that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender actors continue to face discrimination when looking for work, though opportunities are increasing. ...

Almost half of gay and lesbian respondents strongly agreed that producers and studio bosses think it's harder to market LGBT performers. About 27% of bisexual participants strongly agreed.

Bias over sexual orientation also appears to influence what roles performers seek and accept. The survey said the fast majority of heterosexual actors have never played an LGBT character, while most gay and lesbian performers have. ...

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Your Foreign Box Office

Animated features keep collecting significant coin.

Weekend's Foreign Box Office -- (Worldwide Totals)

Smurfs 2 -- $8,800,000 -- ($320,683,692)

Planes -- $7,900,000 -- ($169,061,000)

Turbo -- $6,100,000 -- ($182,013,412)

Despicable Me 2 -- $3,600,000 -- ($864,000,000)

Cloudy With ... Meatballs 2 -- $000 -- ($35,000,000)

Monsters University isn't on Rentrak's list this week, but has, to date, racked up worldwide grosses of $736,310,125, which puts it one click behind Despicable Me 2, and earns it the #2 position in terms of total revenue -- animation division -- for the year.

Oh. And Despicable Me 2? Its worldwide total of $864 million ranks seventh all-time among animated fare. Plus it's still out there making money.
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

R & H Wage Settlement

When things get ugly at a company (as in "we don't have the money to meet payroll," often linked to "we're going bankrupt") employees usually get screwed. So it's always good to see employees fight back ... and get something.

Attorneys for two former employees of Rhythm & Hues and the debtors for the bankrupt company have reached an agreement to settle potential class action claims over the 238 employees who were laid off from the company in February.

In a filing with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles on Friday, the proposed settlement calls for Thomas Capizzi and Anthony Barcelo to each receive $10,000 for their roles as class representatives, with the balance of $980,000 divided among the laid-off employees based on their final pay rates and termination dates.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also will deduct one-third for attorney fees, plus court costs. The settlement is in response to claims that Rhythm & Hues violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires large companies to give employees at least two months’ advance notice of plant closings or mass layoffs. ...

Over the years I've been involved in crap like this, and it always ticks me off.

In 1989, I went down with the Filmation ship. The company abruptly closed its doors and I was laid off along with a couple hundred other people ... right before* the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act went into effect, so most of us got no extra pay that would have been due if the WARN had been the law of the land.

Since then, I've helped employees who haven't been paid weekly wages a number of times. The biggest shafting? One hundred-plus employees not getting paid by Imagi Animation Studios (Sherman Oaks) when the company couldn't make payroll.

Happily, the Animation Guild had a contract with Imagi and started rattling the company's cage. Even more happily, every employee was made whole before Imagi passed out of existence, but it was a close thing.

We live in mean times. If you find yourself working for a company that doesn't pay you for work performed, stop performing the work. Get up from your computer and walk away. And if the production manager or owner/operator (or whomever) hectors you about being a "team player" and "hanging in a little longer" until the money comes through, tell them as politely as you can: "Happy to do your work when the pay check has been delivered and cashed, but not before."

Let them know that you do charity work at your church/temple, not your workplace.

* Westinghouse shuttered Filmation on February 3, 1989, which left L'Oreal (the new owner) with the Filmation library only. This happened one day before a new law went into practice requiring companies to give employees 60 days notice before a mass termination.
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End of September Box Office

And animation is back on top.

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” rolled up $9.3 million in its debut Friday, and Sony Animation’s family film is on the way to an easy weekend win at the box office, likely finishing with around $35 million for the three days.

That won’t be enough to top the best September opening ever – the $42 million taken in by Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania” on the same weekend last year – but it is ahead of the $30 million opening of the original “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” ...

As for the rest of the pack:

The BIG Box Office Ten

1. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 3D (Sony) NEW [Runs 4,001] PG Friday $9.1M, Weekend $35.0M

2. Rush (Imagine/Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,297] R Friday $3.6M, Weekend $10.8M, Cume $11.1M

3. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,290] R Friday $3.4M (-51%), Weekend $11.2M, Cume $38.4M

4. Don Jon (Relativity) NEW [Runs 2,422] R Friday $3.2M, Weekend $9.5M

5. Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight) NEW [Runs 2,027] PG13 Friday $3.2M, Weekend $9.5M

6. Insidious: Chapter 2 (FilmDistrict) Week 3 [Runs 3,120] PG13 Friday $2.0M, Weekend $6.2M, Cume $69.1M

7. The Family (Relativity) Week 3 [Runs 2,894] R Friday $1.0M, Weekend $3.6M, Cume $31.6M

8. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 8 [Runs 2,405] R Friday $842K, Weekend $2.8M, Cume $142.4M

9. Metallica Through The Never 3D (PIcturehouse) NEW [Runs 308] R Friday $798K, Weekend $2.9M

10. Instructions Not Included (Lionsgate) Week 5 [Runs 948] PG13 Friday $787K, Weekend $3.0M, Cume $38.3M

As for the animated features bubbling out of the Top Ten: Planes remains in a couple of thousand theaters and has collected $87 million; Turbo has earned $82 million and still has a couple of hundred theaters; Monsters University also occupies a few hundred theaters with a total of $266,000,000 to its name.

But the title that just goes ... and goes ... and goes is Despicable Me 2, which is now north of $361 million in domestic earnings. Added to which:

Illumination Entertainment’s and Universal Pictures’ megahit toon sequel has grossed $498.4M internationally and will cross $500M at the overseas box office today. Despicable Me 2 is still playing at 3,000 dates in 41 territories right now and becomes the 10th highest grossing animated film of all time internationally. Combined with the U.S. estimated gross of $361.9M, the worldwide total will be $863.7M by Sunday after opening in Japan and South Africa. Pic is the second highest grossing film worldwide this year. ...

Not bad for a movie produced in Paris for $74 million. DM2 didn't get rattled by the "too many animated features" meme that studio chiefs and trade papers are pushing.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Cels and Paint Are So OVER

One more milestone passed by.

Sazae-san, the anime adaptation of Machiko Hasegawa's strip about three generations of traditional family, has recently been certified as the world’s longest-running TV cartoon show by Guinness World Records. However, as the series continues its record breaking run into its 45th year and beyond, it will doing it without cel animation. The only cel-based anime still broadcast in Japan, according to the Association of Japanese Animations, will switch to full digital production next month.

While digital production became the norm in the late 1990s, the long running family anime have been late adopters. ...

Sazae-san began partial digital production in 2005, but will only complete the transition as of the episode broadcast October 6th. The last cel be show will air this Sunday.

I remember watching cels get painted while a tot. I remember watching the CAPs system at Disney during its early years. I had no idea that anybody was still painting cels for production, but I guess it still happens here and there.

The old ways fade slowly. But they do fade.
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Award Changes

Alterations to the Motion Picture Academy's award process appear to be happening.

AMPAS has quietly adopted a new system to expand the number of Animated Feature nominations voters and allow screeners

The Oscars’ Best Animated Feature category seems likely to have a full slate of five nominees for the third year in a row – and this time, those nominations should be in the hands of far more voters than in years past.

In a significant change to the way nominations have been made in the category, voters on the nominating committee will now be able to view the eligible films on screeners, rather than having to attend special screenings at the Academy.

The change could significantly expand the number of members who vote on nominations. ...

Under new rules, the committee will be expanded beyond the usual 100, and members will be allowed to vote if they view the films on screeners rather than attending the special Sunday-night screenings in Beverly Hills, which will still take place. In addition, their votes will count if they see 66 percent of the entries, not 80 percent. ...

For now, the biggest contenders appear to be “Frozen,” “The Croods,” “Monsters University” and “Despicable Me” among the bigger titles. GKIDS’ “Ernest & Celestine” has picked up raves from overseas, while a real question mark surrounds “The Wind Rises.” ...

The number of animated features getting released has expanded steadily over the last few years. The challenge is to get more of those features more widely seen.

Anything that gets more animated features in front of bigger audiences is a definite good. And this alteration to older procedures seems to do that.
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Robert's Fifth

The crew at Bento Box on Magnolia have got to be happy about this:

“Bob’s Burgers” has been renewed for a fifth season, before the fourth even begins.

Fox entertainment chairman announced Thursday that he has ordered 22 episodes of the animated series. ...

Bento has multipe studios: One location in Burbank and two in North Hollywood. The newest location, the offices at 5161 Lankershim Blvd. were previously occupied by the Walt Disney Company.

There's also a branch in Atlanta. That's the location with which we don't have a contract, since our jurisdiction is in Southern California and nowhere else.
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And Still More New Shows

The cavalcade never ends.

Nickelodeon is expanding its original programming with a slew of new orders.

The kids cable network greenlighted animated series Bad Seeds, from SpongeBob SquarePants' C.H. Greenblatt, and Pig Goat Banana Cricket, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Both series, which will be produced through Nickelodeon Animation Studio, have received 26-episode pickups. ...

A few years back, Nick was charging forward with a myriad of CG shows. But these two newer entries are of the hand-drawn variety, which carries Nick back to its roots.

No executives are talking (at least, to us) but we suspect that the reason Nickelodeon is back-tracking to the old-fashioned ways is because

1) Hand-drawn animation gets ratings as good as or better than CG shows on the t.v.

2) Hand-drawn shows are less costly than their computer generated cousins.

Either way, we're happy Bad Seeds and Pig Goat Banana Cricket are being produced, because more cartoon production means more work for cartoon artists. Which tends to make cartoon artists happy.
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Sun Will Shine on Cloudy

CWACOM is predicted to rule the box office this weekend. (Timing and positioning count for a lot.)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 will likely debut with around $45 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. That would be a robust start for the sequel, whose predecessor launched with $30.3 million in 2009. ...

If Cloudy Deux rakes in $40 million or more, it will reinforce the "Sequels Rule!" meme that has enveloped Animationland. There is now no American cartoon studio that doesn't have sequels in development.

This will be Sony Pictures ImageWorks first feature to be animated in Canada. Free government money is like blue crystal meth to our fine, entertainment conglomerates. The more they get, the more they want.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cartoon Network and Ratings

L.A. BizJournal relates:

According to a recent report from Todd Juenger, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein, after Turner signed over IPs from Cartoon Network and Adult Swim to Netflix, viewership of the broadcast channels has dropped noticeably. In Netflix households, Cartoon Network's ratings are down 10 percent and Adult Swim ratings are down 18 percent since partnering with Netflix in January. Turner series available on Netflix include "Dexter's Laboratory," "Adventure Time," "Powerpuff Girls," and "Cow & Chicken."

“If there was anybody out there who still didn’t believe that SVOD hurts kids ratings, this should put a final end to that debate,” Juenger wrote. ...

Cartoon Network disagrees, saying the drop is minimal. And hey. CN's press release says things are fine:

... During the fourth week of September 2013, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network for Early Prime (7-9 p.m.) delivery of boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14.

Monday’s episode premiere of "Regular Show" (7:30 p.m.) ranked as the #1 telecast of the week among boys 6-11 & 9-14, #1 of the day with all targeted boys, and #1 in its time period with all targeted kids. The episode premiere of our newest animated series, "Uncle Grandpa" (8 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period with all targeted kids and boy demos. The episode premiere of "Adventure Time" (7 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period with kids 9-14 and all boys demos. Furthermore, these premiere episodes increased by double digits among targeted kids and boys vs. the same time period last year.

Cartoon Network was the #1 destination for all targeted boys on Tuesday Night (7-9 p.m.). The episode premiere of Total Drama All-Stars (7 p.m.) ranked as the #1 telecast of the day with boys 6-11 & 9-14, and #1 in its time period with kids 6-11, 9-14 & all targeted boy demos. Additionally, "The Amazing World of Gumball" (7:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period with these same demos.

Wednesday’s episode premiere of "Teen Titans GO!" (7:30 p.m.) ranked as the #1 telecast of the day with boys 6-11 & 9-14, while increasing by double-digit growth with all targeted kids and boy demos. ...

So I guess we see how this unwinds, whether the money Tim-Warner/CN gets from Netflix offsets any ratings decline. Tod J. thinks it does, but one of the parties has to be wrong.
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SAG-AFTRA Convention

The newlyweds' throw their first big party.

SAG-AFTRA Ready for Its Close-Up With First Combined Convention

... More than a year and half after the merger, the combined SAG-AFTRA is hosting its coming-out party this weekend.

More than 350 delegates, labor leaders and guests will be on hand for the first SAG-AFTRA convention, which kicks off Wednesday night at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with a reception that L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti will attend.

U.S Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka top the weekend’s list of scheduled speakers.

With the theme of United for Our Future, the five-day event brings together national officers and board members, local presidents and members from around the country to discuss and decide on items vital to the future of the union. In addition to 14 panels and six workshops, the convention will also see the formal installation of the union’s new governance structure, which includes an 80-member national board that will meet for the first time Monday. ...

SAG and AFTRA should have combined forces fifteen or twenty years ago. A number of Screen Actors Guild dinosaurs fought the marriage for years, not wanting to sully the actors' union.

Happily, cooler heads won the day when AFTRA started gobbling up a lot of SAG's jurisdiction, and now ... here we are!
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Phone Distribution

It's not just the t.v. and the movie screen anymore.

Angry Birds creator Rovio said its new ToonsTV animation channel has surpassed 1 billion views, demonstrating that entertainment distributed through a mobile game application represents a powerful new way to reach viewers.

Seven months after launching "Angry Birds Toons" through its popular game app, Rovio Entertainment said the company has achieved the viewing milestone. The Finnish company said it would create a second season of "Angry Birds Toons" for 2014, as well as spinoffs dedicated to other game characters, Bad Piggies and Stella, the pink bird.

Rovio launched the "Angry Birds Toons" series in March through its game app as well as through Internet-connected smart TVs and devices.

Methods of distribution grow day by day. In the dim and distant past, there was the neighborhood Bijou and six or seven television channels, and that was about it. Farmer Alfalfa and Felix the Cat were what kids watched early on a Saturday morning before Mom and Dad got up.

Felix, the farm report, and test patterns were the choices a five-year-old had. Most five-year-olds opted for Felix.
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New TAG President

Officer nominations for new three-year terms took place this evening at the Animation Guild's General Membership meeting.

Nathan Loofbourrow, current Vice President of the guild, was elected TAG President on a white ballot ...

Mr. Loofbourrow, a supervisor at DreamWorks Animation, was the sole nominee for the guild's top spot. Also elected on a white ballot were board member Jack Thomas (stepping up to Vice-President), Karen Carnegie Johnson (Sergeant-at-Arms), and Business Representative Steve Hulett, who will be commencing his twenty-fifth year as TAG Business Representative in December.

Fifteen executive board candidates were vying for eleven open seats. Balloting begins in early October; votes will be counted on November 9th.
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Genre? Or Medium?

Are animated features a narrow (and pretty specific) type of movie, or not?

... Animated films like Dreamworks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon, Warner Bros.’ The Iron Giant, Disney’s The Lion King, or Blue Sky’s Ice Age (all of which I consider to be pretty great movies) may have weighty themes and adult thematic elements around the edges, but they are still specifically constructed to at least be marketed as for-all-ages action-comedies, with comical supporting characters, kid-friendly plot elements, and/or narratives that can skate by with a PG at worst. There are some exceptions, usually in the harder-action entries like 20th Century Fox's Titan A.E. or Lionsgate’s (insanely underrated) Battle For Terra, but they usually die badly at the box office while the latest funny-animal caper cleans up at the box office. ...

Until animation truly diversifies itself, until films like Watership Down, Cool World, Walking Life, and arguably Rango become at least a little more commonplace, we must unfortunately discuss the financial aspects, if not artistic aspects as well, of animated films as a genre, rather than merely a medium to tell all different kinds of stories in all different kinds of genres. Those who produce animated art and those who enjoy animated art don’t have to like it. I don’t like it much either, and we can encourage a change, but it’s the truth as of today. Until we have a wide variety of American animated films being produced for mass consumption, in different genres and aimed at different audiences, American animation is unfortunately a category unto itself. It arguably shouldn’t be the case and certainly does not have to be the case, but for now, it most certainly is the case.

I get where Scott Mendelson comes from as regards "genres," but here's my problem.

Back in Hollywood's "Golden Age" (1930-1950), the aim of every movie studio was to rope in as many segments of the viewing public as possible. If there was a Gable picture, they gave Clark a leading lady for the women in the audience. Comedies usually had a young, romantic couple and several older character actors to broaden appeal.

"Casting a wide net" was the strategy. And after the Motion Picture Production Code got some regulatory teeth (around 1934), it became a necessary strategy, because nudity, suggestive behavior, and raunchy language were not allowed. So you could best describe most of the product coming out back then as "family pictures" because it had to be.

And most movies of that era were aimed at the broadest demographic possible. There wasn't any television to compete with the theatrical films, no porn streaming on demand, no smart phones or video games or iPads. Movies were the entertainment option of choice, and most people chose them. And movie moguls tried to rope in as much of the viewing public as they could.

And that is pretty much what animation studios -- with some exceptions -- are attempting to do here in the 21st century. If cartoon makers make "genre movies," then the genre they're creating is the "Golden Age" live-action archetype that tried to corral all of the film-going demographic during the 1930s and 1940s.

Come to think of it, that was the same broad demographic that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was chasing in 1938. There was a reason that SW was the highest grossing film of its year. Disney wanted everybody to see his animated feature, not just kids. And that first time out, the strategy worked like gangbusters.
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R Rated

And animated.

Sony Pictures and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures will partner on the new R-rated animated film “Sausage Party” from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

Directed by Conrad Vernon (“Monsters vs. Aliens”) and Greg Tiernan, ”Sausage Party” is a raunchy animated movie about one sausage’s quest to discover the truth about his existence. After falling out of a shopping cart, the hero sausage and his new friends embark on a perilous journey through the supermarket to get back to their aisles before the 4th of July sale. ...

Mr. Rogen, of course, has been a voice actor in Cartoonland for years. Also a w4riter. Also a producer. So moving purposefully into the production of animated features isn't a big leap.

But the "R rated" angle is interesting. Not many of those being made.
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Alternate Star Wars

There's the newer J.J. Abrams version, and then there's this:

While most eyes have been on the casting of Star Wars: Episode VII, another franchise player set in the galaxy far, far away has been quietly operating under the radar.

Star Wars: Rebels is the CGI-animated series being made by Lucasfilm Animation that will air on Disney XD.

... David Oyelowo, Freddie Prinze Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray and Steven Jay Blum are in the process of being cast as the voice leads for the series, which will make its debut in fall 2014.

Little is known about the series other than it is set during the time period between the two trilogies, as the Empire expanded its reach and Luke Skywalker was growing up on Tatooine. ...

When asked for comment, Lucasfilm said: "We don't have any casting announcements at the time but are excited about the series and look forward to sharing news with you in the future."

Something tells me that Cartoon Network will not be airing anymore Star Wars animated series. (It's a feeling I have.)

And I think if this outing of the Never-ending Saga is successful, we can expect more Star Wars animated spin offs decorating living room flat screens for some time to come. Cash flow, brand building, synergy, sales of shiny merchandise, and hyping the big-screen features yet to be made is what it's all about, friends and neighbors. The Mouse's master plan on bold display.

But let's take an optimistic tack. More animation leads to more animation (and animation employment) ... so it's all good.
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Chipotle/Moonbot's Other Version

The cynic's view.

When a video goes viral, it goes viral. And "Funny or Die" picks it up. Click here to read entire post

DWA Takes a Dip

... in the equities market.

... DWA’s stock price is down 4.5% to $28.24 in mid-day trading after B. Riley & Co’s David Miller changed his recommendation to “neutral” from “buy.” “Despite our best attempts at stretching the rubber band further, we simple cannot justify a higher price target at this juncture” from his current price of $29. He lowered his global box office estimate for DWA’s Turbo by 22.6% to $395M ahead of its debut in major markets including the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, and New Zealand. The film about a snail that becomes an Indy 500 speedster cost about $130M to produce which means it “will be profitable, but less so in comparison to past iterations of our working models” for DWA releases. Miller cut his 2013 earnings estimate for DWA by 27.1% to 70 cents a share. ...

Turbo has thus far grossed $173,198,929 with a bunch of foreign venues yet to come.

I spent the afternoon at DWA's Glendale campus, where a staffer said there will be new hiring in production as some features that are now in development reach the production stage. "Plus the company is hiring for all the television work getting launched. DreamWorks has to do what's Disney has done: Keep it's library out in front of the public, like Disney does. So that the public's kids will buy the lunch boxes and plush toys at Wal- Mart and Toys-R-Us."...

A couple of DWA story artists (and I) noted that DreamWorks Animation should have an easier time of it next year. Not only will Disney be launching just one animated feature (because the Pixar movie has been moved back), but Illumination Entertainment's Minion movie has been relocated to 2015. Added to which, DWA has two commercial movies going into release (can we say "sequel to How to Train Your Dragon?" Can we say "well-loved cartoon characters -- Peadbody and Sherman -- in a feature with a stronger story?" I knew we could ...)

So, though DreamWorks stock is down a bit now, I would guess that it'll be higher after the company's 2014 releases. Of course, I can always be wrong.
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They Go Where the Money Is

Now with Sarnoffian Add On!

Big surprise. Not.

Technicolor will officially open a new base for its visual effects company MPC -- whose credits include Prometheus and World War Z -- on October 28 in Montreal. It also plans to revamp its existing postproduction footprint in the Quebec city.

The news was announced Monday with the Government of Quebec, which offers incentives including interest-free loans to build its production infrastructure. The city already has a local talent base, with numerous VFX and post facilities, as well as leading VFX software developer Autodesk. ...

The team is already getting started on work for Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past with director Bryan Singer and the film’s VFX supervisor Richard Stammers, Disney’s Into the Woods with helmer Rob Marshall and MPC’s VFX supervisor Matt Johnson and Disney’s Cinderella with director Kenneth Branagh and VFX supervisor Charley Henley of MPC.

What could be handier. A pool of talent in place. A bunch of free government money.

Free enterprise. Fuck YEAH!

(I'm so old I can remember when Disney had it's visual effects division in Burbank. Money does talk, donnit?)

Add On: Tim Sarnoff, late of Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Digital, and Sony Pictures Imageworks, is now the topkick for Technicolor Digital Productions. Regarding the visual effects biz today, and the allure of Montreal, he tells us:

... “We’ve always been an industry in turmoil. In the older days, I don’t think the big facilities were suffering from the turmoil as much as small facilities, or certainly the mid-sized facilities. What’s changed is the larger facilities are suffering more than the small facilities are, and it’s precisely because you have to be a little more flexible and light on your feet to be able to survive in today’s industry.

“In the past you needed to be big enough to handle all the requests. Now you need to big enough to handle all the requests, and you have to be light on your feet.”

Sarnoff said Monday’s announcement that Technicolor is adding capacity for up to 250 vfx artists at a new 25,000-square-foot facility in old town Montreal reflects that new reality. “We have a choice of getting larger in one place or moving to another. If you get too large in one spot it makes you too heavy, and if you choose not to expand you get too light in terms of your abilities.”

Of course, if we strip away the bark and other hoo ha, Montreal is the new digital El Dorado because of MO NEE.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013


If you're a veteran gamer ... or have kids who are vets, this will (maybe) strike a chord:

I used to stand in the arcades of long ago (fifteen years back? Could it be that long?) and watch our younger urchin play video games quite similar to this.

... What makes Coin so special is that it subtly references a dump truck's worth of video game references. Of course there's "Double Dragon" and "Portal", those two are super obvious (along with "Super Mario Bros"). But you also have "Battletoads", "Mega Man", "Legend of Zelda", even "King of Fighters". ...

Most of the above names are unknown to me, but the action and character types are very known.

Because for long stretches on weekends I peered over a seven-year-old's shoulder thinking: "So how much longer is he going to play this g.d game with one g.d.quarter? We can't stay at Fudrucker's 'til freaking midnight. I've got g.d. work tomorrow." ...
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Your International Box Office

Turbo continues to zoom along in foreign markets.

Foreign Weekend Grosses -- (Worldwide Totals)

Smurfs 2 -- $14,100,000 -- ($307,349,842)

Turbo -- $12,300,000 -- ($173,229,335 )

Despicable Me 2 -- $10,300,000 -- ($854,045,880)

Planes -- $7,200,000 -- ($155,543,293)

Monsters University -- $2,800,000 -- ($736,257,030)

Among animation releases, only Monsters University seems to be running out of gas on the theatrical circuit. But that only stands to reason, since its release date is the furthers back of any of the Big Five, shown above.

It's interesting to note that although Smurfs 2 is labeled a "disappointment" by some of the entertainment media, the picture has collected over $300 million worldwide and clearly has momentum outside the U.S. of A.

From the Mojo:

The foreign box office was dominated by a few family movies. The Smurfs 2 led the way with $14.1 million; it added $5.3 million in its second weekend in China, and opened to a solid $2.8 million in Italy. To date, The Smurfs 2 has earned $238.4 million overseas.

DreamWorks Animation's Turbo fueled up with $12.4 million this weekend, a huge part of which came from its $9.8 million debut in China. It also opened to $1.4 million in Australia. Both of these debuts are fine, though neither are big enough to save this major disappointment — so far, Turbo has only grossed $91.6 million overseas.

Despicable Me 2 added $10.3 million from 41 markets this weekend. The animated sequel had a strong $6.3 million debut in Japan, and will likely play well there over the next few weeks (animated movies tend to have excellent holds in this market). Despicable Me 2 has now earned $493.3 million overseas; including its domestic tally, it's made an incredible $854 million worldwide. ...

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ongoing Marathon

The viewfest is happening now.

... The ultimate “South Park” marathon will stream 234 episodes back-to-back from season one through 16 online with limited commercial interruption for a four-day marathon that will lead into the season 17 premiere on Wednesday, September 25 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. The marathon will be comprised of 94 hours, 59 minutes and 40 seconds of “South Park” content online ...

There will be a lot of fifteen, seventeen and twenty-something males staring at their computer screens. Binge viewing gone wild. Click here to read entire post

Weekend Steeple Chase

Where Planes clings to the bottom rung of the Top Ten.

1. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 3,260] R Friday $7.0M, Weekend $21.0M

2. Insidious: Chapter 2 (FilmDistrict) Week 2 [Runs 3,155] PG13 Friday $4.6M (-77%), Weekend $13.0M, Cume $59.4M

3. The Family (Relativity) Week 2 [Runs 3,091] R Friday $2.0M (-61%), Weekend $6.4M, Cume $25.1M

4. Battle Of The Year (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [Runs 2,008] PG13 Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.9M

5. Instructions Not Included (Lionsgate) Week 4 [Runs 978] PG13 Friday $1.3M, Weekend $5.2M, Cume $33.8M

6. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 7 [Runs 3,008] R Friday $1.3M, Weekend $4.3M, Cume $137.9M

7. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) Week 6 [Runs 2,931] PG13 Friday $1.1M, Weekend $3.9M, Cume $106.1M

8. Riddick (Universal) Week 3 [Runs 3,022] R Friday $1.0M, Weekend $3.4M, Cume $37.0M

9. Wizard of Oz: IMAX 3D (Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 318] PG Friday $751K, Weekend $2.8M

10. Planes (Disney) Week 7 [Runs 2,446] PG Friday $531K, Weekend $2.5M, Cume $86.2M

The Disney Toon Studios' Cars spin-off has now outpaced DWA's Turbo.

Its performance has pleased Diz Co. execs well enough to merit another theatrical go-round in the series, the next time in wide-screen!
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Traffic Jams and Maximizing Profit

Schedules are, apparently, being shifted.

The animation exodus from 2014 is continuing as Universal Pictures announced that it will move its “Minions in 3D,” a spinoff from the blockbuster “Despicable Me” franchise, from December 2014 to July 10, 2015.

The move comes the same week that Disney said it was moving its troubled Pixar Animation Studios title “The Good Dinosaur” from May 2014 to November 25, 2015. ...

Universal said it was postponing the “Minions” release date not because of production issues but to maximize the film’s box office revenue. ... Sony Pictures will now have to decide whether to move its “Smurfs 3,” which is scheduled to come out just two weeks after the “Minions” movie, to safer ground. The last "Smurfs" film was trounced by "Despicable Me 2" at the box office. ...

Competition among animated films is skyrocketing. This year, 11 animated movies will be released widely, up from six a decade ago. Even with “Minions” and “The Good Dinosaur” moving out of next year, 2015’s animated slate still includes “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Rio 2,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Planes: Fire & Rescue.” ...

Disney, Sony, Viacom and Fox are usually good at seeing the piles of money sitting in front of their faces. Animated features are the big profit centers among theatrical movies (though our fine, entertainment conglomerates can always overwork the Golden Goose, can't they?)

It's still undetermined how many animated entertainments are "too much." I would submit that if it's a movie audiences want to see, there's no such thing as "too much."

Personally, I think next year's feature slate will be more consistent in the earnings department than this one. Reports I get on Peabody and Sherman are strong. I'm told that the picture's come together in a solid way, the time travel angle is executed with aplomb, and the film is actually "about" something.

Rio 2 is a sequel that will likely deliver the audience of the first entry (though I'm speaking generally; I've heard little one way or the other.)

Dragons 2 has gotten good buzz right along and should should perform well. And the next Planes will have a bit more production oomph than the first. (For one thing, it'll be in wide screen.) I've got no idea if the story and character development is stronger than the first.

So to sum up: I think DreamWorks will avoid anything like the snail misfire of 2013, Blue Sky Studios will produce a mid-list hit, and the Disney Toons picture will perform to Diz Co.'s expectations. (Something around $90-$100 million gross, with lots of toys sold.)

And a year hence, will see if my powers of prognostication are any good.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

No Cartoons = Sinking Stock?

Reuters tells us:

Shares of Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) fell 2 percent on Thursday, one day after the company delayed the release of two movies from its acclaimed Pixar animation studio, "The Good Dinosaur" and a sequel to 2003 hit "Finding Nemo."

Pushing back "Good Dinosaur" to 2015 removes a major film from the media company's movie slate next year, Wedge Partners analyst Martin Pyykkonen said. The postponement of both movies likely contributed to a decline in Disney shares, he said.

As much as I would like this to be true, I think the financial pundits are off the mark.

The markets all hit a downdraft on Thursday. Methinks that Disney stock would have declined if Pixar had announced two animated feature films in '14 instead of ... none.

Diz Co. has BIG cash flows. The amusement parks are part of that. Also merchandise and broadcast and cable. ESPN is making money hand over fist. Animated features, profitable as many of them can be, aren't huge drivers for monthly cash flows.

The main reason that Disney stock declined was it was caught in the middle of a downward market adjustment. And her we are.

It wasn't the lack of Pixar product, though it might be pretty to think so. It was the lower profits, and lack of higher market share. but mainly the plunging stock market.
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Back at the SPA

Yesterday I was down at Sony Pictures Animation, walking around and holding a 401(k) meeting. SPA has just under fifty employees, and now that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (see above) is ready for launch next week, several employees were taking vacations. ...

Cloudy had a lot of its production work done at Sony Picture Imageworks British Columbia studio, where a large part of the animation was done. There were also a lot of SPI employees working on the picture in Culver City.

There are a number of features in work. Popeye, with genndy tartakovsky directing, is garnering enthusiasm. And staffers tell me that the newer Cloudy is amusing, so maybe it will open robustly next Friday. (No major reviews on-line yet.)

I talked briefly to Kelly Asbury, who's working on Kazorn and the Unicorn (or Kazorn, as the posters decorating various walls title it.) His picture isn't due for a couple more years, but it appears to be on track. (Certainly that's what people are telling me.)

Morale seemed to be better than the last time I strolled through the studio. But then, the pressure of getting the new picture out is o-ver, so that could have aided the mood.
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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Meledandri's Secrets

Bloomberg profiles a successful animation producer not named Katzenberg or Lasseter.

... Asked what’s behind Universal’s turnaround from fourth place in 2012, Ron Meyer, NBCUniversal’s vice chairman, simply said, “We hired Chris Meledandri.”...

Despicable Me 2 has sold more than $840 million in tickets worldwide, and cost only $76 million. ... “What [Chris Meledandri] is demonstrating today is that you can make very good movies at a reasonable cost,” says Peter Chernin, the former CEO of Fox Entertainment. ...

Meledandri’s films attract an audience that’s as much over age 18 as under it. “The humor is sophisticated and topical,” says Paul Dergarabedian, who heads box office research at the website “They’re making them not only kid-friendly, but friendly for thinking adults.” ...

Meledandri’s U.S. office has only about 35 employees. To bring his projects to life, however, Universal acquired the animation business of Mac Guff, a studio in Paris with a staff of almost 500. Making movies in France isn’t about chasing cheap labor. Animators there make slightly lower salaries than in the U.S., Meledandri says, but benefits costs are much higher. Those animators, many of whom used to make pictures solely for the French market, are pros at working on limited budgets ...

Others have attempted to make lower-cost animated features; almost all have failed. (They did the lower cost part pretty well, but the "turn a profit" part of the equation eluded them.)

Mr. Meledandri has created a business model where his company, Illumination Entertainment, produces the pictures for a price, and the results still pull in sizable audiences.

This has actually been done before. Walt Disney made Pinocchio for $3.35 million (1939 dollars) and failed to break even. Whereupon he created Dumbo for $950,000 (1941 dollars) and made a tidy profit. The same thing happened two decades later. Sleeping Beauty was one of the most expensive animated features ever made in its time, and enjoyed little in the way of profits. Then 101 Dalmations -- the next feature out of the starting gate -- was made for 60% of what Beauty cost, and became a popular favorite generating lots of cash.

Chris Meledandri isn't the first producer of efficiently made yet highly popular animated features. He's just the most accomplished practitioner of that particular art form who is currently in business.
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Damaged Pups

Yet another movie (with a new director) on DWA's long (and wide) tarmac.

Noah Baumbach Directing ‘Flawed Dogs’ for DreamWorks Animation

Noah Baumbach‘s last film, Frances Ha, was shot and finished without many people knowing about it; the director’s involvement was only revealed just before the film premiered at Telluride. ...

Now it seems like the Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale director is taking a similar approach with another film; the difference is that this is an animated project, for a major studio. Even better, the film, Flawed Dogs, is based on recent work by cartoonist and author Berkley Breathed. ...

This isn’t Baumbach’s first foray into animation, as he co-wrote both Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and Fantastic Mr. Fox. ...

Jeffrey Katzenberg has often been ahead of the curve in his choices animation directors. Brenda Chapman was the first female story director with Beauty and the Beast, and then Jeffrey assigned her as the co-director for The Prince of Egypt.

And now he's hiring live-action directors. Mr. Baumbach joins Rob Minkoff, a veteran of both live-action and animated features, on the Glendale lot. (Gore Verbinski was the first live-action director to cross over to animation and prosper. His Rango won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature for 2011.)
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Streaming Renewal

Animation, she does well in a variety of formats.

Hulu‘s animated superhero comedy The Awesomes has been renewed for a 10-epiosode second season. The series co-created by Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker launched in August and is one of the top 10 most-watched shows on the streaming service, Hulu says. ...

It's dawned on producers that animation plays well, travels well and has a long shelf life. Added to which, the merchandise that gets generated from cartoons is often substantial.

There's still merchandise out there for The Flintstones, after all. Care to name another half-hour sitcom from 1961 that sells toys? Seen any Donna Reed Show or Leave It To Beaver lunch boxes lately?
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Slight Delay

One more non-surprise.

... "The Good Dinosaur," which was to have hit theaters May 30, 2014, will now arrive Nov. 25, 2015, on the date "Finding Dory" was set to open. That movie, Andrew Stanton's "Finding Nemo" sequel, will now arrive in the summer of 2016.

"Nobody ever remembers the fact that you slipped a film, but they will remember a bad film," said Pixar's president, Ed Catmull. "Our conclusion was that we were going to give the [dinosaur] film some more time." ...

After Peterson [the original director] left "The Good Dinosaur," a team of people including Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich, "Brave" director Mark Andrews and the film's original co-director, Peter Sohn, began overseeing various sections of the movie. ...

If one director has a problem," [Andrew Stanton said], "everybody’s connected to the same bed sheet. You pull one end and it makes wrinkles in the other one. It’s a new problem."

Apparently when the director's replaced on a movie close to the movie's scheduled release, the scheduled release gets moved. Who would have thought?

Bloomberg (the news service, not the New York mayor) pointed out:

... The delays add to recent turbulence in the film operation. This month, Disney pulled the fifth installment of Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series from its schedule. That followed the August announcement that the company will lose as much as $190 million this quarter on “The Lone Ranger,” another Bruckheimer film.

“The most important thing is not to have any more big losses, like ‘John Carter’ and ‘The Lone Ranger,’” said Barton Crockett, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets who recommends buying Disney stock. The delay in “The Good Dinosaur” shows they are “taking the time to get the movie right.” ...

Here's hoping they do.
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Where TAG Members Work in September '13

Numbers in square brackets are the numbers working at that studio, out of 2,838 total employed.

Despite the DreamWorks Animation layoffs last winter, animation work at other studios continues to expand.

Nickelodeon has multiple projects in work, and Disney TVA is sub-contracting half-hour series to smaller L.A.-based studios. (Why they don't house some or all of these projects at Disney TVA-Sonora or Disney TVA-Empire might be known to others but certainly not us. The Mouse has its own strategies.)

Fox Animation currently is producing Family Guy and and American Dad at its Wilshire Boulevard studio, and both shows have been picked up for new seasons. Film Roman work on the next season of The Simpsons and a new order Spider Man; Hasbro/The Hub has two shows in the same building on Hollywood Way.

Over the hill in Culver City, Sony Pictures Animation is developing multiple new theatrical projects. (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs must wrapped and gets a release this month.)

On Flower Street in Glendale, Marvel Animation continues to work on two super hero series (with a promise of more to come) and two blocks down DreamWorks Animation TV is prepping several unannounced series, all of which will shortly move to a new space on Central Avenue in Glendale. (Oh yeah. DWA is also doing a number of features.)

A quarter-mile distant, Disney Toon Studios develops new Tinkerbell and Planes features.

Independent studio Bento Box is finishing an initial order of the prime-time Murder Police, and continuing work on Bob's Burgers. Independent studio Wild Canary Animation is starting on a Disney Jr. show. (Then there are independent non-union studios like Renegade Productions, Fox ADHD, Rollman Entertainment, Moonscoop, Rough Draft and Titmouse that we don't track.)

Taken altogether, there is a lot of activity in animation right now. Perhaps the most amazing part is that the amount of employment is within a cat's whisker of where it was in the mid nineties, when everyone and his rich uncle were making hand-drawn features, and Warner Bros. Animation and Disney TVA were bursting at the seams.
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Universal Hits $2 Billion

Universal has come a long way from the days of Uncle Carl Laemmle and The Brid of Frankenstein, wouldn't you say?

Universal Pictures has passed $2 billion at the international box office for the first time in history, the studio announced Wednesday.

International hits “Fast & Furious 6″ ($549.3 million), “Despicable Me 2″ ($485.4 million) and “Les Misérables” ($293 million) led the charge. The studio crossed the milestone after Tuesday box-office totals were tallied.

Universal hit $1 billion international earlier this year in record time, and kept its momentum long enough to shatter its previous record of $1.794 billion. ...

Unlike the olden days, when Universal's animation consisted of Walter Lantz churning out shorts, the powers that be now have Illumination Entertainment and the Despicable Moi franchise.

As they say about DM2: "It's the most profitable movie in Universal's history."
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New WGA Officers

Many have been returned to office, but here's the lineup:

... Christopher Keyser was re-elected as president, while Howard A. Rodman and Carl Gottlieb were also re-elected as vice president and secretary-treasurer, respectively. ...

“Man of Steel” screenwriter David S. Goyer was among the eight WGAW members elected to the board of directors. Other winners include Billy Ray, Patric M. Verrone, Alfredo Barrios, Jr., Carleton Eastlake, Ari B. Rubin, Thania St. John and Karen Harris. ...

Patric Verrone is a past WGAw President, and has written a lot of animation under the WGA's prime-time contract. One of his focuses over the years has been organizing animation writing under WGA contracts. Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cartoon Cable Ratings

Things continue to go swimmingly for Ted Turner's animation channels.

Adult Swim’s Total Day ranked #1 among adults 18-24 & 18-34 and men 18-24 on basic cable. Compared to the same week in 2012, Total Day delivery increased among adults 18-24 by 15%, adults 18-34 by 19%, adults 18-49 by 18%, men 18-24 by 9%, men 18-34 by 9% and men 18-49 by 14%.

Compared to the same week in 2012, Primetime (broadcast definition) delivery increased among adults 18-24 by 8%, adults 18-34 by 21%, adults 18-49 by 11%, men 18-24 by 12%, men 18-34 by 11% and men 18-49 by 9%.

So much for young adults. What about the elementary school set?

... Uncle Grandpa (8 p.m.), scored as the #1 telecast of the day among kids 6-11 & boys 6-11, and ranked #1 in its time period among kids 6-11,9-14 and all boys.

Across the third week of September 2013, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network for Early Prime (7-9 p.m.) delivery of boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14.

Cartoon Network was the #1 destination for kids 9-14 and all targeted boys on Monday Night (7-9 p.m.), while increasing with all targeted kids & boys 6-11 & 9-14 vs. the same time period last year. ...

The ratings help explain why CN's management is relatively long-serving and stable. Corporate CEOs aren't inclined to fix things that aren't broke. (Not the smart ones, anyway.)

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Synergy III!!

One big hit, and you can not only open your own mint, you can (theoretically) open other mints.

... "Despicable Me: Minion Rush" is a wild ride through the world of Despicable Me, as your Minion jumps, flies and dodges obstacles in this infinite runner game. Players of all ages will be immersed in the world of the popular film franchise and its cast of engaging characters through innovative and highly-addictive gameplay. ...

Gameloft, a leading global publisher of digital and social games, Universal Partnerships & Licensing (UP&L), and Despicable Me creators Illumination Entertainment, today announced that "Despicable Me: Minion Rush," the game companion based on the franchise, is now available. ...

The name of the enterprise is to make a lot of money on the spin-off video game after making a lot of money on the underlying movie.

The problem is, often the game doesn't replicate the roaring success of the motion picture. This doesn't prevent production companies from trying, of course. Because the possible rewards are too dazzling to pass up.

If you don't at least grab for the platinum ring, you don't get the platinum ring.
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DreamWorks Animation keeps on trucking ... and acquiring.

... Dreamworks Animation expands TV portfolio with acquisition of the Chapman Entertainment library, including Fifi and the Flowertots and Roary the Racing Car.

The UK children’s television production and licensing company is behind brands including Fifi and the Flowertots, Roary the Racing Car, Raa Raa the Noisy Lion and Little Charley Bear, all of which will now be distributed through DreamWorks Animation’s UK-based TV distribution operation. ...

DWA is going to be building a lot of content for Netflix over the next few years, so maybe this is a good strategic move. Maybe there is magic in Raa Raa the Noisy Lion and Little Charley Bear that I just don't see. I sure as hell didn't notice the blockbuster status of Kung Fu Panda before the first feature came out.

DreamWorks Animation has a lot on its various whirling plates right now. There is their budding Chinese studio and its shfting corporate strategy; there is the new television animation division, and there is the long list of animated features lined up on the runway, prepping for lift-off.

I can't help thinking that all these moves are different parts of a long-term plan to sell the company to one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates.
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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Studio Rounds

Friday was Disney Animation Studios, where work on Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Giants and Ron and John's Moana comtinues apace. (When you kick the release schedule up to one animated feature a year, you've got to raise the tempo in the story department. There were a number of meetings going on in the big story conference rooms while I was stumbling around.)

Downstairs in the light department, Frozen is in the last couple of weeks of production work. Six and seven day weeks are the norm just now, but the end of production is days away. One supervisor related:

"When October gets here, I'll be taking a month off. ..."

Today at DreamWorks Animation, I discovered that DreamWorks new TV division has temporary quarters inside the big Lakeside building. This is in addition to DWA tv's offices on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. But the new division won't be on the DreamWorks Glendale headquarters long.

"In November, we'll be moving to a skyscraper on Central Avenue in Glendale. We can't stay here on campus, there won'[t be room for us. And we've got to get four or fives series up and running. None have been announced yet, but there will be a lot of shows. And we're going to need a lot of staff, probably a hundred or more." ...

The second season of DreamWorks Dragons -- Defenders of Berk recently wrapped Season #2 at the Ventura Boulevard location. They're waiting to see if there is a third season; assuming there is, it will probably be done in Glendale.

Meantime, DreamWorks Animation TV is starting to hire staff, and they are hiring a chunk of it from Nickelodeon. An executive at a rival studio said to me:

"I'm not surprised that DWA tv is getting people from Nick. Two of DWA tv's top execs come from Nickelodeon, and they know who's over there. And who they want to use. Plus, there's probably some pay back going on." ...

From our perspective, it's great that DWA has a lot of content to provide Netflix in the next few years, because it will be fueling a lot of animation work here in the East Valley. After the DWA layoffs from last winter, that's definitely a good thing.
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Oncoming Monster Sales

Now with back story Add On!

On a monster video game title.

... The first new Grand Theft Auto (GTA) since April 2008 officially goes on sale at midnight, and 37 critics so far have given the Xbox 360 version an average score of 98 on Metacritic. If that holds, then it would be the best-reviewed Xbox 360 game ever, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter notes.

He expects 14M copies of the game to be sold by the end of this month — which would translate into sales of as much as $900M — and possibly 24M units over the life of the game.

Does anybody wonder why our fine, entertainment conglomerates keeping trying to crack the "Monster Game" code? There's serious coin to be made.

Add On: Grand Theft Auto's beginnings, detailed by the BBC.

Back in 1997, the company now called Rockstar North was known as DMA Design - and while most of us may not recognise that name, many will affectionately remember another of their worldwide smashes: Lemmings.

The highly-addictive point-and-clicker was a staggering success, and in its shadow, GTA wasn't exactly popular within the company.

"No-one really wanted to work on GTA," recalls Paul Farley, the title's level designer, in a documentary made for the Guardian.

The premise was simple: as the player, you could run around, partaking in all manner of criminality, with the intent of rising to the top of the gangster underworld by any grotesque means necessary.

Apparently all the varied criminal activity was not popular with the company's rank-and-file.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gleaming Gold Statuettes

The Creative Arts Emmy awards at the Nokia Theater (L.A.) were held tonight; animation of various stripes won a few of the trophies:

Outstanding Animated Program
South Park • "Raising The Bar" • Comedy Central • Central Productions

("South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were (sadly) absent. Just too freaking busy for late-afternoon award ceremonies.)

Outstanding Short Form Animated
Disney Mickey Mouse Croissant de Triomphe • • Disney Television Animation

Other animation awards were ...

Governors Award
June Foray

Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation* – Juried award
The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror -- Paul Wee

And in the visual effects area ...

Outstanding Special Visual Effects
Game Of Thrones • Valar Dohaeris • HBO • Bighead, Littlehead, Television 360, Startling Television and Generator Productions in association with HBO Entertainment
Joe Bauer, Lead Visual Effects Supervisor
Jörn Grosshans, Visual Effects Supervisor
Doug Campbell, Visual Effects Supervisor
Steve Kullback, Lead Visual Effects Producer
Stuart Brisdon, Special Effects Supervisor
Sven Martin, Lead Animation Supervisor
Jabbar Raisani, Visual Effects Plate Supervisor
Tobias Mannewitz, Visual Effects Concept Designer
Adam Chazen, Visual Effects Coordinator

Outstanding Special Visual Effects In A Supporting Role
Banshee • Pilot • Cinemax • Tropper/Schickler Productions, One Olive
and Your Face Goes Here Entertainment in association with Cinemax Original Series
Armen V. Kevorkian, Visual Effects Supervisor
Mark E. Skowronski, VFX Producer
Jane Sharvina, 2D Supervisor
Rick Ramirez, 3D Artist
Jeremy Jozwik, 3D Artist
Mike Oakley, 3D Artist
Nick Sinnott, VFX Artist
Gevork Babityan, Compositing Artist
Andranik Taranyan, Compositing Artist

Congratulations to the winners; condolences to the losers. There's always next year.
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The Mouse's Profits ... The Mouse's Losses

It's a time of yin and yang for Diz Co. On the one hand:

... Disney might have finally found the formula for reversing its losses in the video-game business. Infinity was the third-best selling title last month.

But the profits from that game aren't limited to software sales. Taking a page from Activision Blizzard's playbook, Infinity has a retail component that encourages lucrative toy sales along with the game.

On the other hand ...

... A petition in six languages with more than 5,000 signatures is demanding higher standards 9for Disneyland Paris], and was sent earlier this week to Bob Iger, head of Walt Disney Company, which owns close to 40 per cent of DP.

Belgian Guillaume Gallant started the petition after finding out on a recent visit that four shows had been cancelled, two rides were closed and food from an expensive restaurant was re-heated.

Although Disneyland Paris opened with much fanfare in the Spring of 1992, the park pales in comparison to its sister locations.

Over the past five years profits have plummeted with total net losses of over 272 million euros, even with over 16 million visitors last year.

Gallant says the park has eschewed quality for high visitor rates and reduced spending. ...

But Disney's Chief Financial Officer Jay Russolo prefers to accentuate the positive, like movie franchises and toys.

... During a presentation of the Mouse House’s assets at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, in Beverly Hills, Rasulo said “the market is extremely hot for everything ‘Star Wars.’”

He called the franchise an “evergreen property” that continues to mint money through licensing deals, and had the potential to become even more valuable with the right deals.

When asked if Disney was worried that today’s kids may not be familiar with the films, Rasulo touted the strong sales of toys — the brand continues to prove one of the top franchises in terms of licensing revenue each year. ...

“The sky’s the limit,” Rasulo said of the potential for the sci-fi franchise, including expanding its presence in the company’s theme parks. “There’s incredible flexibility. It’s an unbelievable palette to create from.”

Rasulo said Disney’s in-house licensing and consumer products group would devote the next year on brokering deals around the world to expand the reach of the “Star Wars” brand. ...

Sequelitis has become the corporate philosophy, wouldn't you say? Sequel amusement parks. Sequel movies.

Diz Co. is definitely not your grandfather's Disney. It's really become the Berkshire-Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates.
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Animated Box Office In Foreign Lands

So here's how the cartoons are doing overseas ... and globally.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Smurfs 2 -- $17,600,000 -- ($288,318,793 )

Planes -- $10,700,000 -- ($138,783,656)

Despicable Me 2 -- $4,400,000 -- ($840,243,550)

Monsters University -- $3,100,000 -- ($730,865,054)

Turbo -- $985,000* -- ($159,000,526)

Despicable Me 2 is the feature that just keeps on chugging, although Monsters University -- little noted by the media in the last month-and-a-half -- has run up a BIG total here and abroad.

Turbo is running slightly ahead of Planes in the domestic and worldwide grosses departments, but its production costs were $85 million higher.

* I'm guesstimating here, since foreign grosses after "Turbo's" Sept 8 haven't shown up on the internets.
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Mega's Disney One-Sheet

Mega Collector's weekend offering: "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood," in an original poster, featuring Edward G. Robinson, the Marx brothers, W.C. Fields, Charlie McCarthy, Katherine Hepburn, Hugh Herbert (anybody remember him?) and numerous others. ...

Mega has this colorful specimen hanging in his office, and I took a picture of it ... which explains the annoying reflections.

The picture came out at the tail end of 1938, when Pinocchio and Bambi were in production. Walt was paying more attention to the features at this point. The shorts, thought still high in quality, received less of his tender loving care. Studio veteran Wilfred Jackson was the director of this "Symphony;" Jackson also directed sequences of Dumbo, Fantasia, Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs among numerous others.
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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Upped Minimum

Economic/labor news from the state capital.

Minimum wage workers in California would earn $10 an hour by 2016 under a bill passed by the legislature on Thursday, making the state likely to become the first in the nation to commit to such a high rate.

The bill, which Governor Jerry Brown said he will sign, would increase the minimum wage for hourly workers in the most populous U.S. state from the current rate of $8 an hour to $9 in July 2014, and to $10 by January 2016.

"The minimum wage has not kept pace with rising costs," Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement. "This legislation is overdue and will help families that are struggling in this harsh economy." ...

Before Oswald gallops in and complains how awful this news is, allow me a few observations:

1) Of late, right-wing commentators have dissed fast food workers for demonstrating for higher pay. They say the burger flippers are greedy and delusional, and the godd*mn Fast Food Workers of America is behind the whole thing anyway. (Like your only allowed to wave a picket sign if you're in the Screen Actors Guild, the WGA, or TAG?)

Recently Fox commentator Neil Cavuto waxed nostalgic about his days earning $2 an hour as a 16-year-old fast food worker, and how $2 was fine by him. Except in 1974, when Cavuto was flipping burgers, the $2 wage was the equivalent of $9.47 per hour in 2013.

And the median age of fast food workers in the current economy is 28. Not 16.

2) Ten bucks an hour is hardly exorbitant in the wider scheme of things. In Australia, another country with lots of surfers and sunshine, the rate is north of $16 per hour.

And the Aussies have an unemployment rate of 5.8%. And an economy that is ticking along nicely (even though their unemployment rate has ticked up the last few months, from 5.7% to 5.8%.)

Me, I think the national minimum wage should be $10 per hour across the board. It's a way to spread a bit of the money around, especially since most of the money flows to the tippy-top of of our oh-so-deserving rich, and the present concentration of wealth is about where it was in 1928, when the concentration was at a record high.

Maybe if we raise the minimum wage to $16+ an hour like Australia, we can get our unemployment rate down to 5.8%

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Mid-September Box Office

This is the sleepy season for movie box office. As you can see, Planes constinues its gentle, downward glide-path in the Top Ten.

1. Insidious: Chapter 2 (Blumhouse/FilmDistrict) NEW (Runs 3,049] PG13 Friday $20.1M, Weekend $43.0M

2. The Family (Europecorp/Relativity) NEW [Runs 3,091] R Friday $5.3M, Weekend $15.5M

3. Riddick (Universal) Week 2 [Runs 3,117] R Friday $2.1M (-70%), Weekend $7.3M, Cume $31.6M

4. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 6 [Runs 3,238] R Friday $1.7M, Weekend $5.7M, Cume $131.9M

5. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) Week 5 [Runs 3,239] PG13 Friday $1.6M, Weekend $5.7M, Cume $100.2M

6. Instructions Not Included (Pantelion/Lionsgate) Week 3 [Runs 932] PG13 Friday $1.3M, Weekend $6.8M, Cume $29.1M

7. One Direction: This Is Us (Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,300] PG Friday $825K, Weekend $2.8M, Cume $27.3M

8. Planes (Disney) Week 6 [Runs 2,739] PG Friday $705K, Weekend $3.3M, Cume $83.2M

9. Elysium (Sony) Week 6 [Runs 1,720] R Friday $628K, Weekend $2.2M, Cume $88.5M

10. Blue Jasmine (Sony Classics) Week 8 [Runs 993] Friday $474K, Weekend $1.6M, Cume $27.7M

The rest of the animated posse leaps along in the following order: Despicable Me 2 is at #16 with $357,831,320. The Smurfs 2 is #19 with a domestic total of $68,318,793. Monsters University is at #29 with $265,092,054. And Turbo moves along at #29 with $80,700,526. Click here to read entire post

Vegan Scarecrow

Dark, but awesome.

A fine piece of animation, created by Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, LA.

TAG President emeritus Kevin Koch is a supervising animator at Moonbot. I'm making the assumption (perhaps wrong) that he was involved in this. Regardless, it's fine, fine work.

Add On: There's this from Dr. Koch (via Facebook). "We're over the moon with excitement as we announce our app/film collaboration with Chipotle Mexican Grill."

Add On: This Variety piece explains how the short came to be:

... Chipotle developed and produced “The Scarecrow” with CAA Marketing; it plans to produce “Farmed and Dangerous” on its own as four dark comedies that it will release on online platforms that promote better eating, especially among younger Millennials.

“We’re trying to educate people about where their food comes from,” said Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle.

And going after younger consumers is why the content isn’t as branded as one might expect.

Millennials tend to steer away from brands that promote themselves too heavily, marketers have found. But they’ve also learned that Millennials are attracted to those brands with a specific voice. In Chipotle’s case, it’s a campaign against the evils of Big Food.

And that’s helped “The Scarecrow” certainly stand out from the crowd.

The animated short is a dark and haunting three-minute piece that Tim Burton would certainly appreciate, that features chickens being injected, sad cows stuck in crates, and evil red-eyed robotic crows running an industrial food factory known as Crow Foods that pumps out food labelled as “100% beef-ish.” Fiona Apple’s moody cover of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s” “Pure Imagination” plays over the action.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Hand-Drawn Renewal!

Nick has renewed its freshman hit.

... The cable network has renewed the animated series Sanjay and Craig featuring voice stars Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock, Weeds) and Chris Hardwick (Talking Bad, The Talking Dead) for a 20-episode second season. The sophomore run is expected to kick off in 2014.

The announcement comes days before the half-hour series, which debuted with back-to-back episodes May 25 to 3.6 million viewers, returns for the final eight installments of its freshman run Sept. 14 after a two-month break.

Funny thing about animation on television. The kids watching it don't care if it's computer generated or not. They watch CG shows that grab them. They watch the old-fashioned variety when those tickle their fancies.

This presents a conundrum for television animation studios, because doing CG for television is more expensive than the Hanna-Barbera style. And why spend more money if it ain't going to make you more money?

This question has been vexing tv animation producers since Sony Adelaide produced Starship Troopers in glorious CGI a dozen years ago. The cost of making the show was not cheap, and it flopped anyway. It's why today you still see a multitude of hand-drawn shows being produced; it's why DreamWorks Animation is doing the television version of Turbo in two dimensions even though the theatrical version was presented in three.

So if you're wondering why you still get lots of traditional-looking cartoons pouring into your home screen, it comes down to two words.

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Mega Collector's Flintstones

Visting Mega yesterday, I was shown a trove of storyboards for Show #1 from Season #1 of The Flintstones. These were drawn by cartoon veteran Dan Gordon, and as Wikepedia relates:

Gordon had some experience with cartoon cavemen, having worked on the “Stone Age” series of animated shorts for the Fleischer Brothers Studio back in 1940. Although many talented people had a part in creating what would become The Flintstones, Bill Hanna generously points to Gordon. “Now you may not get the same response from anybody else, Bill Hanna recalls, ”but to me, Dan Gordon is responsible for The Flintstones. He came up with the basic concept of doing it with cavemen in skins.”[11] And Joe Barbera recounts in his autobiography that, ”the first two Flintstones were the work of Dan Gordon and myself; I controlled the content, and Dan did the storyboards.” ...

I photographed Mr. Gordon's handiwork with my smart phone, so the quality is ... shall we say? .. a wee bit in-and-out. But the images give you a chance to see what boards were like at the dawn of prime-time animated t.v. shows, circa 1960.

Somewhat different than today, yes?
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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Other Crossover

Oh yes. Here's the other animator-to-live-action-director story.

“Dads.” [exec-produced by Seth MacFarlane], has made plenty of noise before it’s ever even aired — though Fox wants you to know that preeminent noise at the live tapings is laughter.

Still, the new comedy, which stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as two successful 30-somethings who’s nightmarish fathers move in with them, has seemingly gotten most of its press for what some critics say are racist scenes in the pilot episode. ...

Like Brad Bird in his maiden live-action outing, Mr. MacFarlane directed a smash hit. He's since directed his second live-action feature, and is an executive producer of Dads premiering within days. He's taken a lot of flak for "racist" content in the new live-action sit-com, but it strikes me that the humor and dialogue tracks the cartoon shows.

Of course, having a flesh-and-blood actor spout the kinds of lines that Peter Griffin belches out might seem a tad more ... raw. But we will shortly see how the television audience reacts to Seth M.'s latest creation.
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Not Peter Pan's sidekick, but one of the pillars of Disney TVA's story department. And also this job ...

Standing in front of her illustration class Professor Wendy Grieb teaches to her students how to make art fit for films and television. Many of Grieb’s own illustrations have been viewed by audiences all over the globe.

The Cal State Fullerton professor has worked on many film and television shows including Hercules, Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch, Pepper Ann, Dave the Barbarian, Phineas and Ferb and Emperor’s New School.

The Cal State Fullerton art professor’s most recent work involves the dance routines within Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb, though she says her dance skills are limited only to paper. ...

Wendy Grieb has been a crackerjack storyboard artist for years. I've seen her numerous times at Disney's Sonora Street storyboard, creating magic on her Cintiq. Recently she told me she was doing another art project in addition to the Disney work, in addition to raising children.

Grieb is currently working on a set of children’s books. The first of the series that was released is Monster Needs a Costume. The next book to be released will be called, Monster Needs His Sleep. ...

I get tired just thinking about how many bases Wendy covers.

Women in storyboard positions are a distinct minority in the animation industry, and they have to be damn good to thrive in the business. Wendy's been at the top of her game for a while, and relates the driving philosophy she shares with her student:

“Draw.” ... “Always, always draw … (it) will give you ideas for stories. Give your heart to it. If you really want to do this, you have to have your heart in it.”

For Wendy Grieb, giving the job a 100% of her energies and talents has carried her a long way.
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