Thursday, October 31, 2013

New 401(k) Contribution Limits

The new 401(k) caps are out. (They're late due to a recent government shutdown). They are as follows:

1) The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k) and 403(b) remains unchanged at $17,500.

2) The catch-up contribution limit for those aged 50 and over remains unchanged at $5,500.

3) The overall annual defined contribution limit has increased from $51,000 to $52,000.

4) The annual compensation limit has increased from $255,000 to $260,000 ...

For most 401(k) participants, the important numbers above arer 1) and 2). For a chosen few, 4) could be important, because once they hit the income cap of $260,000, no further 401(k) contributions can be made.

One more thing: For any TAG 401(k) participants reading this, the enrollment deadline for November happens tomorrow. If you have interest in getting into the Plan for the last two months of the year, please get your application forms into the Animation Guild office no later than tomorrow.
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I was mad as hell

In July of 1980, about six months after I started working for the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Local 839 IATSE, I attended my first IATSE convention, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Within forty-eight hours of my arrival, I was mad as hell. I was so mad at what the IATSE was doing, I had booked tickets for my return, packed my bag, and notified the hotel of my departure. It was only after a very long talk with Moe Gollub and Bud Hester that I agreed, reluctantly, to stay.

In September of 2013, I found myself at a membership meeting of what was now known as the Animation Guild. I heard the anger of members at what they have to go through on an ongoing basis. Oppressive deadlines. Unfair and arbitrary hiring tests. Pay raises that don’t keep pace with the cost of living. Untalented businesspersons taking credit and accepting awards for our work. And worst of all, the ever-present threat of uncompensated overtime.

I thought back to when my anger at the doings of the Mother Alliance made me mad enough to threaten to leave the convention, and I realized two things:
  1. I can no longer remember what I was mad about in 1980.
  2. It doesn’t matter.
That’s what we have in common — something that triggered our sense of fairness and justice, and our anger at those who would deny us our hard-won rights as workers. Something that made us mad, and wanted to join others who were also mad.

Not everyone who is mad gets mad in the same way. I like to think of myself as a calm, friendly person. Others may show their anger differently. But we belong to the same organization … we call it the American labor movement.

By the time I came to the above realizations I had already decided it was time for me to retire. I am stepping down as Recording Secretary, Assistant to the Business Representative, and as editor of The Peg-Board, effective today. This will be my last post on the TAG Blog.

After over half a lifetime, even though my memory of what I was mad at so long ago has faded, I am still mad as hell. So I intend to keep showing up at membership meetings — retired members have voice but no vote — and sit in the back row with the angry people.

Those who show up at meetings can look for us there. And for those who don’t show up at meetings … after thirty-three years of begging and pleading, I can say: it’s your loss.

See you around.
Illustration by Pres Romanillos
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As the IA (and TAG) ramp up their campaign to get more competitive state tax credits for motion picture, this is far from beneficial:

California State Senator Ron Calderon took tens of thousands of dollars from undercover FBI agents to makes changes to the state’s $100 million Film and TV tax credit program, says Al Jazeera America.

Citing a sealed FBI affidavit, the channel aired a report on Wednesday providing lucid details into the well-known investigation of the influential state politician. Calderon’s office was raided by the federal agency earlier this summer. The affidavit (read it here) alleges, among other actions, that in early 2012, Calderon agreed to help an agent posing as “the owner of a film studio in downtown Los Angeles that provides studio facilities to independent films and commercials” to get the $1 million budget required as a minimum under the Californian Film Commission program for a pic to qualify for credits lowered to $750,000. ...

I have misgivings about about paying corporate subsidies to wealthy conglomerates.

On the other hand, California movie makers are getting their butts kicked by Canada, Britain, New York and numerous other places because they offer bountiful guvmint handouts and California doesn't. So the starry-eyed idealists among us are faced with the usual conundrum: There is the way we would like things to be ... and there's the way things actually are. And (sadly) the present reality is, if you don't step up with money for the entertainment congloms, a lot fewer entertainment workers will be working over the next year or three.

Crappy, but there it is.

So it's not helpful when a corrupt politician gets his palm greased by an undercover agent and it turns into a news story. Kind of undermines what entertainment unions are trying to do here in the sunshine state.
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CAPS to honor Floyd Norman

Cordially invites the animation community to our
2013 Sergio Award Banquet honoring


Saturday evening November 9, 2013, 7:00 PM

Marriott Warner Center
Hidden Hills Room
21850 Oxnard Street, Woodland Hills, CA 91367

Please join CAPS as we enjoy a sumptuous dinner among friends and colleagues from the comic art and animation community.

Following dinner, we will have a wonderful program honoring the immensely talented and always affable Floyd Norman, a genuine Disney Legend. Floyd’s work at Disney, however, only scratches the surface of a long and illustrious career. The evening will include a terrific lineup of speakers from his past and present, including a very special mystery guest. You won’t want to miss it as they finally spill the beans on “Mr. Nice Guy” Norman!

Plus! A long overdue tribute to our fabulously funny friend and fellow CAPSer, the legendary Gary Owens!

Seating is limited and reservations are required.

Admission is $38.00 for CAPS members (including spouse or guest & children) and $48.00 for non-members.

To reserve your place at the 2013 CAPS Banquet honoring Floyd Norman, send your check, name, number in party, email address & phone number to:

P.O. Box 656
Burbank, CA 91503

Be sure to indicate your meal choices – TRI-TIP, CHICKEN or VEGETARIAN.

Reservations MUST arrive no later than Monday, November 4th.

You may also pay through PAYPAL by emailing If using PayPal, email your contact info, number in party & meal choices to or

Hope to see you there!

Pat McGreal, President CAPS 2013
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The Don Lusk Birthday Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with Don Lusk

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Here in Part III, Don Lusk and I wrap up the first interview and unspool a second, recorded a week later. (I did a wee bit of research after #1, and wanted to find out more about his work at Disney, in particular his animation on Fantasia) ...

Mr. Lusk was not happy with the color work on the whirling, pirouetting fish of "The Nutcracker Suite" (you can listen to what he says about it, I won't spoil it for you here, but allow me to state that Mr. Lusk wanted to "crawl under the theater seat" when he saw the finalized sequence at the premiere.)

Don also discusses his long tenure at Hanna-Barbera, from animation to direction, and what some of his favorite pieces of work are in a sixty-year career.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DreamWorks Quarterly Report

Not great, but could, per the experts' expectation, have been worse.

DreamWorks Animation generated $10M in net income, down 58.8% compared with last year, on revenues of $154.5M, -17%.

Analysts expected revenues to come in at $140.3M. Earnings at 12 cents a share also beat expectations for a penny. ...

The feature film unit generated $120.7M in revenue and $55.4M in gross profit. Library titles contributed the most. ... Consumer products generated $12M in revenue with a $3M gross profit, mostly due to Turbo. And digital venture AwesomenessTV accounted for most of the $3.6M in revenue for the “other” category. ...

The company keeps branching out, building studios and amusements in China, moving more aggressively into television and mobile devices. The medium-sized animation house is slowly working its way to mini-major status.

I spent time on the Glendale campus today, and got to see a small piece of How to Train Your Dragon II on a computer screen. The movie rolls out in June, and based on the few scenes I saw, looks impressive.

DreamWorks Animation will have three features in release next year:, or which Dragon is the middle release. Pixar has no features, and the rest of Diz Co. will have two. Illumination Entertainment has none. If DWA's product is decent, it should have a good year in 2014.

I know DreamWorks Animation employees would be up for that. As a few related to me, if revenues kick up, there's a chance they can get some bonuses. (That won't be happening with this earnings report.)
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It seems the DC super hero infrastructure will be moving west.

... I am proactively reaching out to you this afternoon to share news about our business.

I can confirm that plans are in the works to centralize DCE’s operations in 2015. Next week, the Exec Team will be in New York for a series of meetings to walk everyone through the plans to relocate the New York operations to Burbank. The move is not imminent and we will have more than a year to work with the entire company on a smooth transition for all of us, personally and professionally.

Everyone on the New York staff will be offered an opportunity to join their Burbank colleagues and those details will be shared with you individually, comprehensively and thoughtfully next week. Meeting notifications will be sent tomorrow to ensure the roll out of this information and how it affects the company and you personally.


[DC Enterprises topkick] Diane [Nelson]

Happily, Burbank is very close in tone and vibe to New York City. So staffers will see little difference. (Except for the brown, lumpy mountains. And the coyotes howling at night. And no Times Square. Or skyscrapers. Or nightlife to speak of.

But lots of chain restaurants, movie studios, and a big AMC multiplex. Who could ask for more?)
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E-Mails ...

We get e-mails, this one about a recent post regarding Clark Gable and harbor pilots.

Hi Steve,

i understand the place from which this article comes from but still, the first thought that came into my head while reading it was, "ugh".

the notion that we have a society in which everything is about leverage and power rather than about right and wrong is everything that's wrong with america right now. and when we attribute this behavior to the 1% we can see the problems immediately.

under the rules that you've established, is there anything WRONG with producers and the 1% exploiting their power and pull with politicians to rig and game the system to suck every every last penny to themselves while impoverishing everyone else?

if it's not about right or wrong, what is the problem with that? they are taking advantage of the perks THAT THEY HAVE THE LEVERAGE to gain for themselves. they have the leverage to exploit foreign workers for pennies on the dollar. and everyone else is powerless to fight back so boohoo for

in no uncertain terms, the principle that you have laid out is: MIGHT MAKES RIGHT.

ugh. ...

the position that you stated is problematic in that it is not presented as an unfortunate reality but almost as an ideal. and in doing that, you gain no affection for labor unions by the general population which is not unionized or fair minded union members like myself not interested in just being another party that is no better or different than the other guy.

in saying what you said, we ARE no better than producers. we're just a different player that is JUST AS corrupt as the other guy and we'll invariably abuse the powers that we have. we are the Republican masses that support the policies of abuse by the 1% hoping that one day, we'll join their ranks and get to use the same loop holes to abuse in the same way.

and the clark gable story you quoted doesn't do our sides any favors. for a well enriched guy like gable to pull something off like that makes him seem like a self absorbed dick and again, does the labor movement no favors.

i'm not familiar with the union action that is the subject of your article but it IS possible for unions to abuse their power. to protect incompetent and even criminal teachers, to protect automotive teamsters getting drunk and high over lunch and yeah... maybe getting a deal that is too sweet because you caught management in a precarious situation.

if you play the game this way, not only will management have plenty of excuse and material to demonize unions with but the citizenry at large will rightly view us with suspicion. we're just another interest group that's playing CYA.

if at its heart, unions are not about fairness and decency and our struggles presented as such, our decline, as well as the decline of everyone else who approaches the world with this strategy, will be well deserved. ...

To which I replied:

Thanks for writing, and actually I'm something of an idealist, but I'm also a classical Cynic. I look at the way things are, and acknowledge those realities. If my presentation of leverage came off as an "ideal," then I was inartful and apologize. I didn't mean it as such. And I'm not establishing rules, but trying to inform people of the way things work.

My perspective comes from being around negotiations and power-leveraging for thirty-plus years and seeing how things work. I think it's fine to havescruples and ideals (I strive to practice these things in my private and public life), but over the years I've grown impatient listening to people complain about "fair" and "unfair."

Most people (me included) think slavery is wrong and awful, but St. Paul in the new testament tells us that slaves should knuckle under and obey their masters. So he's endorsing the institution,

My main purpose in writing the piece was to clue members/people into the WAY THINGS WORK. It's great to have ideals and push to achieve them, but there's no point in bashing your head against thick walls unless there is some viable way to reach the ideal ... or at least get part of the way there. Unions need to be fair and decent, but they also need to understand how the game is played. When members participate, and strategize ways to achieve goals while keeping the real world in mind, then improvements are made.

(The Gable anecdote was simply an illustration of leverage. Had it been me, I would have agreed to an extra half hour in exchange for a half hour less on the following day, because I try and look at the BIG picture. Yes, Clark was being a bit of a dick, but it was still a good example of what I was trying to put across.) ...

To be perfectly clear (as President Nixon so gracefully put it), there is the way the world is, then there are aspirations and ideals.

I would like more peace, more love, more harmony. I would like more wholesome food, and happier children, and lower taxes and good jobs for all. And a pony under every Christmas tree tied up with a ribbon.

Sadly, the world is not how I desire it. Even so, I soldier on, doing the best I can, striving for a better tomorrow. (So, I think, should we all.)
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The Nov 1 Show, opens Friday at Gallery 839

Diptych, by Ronald K. Foreman
The Nov 1 Show
at Gallery 839

featuring works by

opens Friday, November 1
reception 6 to 9 pm

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The Don Lusk Birthday Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Don Lusk

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

After leaving Walt Disney Productions at the start of the 60s, Don worked for Walter Lantz and then Hanna-Barbera. And at H-B he found a long-term professional home, and remained there for thirty-plus years. ...

I asked him whether he preferred Disney or Hanna-Barbera; he told me that he had a much happier time at Joe and Bill's place, because he was better respected and made to feel like "one of the family."

Though he worked on some iconic features at Disney, Don felt he was underpaid and not particularly appreciated. And as he relates, Walt held grudges against many of the employees who went out during the 1941 strike ...which likely explains why Don's post-war Disney career never took off.

As Mr. Lusk says, he was "relieved" when finally let go, and the relief turned out to be well-founded: he had decades of productive work still ahead of him.
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Monday, October 28, 2013

What's Live Action?

Good question. And how do we answer it?

Cinematography, art direction and visual effects are so blended in new movies that it might be time for a new Oscar category to be introduced, admitted Hawk Koch, past president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and current co-president of Producers Guild of America.

His suggestion? Something along the lines of "visual imaging." ...

How much does the success of VFX-driven films stem from visual effects, and how much does it depend on cinematography? And what impact might the answer to that question have on Oscar frontrunner Gravity?

"The action of Sandra [Bullock's] body is key frame animation [meaning that it was animated by hand], and that qualifies Gravity as an animated film," pointed out moderator Bill Kroyer, director of digital arts at Chapman University. ...

Director Alfonso Cuaron has said that roughly 80 percent of Gravity was hand animated in the computer. In fact, when the actors are seen in space, only their faces come from live action photography. ...

The differences between animated features and the live action variety continue to shrink. When environments are created by artists, chunks of characters are created by artists, it's hard to call the movie "live action."

I thought the same thing about Avatar. James aCameron got a wee bit defensive about it, but lots of what he directed was an animated feature.
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The Don Lusk Birthday Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Don Lusk

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Happy 100th!

Cartoon veteran Don Lusk (animator, story man, and director .. from Disney on Hyperion to Hanna-Barbera on Cahuenga) turns turns ten decades old today.

To celebrate, we present you with the Don Lusk 100th birthday interview, which covers his career from Disney in 1933, to Hanna-Barbera in 1993. (Sixty years of work seems to be sufficient, wouldn't you say?) ...

I spoke to Don on the big office speaker-phone in mid-October. He talked about his early days at Walt Disney Productions, his work on "Snow White" and "Pinocchio," about how he walked out with other Disney strikers in 1941, carrying a picket sign until his feet and bank account gave out and he was forced to find other work for eating money.

He has no regrets about hitting the bricks, though it put a good-sized nick in his career at the Mouse House. (He'll be circling back on talking about his work on "Fantasia" and at Hanna-Barbera in Part III of the Interview.)
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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Foreign and Worldwide Box Office -- October 26-27

Animation (and its close cousins) are making good money around the globe.

International Weekend Box Office -- (Worldwide Gross)

Gravity -- $36,600,000 -- ($364,214,361)

Cloudy With Meatballs -- $17,900,000 -- ($149,811,254)

Turbo -- $14,200,000 -- ($247,554,950)

Despicable Me 2 -- $4,400,000 -- ($906,239,155)

Planes -- $4,500,000 -- ($206,977,000)

Monsters University is now pretty much gone from global theatrical circulation. But how did it stack up against its predecessor? Pretty well, actually.

On a worldwide basis, Monsters University collected $742,646,894 against Monsters, Inc. $562,816,256. (We're not accounting for inflation here.)

But domestically, the original was a stronger performer: Monsters, Inc. -- $272,900,000; Monsters University -- $267,580,051.

Both would have to be considered winners.
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The New John Lasseter*

Guess who?

"Titan A.E.'s failure was the price of admission for the rest of my career," admits Chris Meledandri, the founder and CEO of Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind one of the year’s biggest successes, Despicable Me 2, which is poised to clear $900 million worldwide.

"Looking back, I don’t know if it was a blessing or a curse that I didn’t get fired," he said, speaking Saturday at the Visual Effects Society's annual summit at the W Hollywood. "It was very painful and very lonely. [Colleagues] think failure is contagious. On the flip side, I had lived terrified of failure." ...

Addressing the volatile state of the industry, he warned that the animation community "releases too many films and there’s not enough room. They are going to cannibalize each other; we are already seeing that. We are also competing against the big live action films." ...

To face these challenges Meledandri asserted that "quality storytelling is our only safety net."

"It starts with characters, and audiences leaving the theater feeling a bond with the characters," he said. "We start with strong characters and build the movie from there. That not to say we don’t struggle with story — that’s the most challenging part." ...

Meledandri hits on an obvious point about animated features: successful producers build out from the characters who populate the piece. And if the characters are ciphers in the underlying material being adapted, they had better damn well be un-ciphered. This was true of the dwarfs in Snow White, the mouse and elephant in Dumbo, and the dogs in 101 Dalmations. Also true of the leads in Toy Story, the zoo animals in Madagascar, the ogre in Shrek. If the characters aren't compelling, you are mostly nowhere. (Plot is generally secondary.)

Woolie Reitherman explained it to me thirty-five years ago: "You don't have a movie star putting this stuff across, Steve. You have a drawing. So you better damn well have the drawing doing something interesting, and being interesting." ...

True then. True now. (Even if the drawings have become CG images.)

As to how many animated features released in a calendar year are too many, I don't really have an opinion one way or the other. Probably it's a good idea not to release a cartoon every other week, but short of that, I don't know. When you have a movie people want to come and see, they'll come and see it. Nobody ever says: "All these damn live action movies are cannibalizing each other!"

This season, audiences were interested in seeing yellow minions and Pixar monsters, but not DreamWorks snails. Go figure.

*As John Lasseter was the new Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Jeffrey Katzenber was the new Walt Disney, etc., etc. ...
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The argument is, "post production" isn't really post production anymore.

... [W]hen Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game opens in theaters, the visual effects community will be watching to see if the nontraditional model of a VFX house coming on board in a co-producer role—which lead VFX house Digital Domain did with Ender’s—is a model that can work for the struggling effects industry.

“It’s certainly a capital risk,” Ed Ulbrich, a producer on the film who recently stepped down as president of Digital Domain, warned, adding that a company needs to know it could handle deferred payment or a potential loss. “You need to have a plan to manage and offset [your investment]. If you can’t, you are betting the farm.” ...

Moderator Carl Rosendahl, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, pointed out that Gravity could not have been made without visual effects and asked Chris deFaria, president of digital production, animation and VFX at Warner Bros. Pictures — and a credited executive producer on Gravity—if there’s a back-end opportunity for VFX companies on movies such as this.

“Back end is based on risk,” deFaria responded. “It’s not a reward. It’s a negotiated position. It’s open to anyone who negotiates that, and we have entered into these agreements with companies that have assumed risk." ...

Discussing the wider problems in the VFX business, Ulbrich got applause when he asserted that the business has changed and what the group now does “is really digital production. The producers should plan equally [with live action production]. VFX is an old concept.

“There’s no such thing as post anymore,” he added. “We are suffering from tradition. It’s a giant cultural and mindset shift. But it’s also a time for opportunity.”

Ed Ulbrich is of course right. Making a movie on a set or making a movie in a black box is production. The question is, how are you going to pay for that production?

Studios will hire a hungry effects house to (essentially) co-produce their movie for a set fee if they can, because it's in their economic self interest to do so. (Who wants to share gross profits if they can avoid that? It's the same principle that applies to star actors and their profit participation. You want Brad Pitt or Sandra Bullock bad enough, you've got to cut them in on the action. If not, you cast a B-list actor or an up-and-comer like Jennifer Lawrence*)

So effects studios really have two choice here: They can continue with the old model of doing production for a price, or they can leverage themselves (buy themselves?) a stakeholder position on this or that feature.

But there is yet another model: Visual effects studios can develop and produce their own live-action or animated features and own the whole kit and kaboodle. Then all they have to do is talk a distributor into releasing the picture. This is the way Pixar and DreamWorks Animation did it in the not so long ago. And the way some other VFX studio might do it next year or next decade.

* I'm sure by this point Ms. Lawrence is getting gross point deals. But two years ago, not so much.
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Your Weekend B.O.

First, about the cartoon:

... “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” the only family comedy currently in theaters, crossed $100 million domestically after five weeks and is showing staying power. ...

And a drunken old man has knocked the astronauts from the top position.

Friday Box Office

1) Bad Grandpa -- $12.6 million

2) Gravity -- $6.2 million

3) Captain Phillips -- $3.6 million

4) The Counselor -- $3.2 million

5) Carrie -- $1.95 million

6) Cloudy with Meatballs 2 -- $1.64 million

Add On: And sure enough, the Sunday tally has fifth place Cloudy now working on its second hundred million:

1. Jackass: Bad Grandpa (MTV/Paramount) NEW [Runs 3,336] Friday $12.6M, Saturday $11.50M, Weekend $32.0M

2. Gravity (Warner Bros) Week 5 [Runs 3,707] Friday $6.1M, Saturday $9.1M, Weekend $20.3M, Cume $199.8M

3. Captain Phillips (Sony) Week 3 [Runs 3,143] Friday $3.6M, Saturday $5.2M, Weekend $11.8M, Cume $70.0M

4. The Counselor (Fox) NEW [Runs 3,044] Friday $3.2M, Saturday $2.9M, Weekend $8.0M

5. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (Sony) Week 5 [Runs 3,111] Friday $1.6M, Saturday $2.8M, Weekend $6.1M, Cume $100.6M

6. Carrie (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,157] Friday $1.9M, Saturday $2.5M, Weekend $5.9M (-63%), Cume $26.0M

7. Escape Plan (Lionsgate) Week 2 [Runs 2,883] Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.4M (-57%), Cume $17.5M

8. 12 Years A Slave (Fox Searchlight) Week 2 [Runs 123] Friday $621K, Saturday $924K, Weekend $2.1M (+120%), Cume $3.4M

9. Enough Said (Fox Searchlight) Week 6 [Runs 835] Friday $455K, Saturday $730K, Weekend $1.5K, Cume $13.0M

10. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 6 [Runs 1,347] Friday $315K, Saturday $483K, Weekend $1.0M, Cume $59.1M
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Okay, Not a Runaway Hit, But ...

As the trades tell us:

The freshman comedy “Dads,” which counts “Family Guy” honcho Seth MacFarlane among its executive producers, has received an order for an additional nine episodes, bringing its full episode order up to 22 by Fox. ...

Fox’s chairman of entertainment Kevin Reilly said of the pickup: “With ‘Dads,’ we have an asset that we can grow, and we’re looking forward to seeing where the fantastic cast and the creative minds of Seth, Alec, Mike and Wellesley take us the rest of the season.” ...

So Mr. MacFarlane has another success under his belt. Or at least not a failure. The series marches on to the end of its maiden season; whether it get rewarded with a second season will shortly be known. Click here to read entire post

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tests ... Then and Now

When I interviewed animation vet Don Lusk (whose podcast will materialize here the start of next week), he told me about getting a job at Disney's ... in 1933:

"I came in and worked for free at the studio for four days. For free. At the end of the week, a Friday, they hired me."

So essentially, Don had to test for the better part of a week to get a gig at Walt's studio. And today? ...

This morning I got a phone call from a board artist who told me:

"I took a test at Disney TVA a couple weeks ago. It was brutal. They handed out two and a half pages of script. I drew 220+ panels, 70 pages, and it took me over a week. I don't think I'm going to get the job. ..."

Times sure change, don't they? When Disney was a tiny, struggling little studio at the bottom of the Depression, the company had artists test gratis. Imagine that.

And now that Diz Co. is a huge, multi-national conglomerate, the conglom has artists test gratis.

At least in 1933 there was a half-legitimate excuse for doing the abuse.
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E-Mail ... And a Studio Visit

From a Guild member today (with redactions):

You might want to check up at BLANK on BLANKETY BLANK BLANK from time to time. Most of the storyboard crew is working late nights and at least one day over the weekend for no extra pay or OT. That show is insane.

My reply [with redactions]:


I get complaints regularly from a whole bunch of studios. I’ve told folks repeatedly, “TELL me when you’re working late, I will come to the studio and police it.” When somebody from BLANKETY BLANK BLANK contacts me, I’ll come a-running.

(Last place I came in unannounced – on a Saturday – was BLANKER BLANK at BITTY BLANK. People on the crew contacted me, and I met with them off site, and we concocted a plan, after which I took action. [Everybody got paid.] Could do the same with other shows, but people have to contact me. Then we’ll meet and formulate a plan.

Hope this helps.

Steve H.

By coincidence (or not) I got a number of complaints from board artists at another studio just this past Wednesday. Their gripes: The schedules are too short, the amount of work too great, and many of them have to stay late and/or on weekends to get the work done. [Are we detecting a theme here?]

I said: "Are you filling out the time cards correctly? Like putting down all the hours you work? Because it's against California law to do otherwise."

Head shakes all around.

"Why not?"

"Because ... ahm ... management says there's no money in the budget for o.t. And we want to come back for the next season. And we need to hit the dealine."

I said: "So, you're out of compliance with accurate time records, the company kinda sorta knows it, but nobody does anything. Does it occur to you that you're digging your own graves here? Because the more work you do for free, the more they expect?"

"We don't want to be laid off."

"I get that. But if everybody rolls over then everybody will get screwed. And go right on getting screwed. And you go on busting your ass to make your boards as good as possible, and you work twelve or fifteen or twenty extra hours to turn the boards in on time with all the extra drawings you get to create on the Cintiq to semi-animate the scene, and then the company cuts a bit more of the schedule. So here's my idea. When you're working late or on the weekend, call me and let me know. I'll come over, take names, be the bad guy. And file a grievance with the company. And you'll all get paid and maybe the company will alter its behavior just a little. Just let me know."

I got some grunts and shrugs. But so far, no phone calls. We'll see what happens, but I'm not holding my breath.
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Thursday, October 24, 2013


Problems for the Caped Crusader.

... Cartoon Network abruptly pulled the animated series Beware the Batman from its schedule this week with no explanation or announcement. A new episode had been scheduled to air (after a normal three-week break of reruns) on Saturday during the DC Nation block of programming, but now not only is that not happening, but Beware won’t even get a repeat in its regular slot. (Two episodes of Teen Titans Go! will run in the block instead of the usual Beware/TTG! pairing.) ...

The problem is, in trying to go in a new direction as the umpteenth Batman cartoon in recent memory ... many of the familiar tropes of the Bat-world aren’t present to draw the average would-be viewer in. Instead, possible new audience members just see a sorta funny-looking CGI Batman and an Alfred who doesn’t seem like Alfred at all. ...

Even though we don’t have an official reason for what has happened to Beware, we can take a pretty good guess. ... It probably comes down to numbers at least in part: Beware the Batman’s ratings lag behind not only Teen Titans Go! but also the previous animated Caped Crusader series that ran on the channel, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

There could be any number of reasons BtB is getting yanked. Like for instance:

1) Cartoon Network doesn't seem that jazzed with its DC properties. (Face it: Time-Warner -- with some exceptions -- hasn't nurtured its squadron of super heroes in the way Diz Co. has hugged and nuzzled its freshly acquired Marvel roster.)

2) The ratings weren't up there.

3) CN wanted to shoehorn more repeats of Teen Titans Go! into its schedule.

But here's the reality: animated CGI for television doesn't necessarily translate to Big Ratings/Big Money. Animated theatrical features rendered in CG roll up big grosses on a regular basis. But TV computer graphics don't get more eyeballs than hand-drawn images, and often get less. This has been evident since Sony Adelaide spent lots of dollars to produce a small-screen version of Starship Troopers entitled Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. The show ended up with a strong cult following ... and lackluster ratings.

TV cartoon execs figured out some time ago that the big cash outlays for CG shows don't translate into gangbuster ratings, so it's safer (also saner?) to go the less expensive hand-drawn route. Much of the time, it means the profit margins are bigger.

I mean, with Teen Titans Go! replacing Beware the Batman, can we draw any other conclusion?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another Live Action Director Dives Into Animation

From Deadline:

While Paul Feig made his first-look producing deal at Fox primarily to generate R-rated comedies like The Heat, that doesn’t mean he can’t work clean and for a family crowd. Feig has just been set to produce and oversee 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios’ Peanuts animated feature. ...

It’s the first animated feature for Feig, who started with the cult fave series Freaks And Geeks and has really hit his stride directing Bridesmaids and The Heat and next will helm for Fox Susan Cooper. ...

You notice how more live-action personnel are wading into the feature animation pond? Gore Verbinski got his feet wet with Rango, and Guillermo del Toro has been involved with animation for years. I don't believe the trend is going to slacken, since the animation business has gotten too big and too lucrative. Click here to read entire post

Stretching the Franchise

The Mouse covers all global bases.

The Walt Disney Company (Japan) Ltd. announced today that it will produce the first Japanese Marvel animated television series targeted at boys. Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers is based on Marvel’s most popular team of Super Heroes, The Avengers and will premiere nationwide on terrestrial television in spring 2014.

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers will be produced by Nerima-ku, Tokyo-based Toei Animation Co., Ltd., which has produced multiple successful animated series for kids in Japan. Taito-ku, Tokyo-based Bandai Co., Ltd., which has a highly successful track record with major titles, will be responsible for character merchandising. The three companies will collaborate in creating a fully localized Japanese series as well as providing a lineup of attractive products and merchandise targeting the boys market. ...

This is smart positioning, smart marketing. If Diz Co. and its partners create a compelling product in Japan, no reason it can't be exported far and wide.

And the company will reinforce the other versions of the Super Hero brand, making itself a potful of money into the bargain. Live-action, foreign animation, domestic animation, video games, and toys, they are all pieces of the same bountiful pie.
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Hollywood negotiations never really stop.

The DGA will be the first of Hollywood’s guilds to come to the table with the AMPTP

The Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have agreed to enter into formal contract negotiations on Nov. 4, the two sides said Wednesday.

That means the DGA will be the first of Hollywood’s major creative guilds to come to the table with the studios and networks, as they have been in recent rounds of negotiations. The talks will be held at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks, Calif. ...

The IATSE will be the last labor union into the tub, with talks likely starting near the end of 2014 or the first quarter of 2015. TAG's negotiations will happen sometime around that time.

In 2012, the International did well in its talks, getting major money boosts to the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan. It's always good to remember that what one labor union gets, other labor unions get (what everyone calls "pattern bargaining.") The producers strive to make sure that no guild or union gets out ahead any other guild or union. Mostly they're successful.

This contract cycle, the DGA will be carving out a template that SAG, the WAGA and IATSE will (by and large) have to live with.
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President Emeritus Sito Remembers Lou

Tom Sito talks about Lous Scheimer, interviewed on the wireless. ...

Tom spent a longer time at Filmation than I did, and truth to tell, the boss I knew best while working there was Arthur Nadel, a soft-spoken story editor who'd had a long career in the movie and television business.

Arthur had been a producer on The Rifleman. He'd worked beside Ronald Reagan on Democratic committees in the 1940s, when Reagan was still a flaming liberal. (Don Heckman, one of Filmation's writers, asked Lou in a meeting in 1988 if President Reagan was as dim when Arthur worked with him. Arthur wrinkled his brow and shook his head. "Not when I knew him.")

Arthur viewed his story editor duties on Filmation series as a few steps below his live-action past. A large poster for Clambake, an Elvis Presley movie from the early 1960s, hung on one of his office walls. Arthur had directed the musical epic.
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Moving On

Mr. Schwartz never allows the grass to grow tall under his feet.

Just days after leaving FremantleMedia Kids & Family Entertainment, LA-based producer Sander Schwartz is plotting a return to television production by launching his own indie.

Schwartz ... is in the process of developing his own production company and plans to make an announcement on its structure and make up “within months”.

Sander Schwartz has been in the cartoon business for some time. He was affiliated with TMS when it was doing Peter Pan & the Pirates. He then went to Sony and built Sony Adelaide Animation into a big whomping cartoon studio before exiting for Warner Bros. Animation shortly after the turn of the century. A half dozen years on, we noted:

Sander Schwartz is ankling his post as Warner Bros. Animation prexy after six years with the studio.

Schwartz will segue to a production pact with the studio. He'll focus on developing a range of animated projects for broadband and new-media outlets as part of the Warner Bros. TV Group's big push into original programming for the Net. Warners has yet to name a successor for Schwartz; ...

Sander has his fans and his detractors. (I'm understating here.) But one of those who worked with him observed:

... A good Saturday morning cartoon used to have a budget of $450,000 per episode (or more). Last time I saw a budget, you were lucky to get $150,000. It is simply not possible to create good work for one third the money. I find it amazing that Sander was able to maintain the size of team WB had, let alone product the number of shows they delivered on time.

When I worked professionally with Sander and Marge they were nothing but professional, paid on time (about the only client that did) and just got on with the task at hand ...

As a union rep, I found Sander prickly, but he did grow several of the studios at which he worked, studios that shrank after he left. One of his employees noted:

I thought Sander was an interesting guy who was helpful at times, cruel at times, and strange at times. I could never figure him out. If the cruelty was not directed at "you", he was very funny. Often, I would laugh my ass off at the stuff he said. It's a tough business these days. ... One more thing-- I know this for a fact-- if you ask Sander for help, he will try to help you.

The only thing I'm reasonably certain about is: Sander will land on his feet. And he'll more than likely be back again in the animation game.
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Second Denial

No copyrights or royalties for you! Hardly a surprise in this corporatist age.

... Today the heirs of Captain America, The Avengers and X-Men co-creator Jack Kirby were denied their recent petition to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing or a full rehearing en banc on whether the estate had the right to issue termination notices to Marvel on his characters back in 2009.

The brief order from the panel at the NYC-based federal court comes just more than two and a half months after the appeals court shut down the heirs’ claims against Marvel and Disney by reaffirming a 2011 lower court ruling that the comic legend was under a work-for-hire deal and hence had no rights to terminate.

Four years ago, Lisa Kirby, Susan Kirby, Barbara Kirby and Neal Kirby sent 45 notices terminating copyright to publishers Marvel and Disney, as well as film studios including Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures that have made movies and TV shows based on boatloads of characters Jack Kirby created or co-created with Stan Lee and others. Jack Kirby died in 1994. ...

Kirby's kids were relying on copyright law that says: "An author has the inalienable right to terminate a copyright transfer 35 years after agreeing to permanently relinquish the copyright."

Good theory, but one teeny tiny problem: According to the US Copyright Office, Circular 9 "the termination provisions of the law do not apply to works made for hire."

And Marvel (also Disney) maintained that Kirby was a hireling doing work, not, you know, an author handing over copyright.

This whole "work for hire" thing got rolling in a significant way with the Copyright law of 1909 when corporations wrenched copyrights away from employees. As law professor Catherine Fisk puts it:

The creation of the modern doctrine preceded its first appearance in the federal Copyright Act of 1909. Along the way, courts experienced some difficulty in accommodating the perceived demands of corporate control of intellectual property to a misty-eyed regard for the prerogatives of authors, artists, and composers. ...

Prior to 1909, you see, companies often had to negotiate with employees to gain copyright. That was time-consuming and demeaning. Far better to simply embed the doctrine of corporate authorship in law, and eliminate "difficulties."

Why negotiate if you can buy yourself some congressional legislation that says you don't have to?

Mr. Kirby's heirs never really had the tiniest chance of prevailing. The playing field got tilted in companies' favor more than a century ago. But unlike campaign finance laws that are equally old, the U.S. Supreme Court shows no desire to alter the "work for hire" status quo. There's a surprise.
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Domestic Dissatisfaction

There is fickleness (or maybe exacting standards?) in the Middle Kingdom.

... In April, the US animated film The Croods took in 392 million yuan (US$64.1 million) in 41 days, while the Chinese film Kuiba II, which followed The Croods only took 30 million yuan (US$4.9 million), although it received good reviews from audiences, according to the figures provided by the industry weekly China Film News.

An annual report on the animation industry revealed that animation films took in around 3 billion yuan (US$491.2 million) last year, or 17.7% of the total box office, and only 400 million yuan (US$65.5 million) of that comes from Chinese animations. Moreover, in the first half of this year, domestic animation films only made up 3.7% of the total box office.

Qin Jie, 26, works in a law firm and likes to watch western animation movies with her friends, as "western cartoon films have better effects." "Unlike Chinese animations which are made for kids and usually have happy endings, the western ones can go deeper into my heart and touch me more," said Qin.

According to a survey by the China Youth Daily, over 56% of respondents cared about the domestic animation industry, while almost 65% were dissatisfied by home-grown cartoons. The survey also showed that 50% of people think Chinese animations are boring and only 25% of people actually enjoy them. ...

So in Cartoonland, content trumps national loyalty.

This in contrast to Chinese live action movies, which at least hold their own against the foreign competition (30% market share -- foreign films vs. 26% market share Chinese films).

The problem, as always, is development and execution. If you don't have the story chops for animated features, and you don't have the production chops to carry out the vision, then you are at a serious disadvantage in seducing an audience into paying to watch your movie.

It won't be that way forever, but it seems to be that way now.
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Hand Wringing

Away on a three-day trip, I noticed this in the Guardian:

Reaction [to rumors of a Cars 3] has been negative in the blogosphere. Screencrush, which spotted the story, wrote on Twitter: "Is Pixar planning 'Cars 3' for 2018? Pleasesayno pleasesayno pleasesayno please … ah – crap."

We Got This Covered wrote: "Since Pixar seems hellbent on destroying all the goodwill it had built among fans of quality animated films, they're… getting ready for a road trip back to their grove of money trees with Cars 3."

Why anyone would be distressed escapes me. Pixar has at least two original in the hopper, Walt Disney Animation Studios -- which shares executives and brain trusts -- has three. What's the problem with another sequel, even if it's a sequel that isn't a critical darling?

Diz Co. is in it for the money, not the adulation of Pixar disciples. Renaissance art workshops disappeared several hundred years ago. We are now in the age of the conglomerate. Deal with it.
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reel Life Feature

Guillermo del Toro doesn't just do animated features under the DreamWorks Animation banner.

[Animated feature] “The Book of Life”, which will be released in October 2014, is described as the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. ...

“Pans Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro is set to produce the feature for 20th Century Fox Animation and Reel FX Animation. He is joined by Jorge Gutierrez, the co-creator of TV’s “El Tigre: The Many Adventures of Manny Rivera” as director, and Doug Langdale as the screenwriter.

Reel FX out of Texas is the production house here. Producer del Toro knows his way around animated features, but how this project performs at the global box office is anyone's guess.

(There won't be a paucity of animated product for the big screen over the next few years.)
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Striking Gold (At Last) in Gaming

Not the Vegas variety, but in the video universe.

Sales of “Disney Infinity” are picking up as it heads into the key holiday sales season, with starter packs for the game having sold 1 million units around the world, according to Disney Interactive.

It’s a significant milestone for Disney’s games group as it attempts to launch a major franchise for the Mouse House.

Each “Disney Infinity” starter pack is priced at $75, and includes the game, and three play sets with a figure in each. Additional figures and discs to play the game are sold separately.

With 1 million starter packs in homes, Disney now has more of a solid reason to call “Disney Infinity” a hit.

Diz Co. has a long, up-and-down record with video games. They've set up game divisions multiple times, only to crash and burn with various products. It was only two-and-a-half years ago that this happened:

... Disney disclosed late Tuesday that the operating loss at its interactive business, which makes video games and runs Disney-branded websites, had more than doubled to $115 million in the second quarter through April 2 (2011). That highlights just how much of a black hole the operation has become. ...

The company has had its successes, but also disasters. And it's laid off a hell of a lot staffers when this or that video game tanked. But success has happened now, and that seems to us a good thing.
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World Wide Box Office -- Late October

Which animated movie earns what this week on planet Earth.

Weekend International Grosses -- (Global Accumulations)

Gravity -- $33,500,000 -- ($284,766,130)

Turbo -- $16,000,000 -- ($226,008,706)

Despicable Me 2 -- $7,100,000 -- ($898,439,105)

Cloudy With Meatballs 2 -- $5,100,000 -- ($124,236,768)

Planes -- $4,500,000 -- ($198,910,000)

Monsters University is done with foreign collections, but it's still in a few U.S. theaters, and collected $320,000 in the latest weekend. So it's global accumulation has nudged up to $737,909,000 and it remains the second biggest animated hit of 2013.

Then there is this:

Earning over $36 million at the box office this weekend, Twentieth Century Fox International soared past the $2 billion box office mark for the seventh time – and for the fifth year in a row.

Hugh Jackman’s Marvel Comics-inspired “The Wolverine’ has brought in more than $258 million from abroad this year, and it added $13.6 million with a No. 1 debut in China over the weekend. Its worldwide total is now $390 million.

It was a good weekend for Fox’s animated film “Turbo,” which debuted in the top spot in the U.K. ($6.4 million), France and Spain. It took in more than $16 million from 20 foreign markets, and pushed its overseas total to $143 million in the process. ...

So there is clearly life in the old snail yet.
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

At Disney Feature

Spent part of Friday at the Hat Building. ...

The feature directly above is complete, and lots of people are taking vacations. ...

I was informed about a newer project in development that has not yet been announced to a breathless public, and since I need no grief don't ask me about it, since I know very little anyway.

More staffers are sliding on to Big Hero Six, and I spoke to a few long-timers who are pleased that the studio has more projects, more stability, and a brisker release schedule. Right now, it appears that BH 6 is the only Diz Co. animated feature slated for release in 2015 2014.
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Shipping Out Animation

Day before yesterday, Jeffrey Katzenberg underscored the above:

"DreamWorks has been on a very aggressive course of diversification in the last 18 to 20 months and our latest is in television," he told reporters Friday.

"Because of the amazing amount of work we are undertaking under our current Netflix deal, we will be producing our own TV shows in every corner of the world." ...

Mr. Katzenberg was in Korea when he said this, pointing out that the TV Turbo, unlike the movie Turbo was being produced in Korea.

Nothing startling about that in the least. The television cartoon is on a low-dollar budget, so DWA is sending the work to a place where they specialize in low-dollar budgets. This dynamic has been going on in the television animation business for ... oh ... forty years.

DreamWorks Animation Television is following the well-trod path of Hanna-Barbera, Disney, Nickelodeon, and every other company that creates animation for the home screen: They ALL send work to low-cost studios "in every corner of the world." So it was a wee bit startling eighteen months ago when the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers told us that animation artists had to take smaller wage hikes than their live-action counterparts because of the "high number and density" of animation workers in Los Angeles.

(I said at the time that this rationale for lower salary increases for cartoonists was certainly original, given the amount of work that has been shipped overseas for freaking decades. But in the "reasons we need to hold salaries down" department, the AMPTP has never lacked for creativity or energy.)

Nevertheless. The fact that DreamWorks Animation is hiring pre-production staff to work in the television division after laying off production staff in the feature division is a fine thing. And if Jeffrey K. needs to sub-contract to Korea, Shanghai or Timbuktu, he's following in a thousand earlier footsteps.
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Weekend Box Office

The heavily animated space movie continues atop the list.

1. Gravity 3D (Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 3,820] PG13 Friday $9.0M, Weekend $31.5M, Cume $171.0M

2. Carrie (Screen Gems/Sony/MGM) NEW [Runs 3,157] R Friday $6.6M, Weekend $15.5M

3. Captain Phillips (Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,020] PG13 Friday $5.1M (-41%), Weekend $15.7M, Cume $51.8M

4. Escape Plan (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 2,883] R Friday $3.3M, Weekend $9.5M

5. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 3D (Sony) Week 4 [Runs 3,602] PG Friday $2.5M, Weekend $9.7M, Cume $92.7M

6. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 5 [Runs 2,160] R Friday $615K, Weekend $2.0M, Cume $57.2M

7. The Fifth Estate (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW [Runs 1,769] R Friday $588K, Weekend $1.7M

8. Runner Runner (New Regency/Fox) Week 3 [Runs 2,011] R Friday $525K, Weekend $1.6M, Cume $17.5M

9. Enough Said (Fox Searchlight) Week 5 [Runs 757] PG13 Friday $515K, Weekend $1.8M, Cume $10.8M

10. Insidious: Chapter 2 (FilmDistrict) Week 6 [Runs 1,665] PG13 Friday $460K, Weekend $1.5M, Cume $80.9M...

B.O. Mojo compares some animated genres:

Gravity (15-Day Total) $148,606,000
Wall-E (15-Day Total) $149,893,838

Cloudy With Meatballs (22-Day Total) $87,319,677
Cloudy with Meatballs 2 (22-Day Total) $85,587,000

I think we'll be seeing a few more CG features over the next few years. (Like more than now.)

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Another Network Jumps In

At last a broadcaster other than Fox dips its toe into animation.

NBC is renewing its efforts to bring animation back to its comedy lineup. The network has given a presentation order to Mystery Island, an animated comedy voiced and co-written by The Office alum Ed Helms. Helms has teamed on the project with former Office writer-producer Graham Wagner. The duo, who met on the long-running NBC workplace comedy, are co-writing Mystery Island — set on an island where holidaymakers get marooned after their cruise ship malfunctions — for Universal TV where Helms’ newly launched company Pacific Electric Picture Co. has a first-look deal. The two executive produce with Pacific Electric Picture EVP Michael Falbo. This marks the second sale for both Wagner and Pacific Electric Picture. ...

NBC had abandoned animated comedy for several years following the 2004 series Father Of The Pride. It restarted development in the arena a couple of years ago, driven by The Office executive producer Greg Daniels, who was looking to return to his animated roots as co-creator of King Of The Hill. NBC developed several toon projects with Daniels, including one written/voiced by Mindy Kaling. ...

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Fox has made handsome profits from animation for a long time. I'm surprised other networks sat on the sidelines for as long as they did, sucking their thumbs. It never made a lot of sense.

So now we see if a trend sets in.
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Lou Scheimer, 1928-2013

Lou Scheimer, co-founder of Filmation Associates and a key figure in the history of American TV animation, died yesterday, two days before what would have been his eighty-fifth birthday.
Lou came out of Carnegie Mellon Univ in Pittsburgh and began in animation as a layout artist on TV shows. In 1967 he and a bunch of his friends created a new company called Filmation. To start, he had his friends come over from their lunch hours at H&B and Disney and sit at drawing tables to look busy while the clients toured the facility. Actor Ted Knight stood in as the film editor.

Filmation grew, and by the 80s was one of the largest animation facilities in America. HeMan, She-Ra, Fat Albert, and much more. Even he would admit their output was not "high-quality" stuff, but it employed many people during lean years like the Recession of 1983, and made childhood memories for millions of kids.

Some artists who become bosses tend to forget their roots, like that necktie is now part of their anatomy. Lou Scheimer never stopped being "one of the guys". He was passionate about animation and his fellow artists. It actually pained him to lay people off. In 1982 when the Guild held a city-wide strike to try and prevent all our work outsourced overseas, Lou shouldered a sign and picketed his own studio, because he agreed that work should stay in town. Lou never reneged on his promise to keep as many people working as he could.

He was funny, self-effacing, generous, and warm. Borge Ring said " he looked like Dean Martin." Others described him like a big teddy bear. Its reassuring in this world when you see the good-guys can still win. Lou Scheimer was a good guy. And I shall miss him. So Long Lou Scheimer, you did well.

-- Tom Sito

I was working at Filmation the day the company's doors closed for the last time (February whatever, 1989).

Lou called groups of us into the top-floor screening room in relays and gave us the news that Filmation was ending. Other bosses would have had some underling do it, but Lou did the heavy lifting himself. He was straight-from-the-shoulder about it, also highly emotional. The studio had been his baby from its founding twenty-six years before, even though he no longer owned it. And he choked up as he told us everything was over. The anguish was etched into his face.

I worked for a few different studios in my story days; Filmation was the only shop where the head guy wore his heart on his sleeve; that heart was on prominent display on that grim February day when the company went dark.

I saw Lou sporadically in the years after Filmation, and he was never anything but a warm and effusive gentleman every time we met. A couple of years ago, I went to his hilltop home to interview him for a TAG podcast. Lou had a lot of fabulous stories, but his speech was impaired, and I never published the recordings. A pity, because he had a lot of insights and wisdom to share.

Mr. Scheimer was everything Tom Sito says he was. A good guy who didn't finish last.

-- Steve Hulett
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MegaCollector Bashful

An animator's rough of one of the seven dwarfs. I was in Mega Collector's spacious office when this drawing arrive by parcel post. Mega thinks that Ward Kimball did it, but it's an educated guess.

The quality of the photograph (courtesy of my cell phone) is what it is. (Click on the image, it gets better.)
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Semi-controversial Controversy?

Or less than that?

Different news organizations have been twisting their undergarments over this quote from Frozen's directing animator Lino DiSalvo:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression. ...

So okay, it's not the most artfully formed quote in the known universe, but what he's pitching here (I think) is how tough it is putting across two strong female characters; I don't think showing a raging misogyny was the intent. Yeah, it doesn't come off real well, but I disagree with the basic premise of the statement to start with.

There's nothing inherently tougher about animating females. In Sleeping Beauty, is Prince Philip an easier character than, say, Princess Aurora? Don't think so. And if you go back to Snow White (every animation buff's favorite old chestnut) you really think that the Prince -- bit player though he may be -- was easier to bring off than the female lead? Not based on the results. Because the Prince is a dull cipher and Snow White works as a living, breathing heroine.

Then there's this: "Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really diffcult, 'cause ... you have to keep them pretty and ... you can get them off a model very quickly."

Mr. DiSalvo is clearly right. Female characters = pretty. That's just the way animated features roll, now and forever. Except for, oh, Medusa, Cruella de Ville and Cinderella's step-sisters, to name a few off the top of my pin head. I don't recall any of these women being created as stone foxes, but maybe I wasn't paying attention.

So who are we kidding here? Males can be tough to animate. Females can be tough to animate. Female characters can be less than gorgeous, and it's the same for men. Mr DiSalvo was (it seems to me) striving to point out the challenges he and his co-workers faced in bring Frozen to the screen, and he bungled his words a bit. And so TIME magazine saw an opportunity to get some licks in, and took it.

And then others in print and the blogosphere piled on. (Also, too, I got a chance to chip in my nickel's worth of wisdom.) But I'm betting the next interview Mr. DiSalvo does will be better prepped. (If he risks doing an interview at all.)
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Non-Middling Revenues in the Middle Kingdom

Big countries tend to lead to big cash flow.

BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research estimates the Chinese box office could yield $5 billion in value potential for Hollywood studios by 2017 vs. approximately $2.2 billion today, including imported and local productions (with this figure potentially doubling under further relaxed regulatory conditions). ...

The expanding exhibition footprint and rising consumer purchasing power are pushing all blockbusters into new territory, as the most successful films are now consistently generating more than $100 million in revenue at the Chinese box office. ...

BofA Merrill Lynch believes that Disney Shanghai is poised to take the Chinese theme park industry to the next level, both from quality and attendance standpoints. After nearly a decade of negotiations, Disney Shanghai is the largest and highest-profile Chinese investment made to date by a U.S. M&E player. ...

There's a reason that Disney ... and DreamWorks Animation ... and other large American companies are heavily involved in China. It's a growth arena and they want to be down in the middle of the sand and sawdust, slicing off their share of burgeoning revenues. Click here to read entire post

At Diz Toons

Now with Add On .

The start of the week, word reached us that there was some ground-shifting at Disney Toon Studios in Glendale, so I motored over to check it out ....

And it seems the rumors reaching us were true: The curtain seems to be coming down on Tinker Bell franchise.

"They told us the middle of last week that they won't be making Tinker Bells #7 & #8. It came out of the blue, really. We were working on #7, and production told us it was being shut down. The manager I talked to said sales of DVDs had slowed down and the merchandise wasn't selling as strongly as they wanted. ...

"The company's giving us two and a half more weeks, and lots of people have taken the time off since there's nothing to work on. After that, they're going to make some final decisions about staff and what happens to everyone. ... It's crappy, but that's the way it goes in the animation business. Nothing goes on forever." ...

Tinker Bell #6, still in work, will be completed. The staff now working on Planes is unaffected, but it looks like a lot of the Tink crew won't be kept on.

Add On: A Disney staffer told me this morning (October 18th) that Planes 3 is back in story work. So I guess there is a lot of analysis, reflection and revamping going on at Diz Toon Studios.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One More New Series

This project is just now lifting off at Disney TVA/Empire in Burbank:

The kids network [Disney XD] has greenlighted comedy adventure series Penn Zero: Part Time Hero, about a boy who inherits the coolest job ever. ...

From Jared Bush (All of Us, Zootopia) and Sam Levine (Wreck-It Ralph, Bolt), Penn Zero follows suburban boy Penn who suddenly lands a job as a part-time hero and leader of a team of good guys who zap to other worlds to save the day.

Crew is being hired, and board work is starting.

In case you didn't know, Diz Co. puts its animated tv series through rigorous testing before show orders are okayed. Lots of animatics are tested in front of lots of target audiences, and then there are more tests and focus groups.

Nothing much is left to chance. By the time shows are being blasted into homes across the fruited plain, top execs at the Channel know what they're getting and how the cartoons they are underwriting will work in front of the target demographic.
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Missed Air Date

Some cartoons just don't get done in time.

For the first time in South Park‘s 17-season, 240-ish-episode history, its creators blew deadline. Tonight’s episode did not get finished, Comedy Central said this afternoon. “On Tuesday night, South Park Studios lost power,” the network said. “From animation to rendering to editing and sound, all of their computers were down for hours, and they were unable to finish episode 1704 Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers in time for air tonight.” Said co-creator Trey Parker in a statement, “It sucks to miss an airdate, but after all these years of tempting fate by delivering the show last minute, I guess it was bound to happen.” ...

Maybe they could have redubbed/relooped an old show. That would have kept the record intact. Just say it was planned, air it, and move on. Who's going to complain? Click here to read entire post


When it comes to good old free enterprise, you can never get enough government assistance.

The Irish government has amended its tax incentive for the film, TV and animation industries so that non-EU talent is now included as eligible expenditure.

The extension, subject to state aid approval, will bring Ireland’s Section 481 tax break in line with the UK’s same policy.

Earlier this year the Irish government extended its incentive to 2020, increased its value to 32% and introduced a new tax credit system from 2016. ...

Because, you know, unfettered markets! ...

It would be a fine thing if there weren't corporate subsidies and the guvmint just insured a level playing field. But that's as likely to happen as a congress person growing a consciense.

California needs to get more robustly into the game, and probably will before the rest of the work flees to Canada, Ireland, New York or wherever.
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Out of the mouths of studio execs:

“The two most profitable TV series the studio has ever done are ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy,’ ” says 20th TV chairman and CEO Gary Newman, who joined the company in 1990, shortly after the yellow-skinned Springfield family branched off from “The Tracey Ullman Show” and became its own animated sitcom, battling NBC’s top-rated “Cosby Show” to a near-draw in its second season. A decade later, he worked with Seth MacFarlane to adapt his animated short “Larry and Steve” into what would become “Family Guy.” ...

The reason that t.v. animation is now booming in Southern California is because prime-time animated Fox shows, and animated cable shows for Disney, Nick, Cartoon Network, etc., etc. are playing around the world and making big profits.

And well-trained board artists, designers, writers, and the like are concentrated in L.A. so we still get a generous gob of that work.

Lots of live-action productions have departed L.A. County for places that offer big government subsidies (Viva Free Enterprise!). Animation, of course, doesn't have that problem because all of our television production vamoosed decades ago, and is (for the most part) still gone. What we live on now is pre-production and some feature production, but the global cartoon pie has grown so large that, even though we no longer have the whole thing, we manage to bite off our share of work.

So far.
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Monday, October 14, 2013

Silver Disks

They're still being sold. Particularly ones containing cartoons.

"The Croods," the DreamWorks computer-animated movie about a prehistoric family, was the top-selling title in its first week in release after bringing in big numbers at the box office earlier this year. The movie, distributed by 20th Century Fox, drew more than $187 million in ticket sales domestically and $585 million worldwide.

In second place was the new Diamond Edition of Disney's 1989 hit "The Little Mermaid." The edition includes the film's first Blu-ray disc, a DVD version and a digital download. It has a list price of $45 and is retailing at Wal-Mart and for $27. ...

Hurry and get your copies today. Disk players are really, really cheap.

Top 10 DVD and Blu-ray sales

1. "The Croods" (Fox). Week 1.

2. "The Little Mermaid – Diamond Edition" (Disney). Week 1.

3. "Iron Man 3" (Disney). Week 2.

4. "This Is the End" (Sony). Week 1.

5. "World War Z" (Paramount). Week 3.

6. "The Wizard of Oz – 75th Anniversary Edition" (Warner Bros.). Week 1.

7. "Star Trek Into Darkness" (Paramount). Week 4.

8. "The Frozen Ground" (Lionsgate). Week 1.

9. "Now You See Me" (Summit Ent.). Week 5.

10. "The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Sixth Season" (Warner Bros.). Week 4.
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Supe in 120 Seconds

From start to now.

... In honor of the hero’s 75th anniversary, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder and DC animated universe maestro Bruce Timm have crafted this two-minute animated short, which blasts through the highlights of the character’s many incarnations, from comics, to movies, video games, and even pop art. ...

“It was Zack Snyder’s idea,” says Timm, ... “We had approached him about maybe doing a short for the DC Nation program on Cartoon Network. He said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and then he had this idea to do basically the entire history of Superman in, like, a minute. We said, ‘Okay … whoooo.’ We started working and quickly realized there was no way to do it, even in a minute.”

Mr. Timm and Co. got a lot of history in, everything from the Fleischers' original cartoon series to the most recent live-action feature, and most (but not all) of the video games, cartoons and t.v. series in between.
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Too Much Violence

Apparently there is an overabundance of hurting on China's most popular animated show.

Chinese TV stations have halted broadcasting of the country's most popular animated series, Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, after numerous complaints that the show was too violent for its young audience. ...

The violence on the show has prompted numerous online calls for a classification system for animated TV shows to protect children from harmful content. ... In one case in April, a 10-year-old boy in Jiangsu province reportedly set fire to two brothers, aged eight and four, after getting the idea from the TV show. The boys were badly burned. ...

China's top media watchdog, the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, is coming up with new animation content standards which it will be released by the end of the year.
The watchdog rules will include a ban on violence, following consultation with numerous Chinese animation companies, including Creative Power Entertaining.

I honestly don't know what all the difficulty is. If the authorities would just issue the nine and ten-year-olds their own Glocks, then they could shoot any siblings who try to set them on fire.

Problem solved.
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Sunday, October 13, 2013


Especially when there are high-dollar franchises involved.

"Toy Story of Terror!" is being treated as a film event in its own right. ABC, Pixar's sister channel, is marketing it as an "absolute destination event," according to Darren Schillace , the senior vice president of marketing for the TV network, which like Pixar, is owned by Walt Disney Co. DIS +0.96%

The film is scheduled to be broadcast an additional 10 times on Disney's affiliate channels, including ABC Family and Disney XD, before the end of October.

Because the "Toy Story" franchise has a strong built-in audience, with 32.6 million likes on its Facebook page, Mr. Schillace said he's targeting the larger Disney universe fan.

Promotional efforts for "Toy Story of Terror!" began a year ago, which is typical for a cinematic release but unusual for TV. A marketing campaign typically begins six to eight weeks before the premiere. ...

So, any talk you may have heard that Toy Story 3 was the capstone to a wonderful story arc, that Toy Story 3 was going to be "it?"

Forget you ever heard such a thing. Because the story of the toys continues. Six months after the final moments of the third feature.

And will there be another feature? (Does Santa Claus distribute presents? Do the swallows fly to Capistrano?)

Of course there will be one or more Toy Stories of the eight-seven minute variety. Especially when there are many dollars to be made.

Add On: Variety provides its take of the new opus:

... Written and directed by Angus MacLane, at roughly 21 minutes sans commercials “Toy Story of Terror!” is about a quarter the length of the average animated feature, but everything else here could easily be mistaken for the bigscreen version, from the pacing and humor to Michael Giacchino’s score. ...

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Your Animated Foreign Box Office

The animation, she is doing well in lands across the seas:

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (Worldwide Totals)

Gravity -- $28,000,000 -- ($191,399,919)

Cloudy With Meatballs 2 -- $9,100,000 -- ($99,436,677)

Despicable Me 2 -- $10,100,000 -- ($885,162,295)

Planes -- $6,200,000 -- ($190,748,000)

Turbo -- $5,400,000 -- ($207,585,294)

Smurfs 2 -- $3,000,000 -- ($337,261,063)

Monsters University has pretty much wound down its theatrical run, and will launch on the Little Silver Disks at the end of the month. MU's totals -- Foreign Box Office: $470,400,000 Worldwide Box Office: $736,930,366. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Walt's Naughty List

Last week I did a podcast interview with one of the last Snow White animators. I'll put the talk up in due course, but in the meantime, here's one of the stories he shared ...

I was hired at Disney when I was nineteen. I worked with Eric Larson on "Snow White," did a lot of the little animals. (I was known as the "little animal" guy.) We worked a lot of long hours to get the picture out. ...

In '41, I went out on strike because of the low pay. ... I was making $87.50 per week. We didn't know exactly what people were making at Warners or M-G-M, but it was more than at Disney. After a few weeks I was out of money, and I went up to Big Bear where a friend let me work in a liquor store he owned, and gave me a place to stay. I was making more money in the liquor store than I was at Disney.

After the strike ended, I went into the marines for three years. After the war, I went back to Disney as an animator, and was making $125 a week, which was a lot better than the $87.50. My wife, who I married just before I went into the Corps, had been a secretary at the studio. She worked in personnel, and one day after the strike ended she was given a list of artists and told to go upstairs and transfer their personnel records from one set of files to another.

She didn't know why she was moving the records, didn't know what it was about. Walt came by and she asked him. Walt told her, "That list has the people who went out on strike. After awhile those people won't be working here anymore, and won't work here again."

I was one of the strikers and I got laid off in 1960. For a lot of years my name was on the list of people to be laid off, but Eric Larson always crossed my name off and I stayed on. Eventually Eric couldn't do that anymore, and I was let go. ...

The day I left Disney's I came home in the afternoon, which surprised the neighbors, because they could set their watches by the time I arrived from work, which was always 5:15. My wife drove up and saw me, and she said: "You were let go, weren't you? I asked her how she knew and she said "Because you're home early and there's a big smile on your face." ...

The animator (anybody care to guess who it is?) worked in the cartoon business another 33 years, retiring in the early nineties.

I never knew this story, but it doesn't surprise me much. Studio moguls hold grudges. Big whoop. And truth to tell, a few people who carried picket signs up and down Buena Vista Street -- guess they didn't make the Naughty List -- remained at Disney for decades.

Many of '41 strikers who didn't stay went on to lengthy careers outside of Walt Disney Productions. There were, it turned out, plenty of cartoon studios in which prosper outside of the House of Mouse.
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Your Weekend B.O.

The mid-October chart shows the hybrid space epic again on top, with Captain Phillips in #2.

1. Gravity (Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,660] PG13 Friday $12.4M -30%), Weekend $40.0M, Cume $124.0M

2. Captain Phillips (Columbia/Sony) NEW [Runs 3,020] PG13 Friday $8.2M, Weekend $26.0M

3. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (Sony) Week 3 [Runs 3,874] PG Friday $3.3M, Weekend $14.2M, Cume $78.0M

4. Machete Kills (Open Road) NEW [Runs 2,538] R Friday $1.5M, Weekend $4.3M, Cume $4.3M

5. Runner Runner (New Regency/Fox) Week 2 [Runs 3,026] R Friday $1.2M (-57%), Weekend $3.9M, Cume $14.3M

6. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 4 [Runs 2,855] R Friday $1.1M, Weekend $3.6M, Cume $53.6M

7. Insidious: Chapter 2 (FilmDistrict) Week 5 [Runs 2,156] PG13 Friday $757K, Weekend $2.6M, Cume $78.4M

8. Don Jon (Relativity) Week 3 [Runs 1,996] R Friday $696K, Weekend $2.1M, Cume $19.9M

9. Rush (Imagine/Universal) Week 4 [Runs 2,130] R Friday $662K, Weekend $2.2M, Cume $22.0M

10. Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 [Runs 1,320] PG13 Friday $583K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $18.2M

Sony's animated comedy hangs in at the third position.

Add On: The space picture and Cloudy continue to perform.

... “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” was third with $14 million but no other movie cracked $4 million for the three days. The weekend’s other wide opener, Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete Kills,” was dead on arrival, and bunched with holdovers “Runner Runner” and “Prisoners” at around $3.6 million.

Warner Bros. looked to capitalize on last week’s stunning $55 million debut of director Alfonso Cuaron’s space saga Gravity, and it paid off. The studio increased the number of locations by 85 to a market-high 3,660 theaters, the majority of which were 3D, and saw just a 21 percent drop-off from last week. ...

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Still Breathing

Exec producer Seth MacFarlane's live-action t.v. series continues on.

Fox sitcom “Dads” has earned an order of six more scripts from the network.

In its most recent airing, “Dads” finished fourth in its 8 p.m. Tuesday timeslot with a 1.3 rating and 4 share among viewers 18-49 and 3.1 million viewers overall. It is performing slightly worse than fellow newcomer “Brooklyn Nine Nine” (which received its own new script order recently) but better than second-year sitcom “The Mindy Project,” which airs at 9:30. ...

The sitcom hasn't been well reviewed, and isn't topping the Nielsen charts. But it isn't dead, either. Click here to read entire post

"The Animator", March 1946 - pages 7 and 8

Click on the thumbnail for a larger image

And here are the last two pages of the Screen Cartoonists Guild monthly newsletter, from the second month of 1946, when World War II vets were still returning home ...

The single most interesting aspect (to me anyway) from these last two pages? The dark-haired gent, second from left, in the page 7 photograph is E. Cardon Walker. Card started at Disney as a mail sorter, then became a camera operator, moved into advertising and sales after World War military service, and end up Chairman of the Board of Walt Disney Productions after Roy Disney Sr.'s death.

The story goes that Walt wasn't keen on having Card being in the top spot, but Walt died in 1966, and Card ultimately ascended to the Disney pinnacle in 1971 ... after Walt's older brother Roy went to his reward.

(Card had been at the studio about 5 years -- counting time off for the U.S. Navy -- when this photograph was taken. Card retired as CEO in early 1983, but stayed on as a director for many years. He died six weeks shy of his 90th birthday on November 28, 2005.)

Click on the thumbnail for a larger image
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