Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tight Market

Funny thing.

As I mentioned here a couple of days ago, the market for some categories of experienced, production-savvy talent is tight. Four and five years ago, this wasn't the case. At the time, veteran timing directors often complained to me that work opportunities had tailed off, and that it was hard for them to stay steadily employed. ...

So Friday, after my earlier blog post, I get a call from a studio executive who says:

"Steve? We're having trouble finding qualified timing directors. We're also having difficulty getting enough animation checkers, but timing directors is our biggerst concern." ...

I allowed as how good timing directors are indeed tough to secure right now, since most of the best candidates are working.

"DreamWorks Animation TV is doing a huge amount of work and employing a lot of artists and directors. Almost every other TV animation outfit has ramped up the number of shows they're doing. Timing directors who were employed part-time a few years ago now have more work than they can handle. So they get selective."

(Hint, hint.)

The executive wanted to know what TAG could do to help alleviate the scarcity of good timing directors. I said I was reluctant to do much of anything without more thought on the subject.

"We don't want to start training people, then have the work dry up, and then have unemployed timing directors yelling at us. Maybe you can talk to some of your creative supervisors over there, and we can talk again."

See, I know how this kind of crapola goes. Work is booming, and then work falls off a tall cliff. And the last thing anyone wants to do is increase the size of the Talent Pool to the point it's Un. Sus. Tain. Able.

That doesn't do anybody any good.

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Ye Olde American Box Office

Now with statilistical Add-On.

The weekend take, as described by trade journals:


1). The Martian (FOX), 3,218 theaters (-286) / $3.2M to $3.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.6M to $10.8M / Total cume: $182.3M / Wk 5

2). Goosebumps (SONY), 3,618 theaters (+117) / $2.9M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.7M to $8.9M / Total cume: $55.5M / Wk 3

3). Bridge Of Spies (DIS), 2,873 theaters (+62) / $2.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.6M / Total cume: $44.8M / Wk 3

4/5). Burnt (TWC), 3,003 theaters / $1.8M to $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5M to $5.2M / Wk 1

Hotel Transylvania 2 (SONY), 2,962 theaters (-192) / $1.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.2M / Total cume: $155.4M / Wk 6

6). The Last Witch Hunter (LGF), 3,082 theaters (0) / $1.4M to $1.6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.6M to $4M (-62%) / Total cume: 18M+ /Wk 2

7). Our Brand Is Crisis (WB), 2,202 theaters / $1M to $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3M to $3.3M / Wk 1

8/9). Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (PAR), 1,530 theaters (-126) / $1.15M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3M (-63%) / Wk 2

9). Crimson Peak (UNI), 2,112 theaters (-879) / $1.15M Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.6M to $3M / Total cume: 27.1M / Wk 3

10). Steve Jobs (UNI), 2,493 theaters (0) / $884K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.6M / Total cume: $14.6M / Wk 4

11). The Intern (WB), 1,521 theaters (-540) / $735K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.2M (-41%)/ Total cume: $68.4M / Wk 6 ...

Globally, Hotel Transylvania is climbing north of $330 million, with grosses split close to 50/50 between international and domestic releases.

It will no doubt surpass the $358.4 million of the original.

Add On: As we enter the end-of-year holiday season, it's astounding how many animated features are at or near the top of the box office list. Right now, the Top Five pictures either a) are animated features, b> are based on animated features, c) have lots of animation in them.


#1 -- Jurassic World

#2 -- Avengers

#3 -- Furious 7

#4 -- Minions

#5 -- Cinderella

#10 -- Ant-Man

#11 -- Home

#13 -- The Sponge-Bob Movie

#15 -- Hotel Transylvani 2

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Howard Anderson, RIP

A pioneering visual effects artist has passed.

Howard A. Anderson Jr., an Oscar-nominated visual effects artist whose company did VFX work for the original Star Trek series, has died. He was 95.

Anderson died Sept. 27 of cardiac dysrhythmia in Ventura, Calif.

Anderson and Albert Whitlock shared an Oscar nom for their efforts on Arthur Hiller’s Tobruk (1967), a war drama that starred Rock Hudson and George Peppard. ,,,

In the 1960s, Anderson and his brother, Darrell A. Anderson, were running The Howard Anderson Co., an influential special effects outfit based on the Desilu lot. ...

The firm signed a deal to work on the 1964 Star Trek pilot episodes "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and its contributions to the series included exterior shots of the USS Enterprise speeding through the stars and the effects associated with the phaser-beam weapons and the ship’s transporter. ...

There were a different set of challenges with visual effects, back before CG work.

Then, it was all about sophisticated miniature work, artful mattes, and projection work. You watch some of those old-timey effects today and (naturally) they seem crude.

But the overarching benchmark, remarkably enough, was similar then to what it is now. As Harrison Ellenshaw (matte artist for the first Star Wars and a whole lot of other things) said long ago: "If you notice the matte, it's a failure."

In the same way, if you notice the effect, if it jumps out at you, the thing doesn't really work very well. Even with seamless, state-of-the-art CG, that can sometimes be a problem.

It's always good to know where VFX work has been. With Mr. Anderson's passing, we lose a bit of our collective memory, and recollecting the industry that's passed becomes hard to do.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

TAG 401(k) Stats

On Monday, the Animation Guild holds it's quarterly trustee meeting for its 401(k) Plan. The latest statistics:

Total Plan Assets -- $222,897,543 -- (93% Vanguard Funds; 7% Other)

Average Plan Balance -- $85,631

Total Plan Participants -- 2,604 ...

Other factoids:

87% of participants hold their assets in a balanced Target Date Fund.

From the first quarter of the year to the present, the average participant balance has dropped from $93,585 to $85,631. (This reflects the drop in equities' markets.)

Target Date Fetirement Fund fees have dropped from 16-18 basis points to 10 basis points, this due to a shift from regular Target Date Retirement Funds to Vanguard Target Retirement Trusts II.

Because of a decline in asset values , some Vanguard Institutional shares (both bond and stock) have been mapped to Admiral shares, resulting in slightly higher costs.

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Stop Motion Animation on a Budget

In two months, a new animated feature opens.

“Anomalisa,” for which [for which Academy Award-winning screenwriter Charlie Kauffman] wrote the screenplay and directed with Duke Johnson (it is to open in limited release on Dec. 30), tells the story of a motivational speaker (played by David Thewlis) who finds himself eerily adrift at a Cincinnati hotel. ...

Among the challenges of making “Anomalisa,” its filmmakers explained, was building puppets that looked real but not too real; that could believably perform mundane actions, like getting dressed and going to the bathroom; and that did not look like anything they had seen in other movies.

“We didn’t want it to feel like something else,” Mr. Johnson said.

The painstaking frame-by-frame shoot took about two years, during which time the production often came close to running out of money, only to find new sources of funding as deadlines loomed.

... The directors estimate that no more than 15 to 20 animators worked on the film at a time, each of whom, at best, produced about two seconds of footage a day.

“Over the course of time, people come and go,” Mr. Johnson explained.

Mr. Kaufman added: “People died. People were born.”

... “Anomalisa” received enthusiastic receptions at the Telluride Film Festival and at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was acquired by Paramount. ...

The picture spent $400,000 in pre-production (storyboarding, design, etc.), $10 million overall, and took two years to complete.

Which seems about right. Stop-motion is a painstaking and under-loved art form, and the animators that work in it often work at low wages. (Stop-motion animators at LAIKA in Portland are paid less than CG animators in Los Angeles; many non-union puppet animators in Los Angeles are chronically under-paid.)

I have no idea what the Anomalisa crew was paid. I like to think it was adequate

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two Features -- Two Markets

So Fox and Blue Sky Studios have rolled out a new trailer for their big theatrical release:

Charles Schulz's characters are known products in a wide variety of media: TV, comic strips, lunch boxes. And the feature now poised for release is going to be turning up on a whole lot of big screens in bigger multiplexes. ...

And then there is the sequel to a big (in its day) theatrical feature from ten years ago:

This one, a feature entitled Open Season: Scared Silly, is the fourth installment of a moderately successful franchise, but not quite so successful that the fourth incarnation gets a high-end budget or a major theatrical rollout (at least in the U.S.)

Sony clearly wants to hit various markets. Just now it has the second Hotel Transylvania cleaning up at the world box office. But it isn't shy about keeping older franchises going, even if those franchises end up on little silver disks instead of big silver screens.

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New WB Animation Topkicks

Warner Bros. Animation is getting some new high executives.

Warner Bros. Animation has promoted creative exec Jay Bastian to SVP, Series, and operations chief Ed Adams to SVP & General Manager. The new appointments were announced today by Sam Register, President, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series, who oversees the division.

In his new role, Bastian is responsible for identifying properties from the Warner Bros. collection — including Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes, DC Entertainment and MGM — to develop for new television series, shortform content and feature-length projects for home entertainment. ...

Mining The Library is a top strategy for many of our finest entertainment conglomerates. Disney has raised MTL to a high art, so why not Time-Warner?

The current incarnation of Warner Bros. Animation really launched with Tiny Toon Adventures a huge hit in the early nineties, that put Steven Spielberg into the TV cartoon business and Warner Bros. Animation back on the map. The Warners characters were reimagined in an entertaining and artful way, and the studio (and Mr. Spielberg) went on to a decade of prosperity.

Reimagining Daffy, Bugs, Yosemite Sam and the rest of the Warners regulars have been a recurring phenomena at Warner Bros Animation. Sometimes it works out well (Wabbit),and sometimes not so well (Loonatics Unleashed).

Mr. Bastian will have his work cut out for him, creating new product from new and making it work. If he's successful, everybody wins. If he fails? Well, there are other animation studios at which to work, aren't there?

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Cover Them With Compost"

I was out and about in one of our fine conglomerate-owned studios this afternoon, and a Wise Animation Supervisor (one who's worked for a wide range of cartoon companies), said to me:

"I had lunch with [Executive A] over at [Studio B] last week, and he's pretty defensive about morale. They just laid off crew members on a show that they led to believe were staying on. And people were not happy. And the exec was defensive about how [Studio B] handled the layoffs." ...

I allowed as how this type of corporate behavior wasn't particularly unusual. "Studios need to keep employees from jumping to some other show before their own project is done, so the suits traipse down and say 'there's plenty of work, nobody's getting laid off,' and that's usually the tipoff to start looking for a new gig. Because if the execs come down and spend time and energy telling people that everything's fine, then the end is near."

I think the above is generally true (mostly). Studios bullshit employees about when jobs will end because they think it's a necessary business tactics. But The Wise Animation Supervisor believes the practice is starting to hurt certain animation studios that have ... uhm ... weaker reputations among Creatives.

"You get around to studios, Steve. You know the companies that have lower morale because of the way they treat people. I've gotten a call from one asking where they can get board artists for new projects. And I tell them, 'All the good ones are booked.' And they don't get why it's hard for them to hire some of them. They don't get that some top talent tries to avoid them if they can."

Supply eventually catches up with demand, so even the studios with lesser reputations will be able to staff up sooner or later. But in the shorter run, some companies will have to make do with B-quality creatives.

In a tight market, bad corporate behavior has consequences.

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George Lucas, animation producer.

Two months after George Lucas completed his original “Star Wars’’ trilogy with “Return of the Jedi,’’ another Lucas production flopped in a test engagement and has rarely been seen since.

John Korty, a longtime Lucas friend perhaps best known for directing the TV-movie “The Ewok Adventure’’ in 1984 explained to The Post the financial issues and controversies that have kept “Twice Upon a Time’’ largely out of circulation for three decades until its recent release on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection. ...

The film took more than two years to make “at an old three-story house in Mill Valley’’ with a crew that included segment animator Henry Selick (“Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas’’) and a 19-year-old David Fincher (“The Social Network’’) as a “computer and technical assistant. We were using old Mitchell 35 mm cameras, and he knew all about them."...

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Happy 102nd, Don!

Don Lusk, the last of the "Snow White" animators, is 102 years old TODAY.

In celebration of another milestone, we rerun this talk we had with Don two years ago:

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.) ...

And here's Part II:

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. ...

And (lastly) Part III:

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 27, 2015

A Question

Yesterday there was north of six thousand hits on this sleepy little site.

If anybody can answer the question of "Why?", we would like to know.

We get why there was action when animated productions were listed last summer. Or when activity percolates over posts about studio visits. But what was so special about yesterday?

Anybody have a clue they would like to share?

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Borrowing From the Disney Playbook

So a large conglomerate is going to reboot an animated project as a live-action feature. But it isn't Diz Co.

... Puss In Boots scribe Tom Wheeler has come out of a long stint with DreamWorks Animation ... to write a live-action adaptation of Dora The Explorer, the venerable Nickelodeon animated kiddie series. ...

Where did these Paramount/Viacom folks ever get the idea to do something like that? ...

... Disney’s “Maleficent” has surpassed $700 million at the global box office, the studio said Tuesday. ...

It’s also Angelina Jolie‘s highest-grossing live-action film of all time domestically ($229 million), internationally ($472 million) and globally ($700 million). ...

After which:

“Cinderella” crossed the $500 million mark at the global box office, Walt Disney Studios said Wednesday. Produced for $95 million, the fantasy romance is part of the company’s strategy to mine its catalog of animated classics for fresh live-action family films.

Oh, okay. Now I get it.

(Remember, ladies and gents, imitation of successful business strategies is the sincerest form of Hollywood.

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Recreating A 43-Year-Old Metropolis

An older New York is re-built in computers.

Last week I had occasion to listen to old-school set builders and property masters talk about their crafts. A lot of their work still exists, because the traditional sets are still being built.

But we'll never see huge sets go up again, because all anybody needs these days is fifteen or twenty feet of a steel and plaster set, and plenty of green screen. After that, it's digital wizards building new realities with software and hardware and a director who knows what he wants.

And up above, visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie talks to reporter David Cohen about how and his crew turned Joseph Gordon­-Levitt into a wirewalker moving between two skyscrapers that no longer exist.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Middle Kingdom Growth

As the financial section says:

... China’s animation studios are increasingly targeting overseas markets, cleaning up their cartoons where needed to meet foreign rules for content aimed at children, industry experts say. ...

“I have talked with many potential domestic or foreign partners about licensing, including a world-renowned cartoon distributor which has been the agent for Walt Disney in the international market for years,” Shan Xiaodong, marketing supervisor at Beijing-based Jinding Animation Studio, told the South China Morning Post.

He said his company was familiar with rating rules for cartoons in Western countries and took them into consideration when creating new content.

“For example, in the novel [Journey to the West] there is cannibal element – monsters all want to eat Tang Monk’s flesh hoping to live forever. We delete those plot elements because they are not acceptable in foreign countries if we are targeting children there,” Shan said.

Last year the industry saw revenue of 100 billion yuan (HK$121.87 million), an increase of 15 per cent year-on-year, according to This figure is about 10 times what the industry recorded 10 years ago. ...

The thing of it is, there's more to it than just cutting the dirty stuff out of your cartoons. You also need to tell stories that people want to watch. It's more than just removing the flesh eaters from home screens.

China, India and other places also have cultural barriers to climb over. Physical gags and comedy translate no matter what continent you're sitting on. Stiff and stilted dialogue? Not very much.

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Zootopia Info

The crew at Walt Disney Animation Studios (Tujunga Avenue) might be wrapping up the animal movie ue out next year, but Diz Co. is just now rolling out new pictures and a cast list, to wit:

... Opening on March 4, the pic focuses on the melting pot of Zootopia, where animals from every environment live together in such habitat neighborhoods such as ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown. ...

Idris Elba as Chief Bogo, head of the Zootopia Police Department. A tough cape buffalo with 2,000 lbs of attitude, Bogo is reluctant to add Judy Hopps, Zootopia’s first bunny cop, to his squad of hardened rhinos, elephants and hippos.

J.K. Simmons as Mayor Leodore Lionheart, the noble leader of Zootopia, who coined the city’s mantra that Judy Hopps lives by: “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything.”

Zootopia Clawhauser Nate Torrence as the Zootopia Police Department’s most charming cheetah, Benjamin Clawhauser. He loves two things: pop star Gazelle and donuts. From his reception desk, he greets everyone with a warm smile and a helpful paw—covered in sprinkles.

Jenny Slate as Assistant MAYOR Bellwether, a sweet sheep with a little voice and a lot of wool, who constantly finds herself under foot of the larger-than-life Mayor Lionheart.

Tommy Chong as Yax the Yak, the most enlightened, laid-back bovine in Zootopia. When Judy Hopps is on a case, Yax is full of revealing insights. ...

The pic has been relatively low on the radar, overshadowed by Pixar's two 2015 releases.

But Disney staffers inform me that Zootopia is funny, and the clips and cycles that I've seen on various flat screen as the epic wends its way to completion sure as hell look amusing.

And certainly the Mouse has been on a roll, animation-wise, so why wouldn't the picture do well?

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Kick-Starting Hand-Drawn Animation

My long-ago Disney mentor seeks to bring back an older animation art form.

... Don Bluth and Gary Goldman are looking for $550,000 to get started [on Dragonslair: The Movie. Now, if they reach this goal, that doesn’t mean that the Dragon’s Lair film will automatically be made. It just means that the duo will have the necessary capital they need to pitch the film to studios. Other animators and filmmakers have done this recently: we saw Disney animation veterans Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams do this a few years ago with their film Art Story and that film has yet to be green lit. ...

The duo are touting this as “an opportunity to resurrect hand-drawn animation”, which, if successful, could be huge since the majority of animation studios in the US have steered away from feature-length traditionally animated films. This is definitely smart marketing on their behalf, since this angle is what helped Hullabaloo become so popular during its Kickstarter campaign last year. ...

This is a fine idea, and we wish Don and Gary the best of luck in their endeavor. ...

But the thing to remember here is

1) First you need to raise the money.

2) Then you have to recruit and ramp up the development staff.

3) After which you have to make sure the story sparkles before you charge into production.

4) Once production begins, do you do it in California? Or Canada? Or split it between the two? Or do it someplace else? (Hint: Free money could very likely come into play.)

5) When production ends, you need to acquire a decent distributor or make sure the distributor you've already acquired will support your baby.

6) Lastly, to give American hand-drawn feature animation a decent shot at resurrection, you need to have a HIT.

All of these things are a tall order. I know of other hand-drawn projects that still struggle to get airborne. Here's hoping that Gary and Don can make their dream come to life.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Going Global

Well, hey.

Turner Broadcasting is re-launching its second flagship kids brand, Boomerang, as a global all-animation and youth-targeted network, repositioned with a line-up of timeless and contemporary cartoons programmed for family co-viewing.

Drawing upon the vast resources of the world’s largest animation library—consisting of Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, Cartoon Network and MGM studios television and theatrical shorts, series and specials—Boomerang’s on-air schedule will be anchored by such timeless favorites as Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, The Powerpuff Girls and Scooby-Doo.

Along with a slate of newly acquired contemporary series produced by studios around the world, Boomerang will also introduce a refreshed on-air environment and for the first time offer exclusive original content on the network across its 13 international feeds. ...

"Timeless and contemporary cartoons. .."

That's Press-Release Speak for "We'll be showing old Warners and Hanna-Barbera stuff on the network, also some freshly minted series we will gin up in Korea, Canada and other places. And of course there will be twenty-four new half-hours of 'Scooby Doo'." ...

The above under-scores the ongoing thirst for animation that's happening on various continents. Our fine, international entertainment conglomerates know a good thing when they see it. Particularly when large profits are part of the package.

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The Global Box Office

The animation, she still does well.


The Martian -- $30,000,000 -- ($385,155,148)

Hotel Transylvania 2 -- $28,700,000 -- ($315,792,541)

Pan -- $12,300,000 -- ($63,600,000

Ant-Man -- $22,000,000 -- ($493,810,134)

The Walk -- $4,700,000 -- ($33,766,427)

Inside Out -- $4,200,000 --

The trades inform us:

... Fox’s The Martian returned to the No. 1 spot internationally this frame with $30.2M from 9,198 screens in 72 markets. That takes it past martian$200M at the offshore box office after four weekends in release with $218.77M. France launched at No. 1 with $6.7M, besting the starts of Interstellar (+40%) and helmer Ridley Scott’s own Prometheus (+10%). ...

[Hotel Transylvania 2 had] very strong $28.7M this frame. That’s with an additional 15 markets including Russia and Spain which opened at No. 1. Playing on over 10,200 screens in 79 total markets, HT2 has $167.5M in the till, surpassing the entire lifetime box office of the original by 5% at current exchange rates. ...

Ant-Man is showing superhero style legs in China, holding a 2nd frame there at No. 1 and adding $22M for a drop of 48%. This brings the local cume to $81.9M after 10 days, more than three times the next biggest offshore market which is the UK with $25.4M. ...

Inside Out added $4.4M at the offshore turnstiles this frame. The global total is now $842.2M with $486.9M from international. ...

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East Coast Version

The Washington Post examines* how cartoon are made in Connecticut.

... Blue Sky artists had been charged with a touchstone assignment: Find “Peanuts” creator Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz’s pen line. Learn its beguiling grace and warm humanity. Director Steve Martino had sat in the Northern California studio where Schulz long worked, and had been gifted with one of the late cartoonist’s pen nibs. Martino had tried to reproduce that line himself, with that nib, and had felt like Charlie Brown trying to fly a kite: Repeated failings resulted only in becoming more entangled, when not being brought down cruelly to earth. ...

Amaxingly, the process seems remarkably similar to the ones used in California.

The corporate tub-thumping has begun. In earnest.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Your American Box Office

The stats as we know them on Saturday morn:


1). The Martian (FOX), 3,504 theaters (-197) / $4.3M Fri. (-31%)/ 3-day cume: $15.1M (-29%)/Total cume: $165.5M/ Wk 4

2). Goosebumps (SONY), 3,501 theaters (0)/ $3.8M Fri. (-48%)/ 3-day cume: $14.7M (-38%) /Total cume: $42.9M/Wk 2

3). Bridge of Spies (DIS), 2,811 theaters (0)/ $3.3M Fri. (-39%)/ 3-day cume: $11.3M (-26%)/Total cume: $32.5M/Wk 2

4). The Last Witch Hunter (LIONS), 3,082 theaters / $3.7M Fri.* / 3-day cume: $9.5M /Wk 1

5). Hotel Transylvania 2 (SONY), 3,154 theaters (-379) / $2.18M Fri. (-35%)/ 3-day cume: $8.5M (-33%) / Total cume: $147.8M /Wk 5

6.) Steve Jobs (UNI), 2,493 theaters (+2,433)/ $2.4M Fri. (+355%) / 3-day cume: $7.09M (+373%)/ Total cume: $9.8M/Wk 3

7). Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (PAR), 1,656 theaters / $3.3M Fri. +/ 3-day cume: $6.9M /Wk 1
+includes previews $600K

8). Crimson Peak (UNI), 2,991 theaters (+7) / $1.78M Fri. (-66%)/ 3-day cume: $5.3M (-60%)/Total cume: $22.2M/Wk 2

9). The Intern (WB), 2,061 theaters (-646)/ $1.1M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $3.74M (-31%)/Total cume: $64.3M/Wk 5

10). Sicario (LIONS), 1,448 theaters (-682) / $809K Fri. (-39%) / 3-day cume: $2.77M (-39%)/Total cume:$39.2M /Wk 6 ...

HT2, still at mid-list and holding well, will likely be surging past $150 million by the middle of next week. The picture has taken in more than $130 million overseas.

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Accidents Happen

From TMZ.

Jeffrey Katzenberg can't drive right now but he's still a driven man ... because he won't let a pesky car accident that landed him in a hospital O.R. keep him from running his super successful company.

We've learned Jeffrey was driving his Tesla in Beverly Hills Monday when he got in a bad accident ... so bad he was taken to a nearby hospital.

We're told doctors operated on his arm and when they were done they put the appendage in a full cast. Painful for sure, but Tuesday morning the DreamWorks Animation CEO was back at work, holding meetings. ...

Glad he's ambulatory and not badly hurt. If he lived in Glendale or Burbank, this never would have happened.

But of course, the only way Jeffrey would be caught sleeping in the east San Fernando Valley is if he were catnapping at the DWA studio.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

At Disney Tujunga

Steve Kaplan (TAG's expert organizer) and I today did the rounds of Walt Disney Animation Studios' Tujunga Avenue studio, a large rectangular building that sits within spitting distance of the end of Burbank/Bob Hope Airport's main runway. ....

Zootopia, the picture being made inside the facility, is all but wrapped up. Animation on the last lap, along with finaling and lighting. (I watched various pieces of animation on various monitors. The characters are fuzzy animals wearing clothes. The scenes I saw were funny, so I'm making a wild guess the picture is a comedy.)

A large set of Zootopia -- the one you see behind Disney staffers below -- sits in the middle of the building. It's impressive.

Brother Kaplan and I were at the studio to update the crew about union proposals and the probable contours of the new three-year IATSE contract* that will soon be negotiated between corporate management and a union negotiation committee consisting of IA reps and Disney studio employees. We've been up at Tujunga on a regular basis, holding meetings, walking through work spaces, updating people on contract issues that have come up and what the next agreement may look like.

Employees have offered a range of proposals, but up until now they've been more focused on getting their movie out. Now that the tempo of work has slowed down, individuals are thinking more about what their latest collective bargaining agreement could look like.

* This contract is the "TSL contract", the first iteration of which was negotiated in 1999 between the IATSE and Walt Disney Pictures. (It's an IATSE contract, not an 839 contract). Andrew Millstein, then as now an exec at Feature Animation, and Disney Senior Vice President Robert Johnson represented the company in the '99 talks; reps from the IA, Cinematographers Guild, Editors Guild and Animation Guild sat across the table for the Internation Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees -- out mother alliance.

The TSL contract was designed to cover live-action visual effects employees working in a new VFX division inside Disney feature animation. Visual effects house DreamQuest Images had just been purchased by Diz Co., and the plan was to graft it onto the animated feature studio. But this corporate strategy didn't last long. Various Disney projects found their way to George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic in Northern California instead of The Secret Lab, and the under-utiilized department was shuttered after a few years of operation.

But the TSL agreement lives on as Walt Disney Animation Studios main union contract, and today most feature employees work under it.

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Horrific Treehouse

The Simpsons as John K. would conceive the opening.

And the studio continues to morph. But time has a way of doing things like that.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lee Guttman, RIP

Lee Guttman, a veteran inker in Animationland, had one of the more compelling biographies of anyone who's worked in the business.

Lee was born in Germany in 1925. Her parents were wealthy, also Jewish. And when Corporal Schicklegruber (Adolf Hitler) gained power, they read the writing on the wall and got out of the country, but only barely. Lee got out first, helped by Christian friends. If she hadn't been young, petite, and pretending to sleep wrapped up in a coat on a train chugging out of the country, she likely would have been grabbed by the Gestapo.

The Guttman family made its way to London, where Lee attended high school and lived through the blitz. At eighteen she dropped out of art school to join the Royal Air Force, working as a translator. At twenty she was the war bride of an American service man. At twenty-one she was stateside. ...

Lee lived in New York City (she loved it), and Wisconsin (she didn't love it). Her husband was a dentist, and eventually the two of them moved to Los Angeles and bought a house in the Hollywood hills. Maybe because she lived directly above Hanna-Barbera, or maybe because art was in her soul (see above), Lee found her way into the animation business. For decades she worked as an inker, working on both features and TV shows.*

Late in life, years after retirement, she began making appearances on "The Tonight Show"

Lee was always spirited, always fearless. (Perhaps the times in which made her that way.) She wasn't a "name" in animation, but she lived a life worth noting, so we note it here. She died on October 15 at age ninety.

Sleep well, Ms. Guttman. You made a difference.

* Lee was also an inker on "Sleeping Beauty", but inkers weren't credited on the feature, so IMDB has no record of the work.

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Tom Sito's Month in History

Focused, as always, on cartoons and other types of movies. (Note: A few items below have earlier appeared as single items, for which apologies. )

Oct. 1, 1945 - Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin leaves the cartoon business to work full time at Paramount doing live action movies. There, he writes for the Marx Brothers and later directs the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedies.

Oct. 1, 1992 - Cartoon Network first goes on the air.

Oct. 2, 2004 - Dreamworks film "Sharktale" opens in theaters.

Oct. 2, 1950 - Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip debuts. Schulz’s strip “Little Folks” was initially rejected by all major comic syndicates. Three months before the strip was accepted, his fiancĂ©e breaks off their engagement. He had left his job at the post office and she was convinced he would never amount to anything. Good ol’ Charlie Brown was the name of a fellow post office worker all the guy’s liked to play jokes on. At the time of his death Charles Schulz had mountains on the moon named for his characters, and he was arguably the richest visual artist on earth.

Oct. 2, 1958 - Hanna & Barbera’s "The Huckleberry Hound Show" debuts.

Oct. 3, 1955 - The Mickey Mouse Club TV Show premiers. “Who’s the leader of
the Band that’s made for you and me...?”

Oct. 3, 1957 - Walter Lantz’s "The Woody Woodpecker T.V. Show" debuts.

Oct. 3, 1964 – “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” Underdog debuts on NBC.

Oct. 5, 1969 - "Monty Python’s Flying Circus" debuts on British television BBC-1.

Oct. 7, 1993 - Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” with CG dinosaurs earned $712 million dollars in North American box office alone. A feat not equaled until "Titanic" five years later.

Oct. 8, 1933 - HOLLYWOOD ACTOR’S FIRST MASS PROTEST- When Franklin Roosevelt created the NRA to fix wages and prices to try and solve the Depression, he even went as far as to try to regulate Motion Picture rates and fees. The catch was the rates were drafted with the advice of friends of the studio heads in Washington. The actors went ballistic when they saw new rules such as a ceiling cap on actors salaries of $100,000 a year (the producers had no such cap), restriction of actors independent agents, and terms of an old salary contract would stay in effect even after the contract expired until it was renegotiated.

This night, at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Blvd., hundreds of movie stars met to draft a petition calling for rewriting of the codes. The activists included Paul Muni, Frederic March, Jeanette MacDonald, Groucho Marx and Boris Karloff. SAG president Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz) was considered politically too far left to face Roosevelt, so he stepped down in favor of comedian Eddie Cantor, who had helped Vaudeville acts unionize. Cantor went to the president’s retreat at Warm Springs Georgia with the petition and had the hated articles taken out of the code.

Oct 11, 1960 - "The Bugs Bunny Show" premiers on TV. “Overture, hit the lights! This is it, we’ll hit the heights, and oh what heights we’ll hit.....etc..”

Oct. 11, 1967 - The NY Times prints an image of a nude female by Bell Lab artist-in-residence Ken Knowlton. The image was rendered on a computer as a mosaic of thousands of numbers was a breakthrough for CGI.

Oct. 12, 1937 - Under pressure from parent Paramount Studio, Max Fleischer signs the first animation union contract and settles the Cartoonist strike begun May 8th. The following year, Fleischer tries to escape the union by moving his studio to Right-To-Work State Florida. The additional expenses and poor box office ruin his studio.

Oct 12, 1994 - Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg announce the partnership named Dreamworks SKG.

Oct. 13, 1978 - Mickey Mouse gets his star on Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame.

Oct. 15, 1946 - Walt Disney’s film "Make Mine Music" premieres.

Oct. 16, 1923 - Walt Disney Studios Born. 22-year-old Walt and his older brother Roy sign a deal with M.J.Winkler for six “Alice in Cartoonland” short cartoons. Budget - $1,500 each.

Oct. 17, 1990 -, the Internet Movie Data Base, debuts.

Oct. 18, 1967 - Walt Disney’s last cartoon done under his supervision “The Jungle Book.” premieres. Disney had died the previous December.

Oct. 20, 1955 - J.R.R. Tolkein’s last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy,
The Return of the King, publishes.

Oct. 22, 1941 - Walt Disney’s "Dumbo" premieres.

Oct. 24, 1947 - Walt Disney testifies to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) as a friendly witness. He accuses members of the Cartoonists Guild and the League of Women Voters, which he mistakenly calles the “League of Women Shoppers”, as being infiltrated by Communists “Seeking to subvert the Spirit of Mickey Mouse’.

Oct. 24, 1994 - Walt Disney TVA’s "Gargoyles" premieres.

Oct. 27, 1954 - Walt Disney breaks with other Hollywood movie studios, who feel television will cut into feature revenues, and debuted their TV show “Disneyland” today.

Oct. 27, 1966 - Bill Melendez "Peanuts" TV special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” premieres.

Oct. 28, 1726 - Johnathan Swift publishes “Gulliver’s Travels” - “To Vex the World rather than divert it.”

Oct. 28, 1892 - Pauvre Pierrot, the first cartoon to be projected in France, premieres.

Oct. 29, 1969- THE BIRTH OF THE INTERNET- In the basement of UCLA’s Boelter Hall, Lick Licklider, Vincent Cerf, Robert Kahn, Lawrence Roberts and Bob Taylor set up the first call to Stanford. “We typed the ‘L’ and we asked on thephone‘Didyouseethe‘L’?’ ‘Yes,weseethe‘L’,wastheresponse.Thenwe typed O and asked ‘Did you see the O?’ ‘Yes, we see the O’, was the response. Then we typed G, and then the system crashed!” They called it ARPANET- Advanced Research Projects Agency-NET, a few years later, it became the Internet.

Oct. 30, 1994 - Nickelodeon premieres "Aaah! Real Monsters!"

Birthdays: Julie Andrews, Zack Galifianakis, Satoshi Kon, Harvey Kurtzman, Bill Keane, Art Babbitt, Guillermo Del Toro, Pete Doctor, Jodie Benson (voice of Ariel - Little Mermaid), Rod Scribner, Mike Judge, Virgil Partch, Jerry Siegel, Auguste Lumiere, Trey Parker, Jerry Ohrbach (voice of Lumiere – "Beauty and the Beast"), Mary Blair, Preston Blair, Bob Kane, Picasso, Bill Tytla, Seth McFarlane, Bernie Wrightson, Ralph Bakshi, Bill Mauldin, Ollie Johnston.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Two Feature Directors,Two Comic Books

Multi media never goes out of style.

... DWA feature director Dean DeBlois and Dreamworks’ Dragons show writer Richard Hamilton are teaming up with Dark Horse Comics to bring How to Train your Dragon to comics through a series of graphic novels. The first, titled The Serpent’s Heir, will be released in 2016. ...

Lu: So Dean, how does it feel to be accomplishing your dream of publishing a comic?

DeBlois: Feels amazing! A lot of things are becoming kind of full circle for me. I was such a comics fan when I was a kid and it was my escape. I grew up pretty poor and there was a little smoke shop in a strip mall very close to my house. They knew I was a poor kid so they would let me come in on weekends and read everything on the rack for free. Then I’d commit it all to memory and go home and draw. I owe my story-telling sense, my drawing ability and my general sense of imagination to the many comic books that I was a fan of when I was a kid. ...v

And the other comic book project, from Hotel Transylvania helmer Genddy Tartakosky:

Newsarama spoke with Tartakovsky about his Luke Cage comic, as well as the Hotel Transylvania movies

Nrama: I wanted to ask you a few questions regarding your Luke Cage comic book series. Specifically: Have you heard from Marvel, since the announcement you made about the book? Tom Brevoort said on Facebook that you should contact him…

Tartakovsky: Really? I hadn’t heard that. I’ll have to get up with him. My old editor on the Luke Cage series, he’s not even at Marvel any more, he got up with me. But I haven’t had a chance to really look around yet.

Nrama: We had heard from your former editor that Paul Rudish, your frequent collaborator and co-creator of Sym-Bionic Titan, was being talked to about finishing the book off your art.

Tartakovsky: We had been talking to Paul, but that was a while back – and he’s busy these days, doing the Mickey Mouse shorts. I think I would probably be able to finish it on my own.

Nrama: Have you talked to Marvel at all since the Disney acquisition?

Tartakovsky: I haven’t....

Nrama: Do you have any thoughts on it?

Tartakovsky: I think it’s good. As long as Marvel gets to be kind of autonomous, I think things will be fine. ...

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Fighting for a Slice of the Moolah

A fine entertainment journal tells us:

‘Doc McStuffins’ Star Sues Disney Over Merchandise Revenues & Pay Delays

... In a breach of contract complaint filed today in L.A. Superior Court, [voice-over actress] Kiara Muhammed from the Disney Junior show "Doc McStuffins" alleges that despite the widespread use of her voice and likeness from the first two and a half seasons of the animated series “defendants have failed to compensate plaintiff at the rate of two and one-half (2.5%) of net merchandising receipts.” ...

Having also recently shown up on that other big Disney Junior hit Sofia The First, Muhammad not only alleges that she has never been paid the 2.5% of net merch receipts for Doc McStuffins Season 2 and 2.5. but also claims she has not been provided with “an accounting of the merchandise that makes use of Plaintiff’s recorded voice.” ...

All I can say is, I am shocked.

Would Disney do things like this? Only like since forever. (Peggy Lee showed up in court sitting in a wheelchair, but she ultimately prevailed in getting her share of the action for the bajillions that Lady and the Tramp pulled in.)

This will be useful to follow.

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The Empire Leans Forward

Diz Co. makes more revenue streams.

... Disney is launching a UK streaming service that will combine its animated and live action movies, books, television series and music into a single offering. Disneylife, which will be priced at just under $15 a month, will offer Disney Channel episodes as well as content across books, albums and movies, including the complete Pixar catalogue as well as classic Disney titles such as Snow White and Cinderella. ...

Yesterday a stock analyst suggested that Disney should acquire Netflix as its next trophy, but Diz Co. has other ideas. Why buy Netflix when you can create Netflix? One whale of a lot cheaper.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Laura Said

TAG's newest executive board member shares thoughts on the biz.

It's on You

After having students reach out to me, talking at colleges, and hearing what my peers have to say, I've really begun noticing a trend in students now. That would be entitlement.

Here is the number one thing every student should know;

You don't deserve anything.

Just because you went to school, or because you are talented, doesn't mean the world will hand you the job you want once you have graduated. I know it may suck to hear it, but this industry is hard work.

Whether you attend CalArts or an Arts Institutes, YOU are responsible for the work you produce the entire time you are in school. A degree doesn't mean much, its what you actually take away from it. You need to be aware of what else is being produced out there and hold your art to your own standards (which may be higher than what your school expects of you). ...

Here's the thing: making it in Cartoonland takes

1) Luck

2) Work and tenacity

3) Skill and talent

4) Education

5) Political chops

6) Luck

In other words the profession is a crap shoot. Also sometimes a sweat shop. Also (on occasion) a creative paradise.

I've had twenty years of newbies coming to my office and asking "How do I get into animation?" I tell all of them the same thing, that there are a bajillion different goat paths to the Promised Land, any fifty of which can lead to the mountaintop of success and moderately okay bucks ... or down to some dark canyon of non-employment and failure. Newbies come in as production assistants, trainees, and low-level administrators. Sometimes the transition from student to industry worker takes two weeks; sometimes a decade.

Added to which, people can go along for thirty years, never out of work, then the industry goes south taking a lot of quality artists with it. Because animation is a roller coaster and the only constant anybody can bank on is that boom times will follow recessions (and vice versa), over and over again.

Also too, when artists, writers and technicians hit the magical age of fifty-six, it's harder to get work because their network of contacts (usually older) have retired and the younger co-workers yukking it up down the hall have their own network, and the old-timers aren't in it.

So all in all, animation can be a frustrating, maddening profession. but when it clicks on all cylinders, it can provide a satisfying career in ways that holding a boom mike or pushing a camera dolly on a live-action set cannot. That's why so many twenty-three-year-olds are beating on the doors trying to get in.

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WIA strives to level the playing field:

Women in Animation, the organization that supports women in all aspects of the animation industry, is tackling the issue of gender parity with a new initiative called 50-50 by 2025. Most animation students these days are women, but only about 20% of the creative workforce is made up of women. WIA is hoping this new initiative will help to change that.

“What is the disconnect between graduation and employment? How can we stem the attrition of women?” said producer Jinko Gotoh, WIA chairperson and moderator of a panel taking place at the currently ongoing View Conference in Turin, Italy. “We need to take a hard look at the real numbers needed to reach this goal.” ...

The animation industry is marginally better than other parts of the entertainment industry. Marginally.

But old habits are hard to break. For years women were relegated to ink and paint, checking, and other technical jobs, most on the back end of carton production. Today women make up 21% of the creative side of the animation biz. Not particularly great, but (as we said) better than some sectors of the above-the-line guilds.

... In the film sector, women [live-action] writers fell further behind their white male counterparts in 2012, accounting for just 15 percent of sector employment (down from 17 percent in 2009). Women remained underrepresented by a factor of more than 3 to 1 among screenwriters. ...

Hopefully gender trend lines will continue to narrow.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Building a Performance

... one pixel at a time.

... Producer Neal Moritz and director James Wan wanted “Furious 7” to remain faithful to the film they had started, and to include as much of [the late Paul] Walker as possible in scenes that hadn’t been filmed. Weta ended up doing a whopping 350 shots, most of them involving Walker’s character. ...

The team went through old footage, building a reference library of Walker as Brian O’Conner by using outtakes from “Furious 7” and previous films in the franchise. But those moments had been filmed in one lighting environment and the Weta team “essentially had to relight his performance” digitally for each new scene, said Letteri. ...

[Weta visual effects supervisor Martin] Hill says the first goal was to create a photo-real digital human who can believably move and act onscreen. “That’s a high bar in itself, to create that. Beyond that, this actor was known to millions of fans, and this had to be Paul Walker — more specifically, Walker in character as Brian O’Conner.”

For a scene in Los Angeles, the principal characters all stand in a line, and Walker’s character “is giving meaningful looks to the others and delivering dialog, and he’s full frame. That visual effects work had to be invisible,” says Hill. ...

So the question is, when will live actors be eliminated from movies altogether?

At some point, it's all artists in front of computers. Digital stunt doubles now do high falls. Aliens interact with humans. How long before John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Paul Newman (from the "Butch Cassidy" era) start making new block-buster motion pictures?

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... Force.

And of course, we're not talking about one of the plot strands in The Franchise from Far, Far Away. ...

We're talking about the marketing juggernaut that is Diz Co. Because tickets for #7 are now on sale, and people are going nutso:

... Theater chains began offering advance ticket sales for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which hits theaters two months from today on December 18. ... Legions of Star Wars fans immediately rushed to online ticket sellers to secure their seats but alas, the force is not strong with them. The sudden rush of demand from Jedi-happy fans has caused loading issues and site outages on purchasing platforms including Fandango, the Alamo Drafthouse, and AMC Theaters.

Which leads to:

While movie ticketing and theater websites are struggling to remain running (if they are at all, and as of now, many are not), some lucky fans have already snagged more than enough tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and are selling their extras on eBay — at prices that would only be reasonable to a mentally insane person. And yet, someone will buy these. Someone will spend over $400 on Star Wars tickets. ...

Come next Spring, when Disney stock has gone up 30% and Robert Iger is being hailed as the gifted visionary who bought LucasFilm for a song and really made something out of it, (and the Disney Board is begging him to please stay on as CEO for an extra ... oh ... twenty-seven years), other moguls will be shaking their heads wondering why they didn't grab Mr. Lucas's assets first.

But remember, only one entertainment conglomerate is the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, and that's the one that has a rodent in red shorts as its corporate symbol.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jungle Book

Not the barbershop quartet.

Walt Disney's last personally-supervised animated feature was released on this date in 1967, ten months after Disney's death from lung cancer in the hospital across the street from his studio. ...

Vance Gerry, one of the story artists on JB, told me more than once that Walt brushed off artists' complaints that the story didn't hold together. Vance related that Walt said not to worry, the episodic plot wasn't going to be a problem.

He turned out to be right.

On the other hand, as President Emeritus Tom Sito points out:

At the end sequence, Mowgli meets four vultures who talk like the Beatles but sing barbershop quartet.

That’s because the characters were supposed to sing a Beatles parody song, but Walt felt the group would soon be forgotten. He didn't want to date the film. ...

Only proving that even movie geniuses are occasionally wrong.

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International Box Office

The usual animation suspects -- Hotel Transylvania 2, Inside Out, Minions -- are still raking in coin.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

The Martian -- $37,000,000 -- ($319,195,658)

Ant-Man -- $43,500,000 -- ($454,653,000)

Hotel Transylvanis 2 -- $30,600,000 -- ($267,509,388)

Goosebumps -- $23,500,000 -- ($23,500,000)

Pan -- $14,400,000 -- ($72,838,183)

The Little Prince -- $10,000,000 -- ($38,000,000)

Inside Out -- $6,300,000 -- ($831,645,000)

Minions -- $880,000 -- $1,153,000)

As one of our fine entertainment journals describe this week's global box office:

... [Ant-Man] grew by $43.5M internationally this weekend, bringing the offshore cume to $275.9M and the global total to $454.6M. Of the weekend take, $43.2M was from China in an impressive start there. ...

Hotel Transylvania 2 checked into an additional six markets this weekend grossing $30.6M internationally as it leverages ongoing and upcoming school holidays. ... An additional $6.3M for Inside Out’s 18th offshore frame came from 22 markets. Maintaining No. 1s in Germany and Austria in the charmer’s 3rd week. ...

Universal’s Minions are still frolicking about the globe as they slowly head towards the end of a record-breaking run. With an extra $880K in 40 territories this session, the henchmen have raised the international total to $818.4M. ...

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Last week, the Mrs. and I attended a series of financial seminars in Philadelphia, at what's come to be known as the "Bogleheads" annual get-together.

Among questions covered: How does a person invest money for retirement? What does a person invest in? What's the American economy going to be doing in the years ahead? Here are some answers given by Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, former Vanguard chief financial officer Gus Sauter, and financial gurus Bill Bernstein and Rick Ferri:

John C. Bogle on asset allocation:

Vanguard's Total Bond Fund is, I think, too heavy on government bonds. When I set it up, bonds were paying over 7% and it seemed fine. Now interest rates are 2%, and I think it's advisable to have more short term and some intermediate term corporates.

Regarding stocks, I don't believe anyone needs to invest in foreign equities. Foreign countries are 50% of large U.S. companies' markets, so if somebody invests in Vanguard's Total Stock Market or the S & P 500, they get exposure to non U.S. markets that way.

People ask if Japanese investors would be advised to invest in their home market the way I suggest Americans do in the United States, but there's a big difference the two countries. The U.S. has an economy that has the most robust entrepreneur ship, the most transparency and strong laws protecting private property. Japan's economy is nothing like the United states'. It's structure, controlled and much more "top down" and command-orented than the U.S. economy is. ...

Gus Sauter on investments and the American economy:

Stock markets don't necessarily increase at the rate of a country's Gross Domestic Product growth. Over the last century, the American economy grew at twice the rate of the United Kingdom's, yet both Britain's and the United States' equity markets returned 10.1%.

A major reason American Gross Domestic Product (GDP) isn't growing fast is demographics. Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are leaving the work force; many are past their peak earning years, and since they're a huge segment of the population, it impacts economic growth. Generation X, those born from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s, are now in their highest earning years but the group is not large relative to Baby Boomers. This contributes to the slower growth of the economy.

Generation Y (late 1970s to middle 1990s) is a much larger population segment, larger than the baby boom generation (71 million to 65 million), but the group has not yet reached its peak earning years. When it does, the economy will expand at a faster rate. ...

William J. Bernstein on tilting to Small Cap and Value equities:

In the past, tilting to U.S. Small Cap stocks in your portfolio, and tilting to Value brought investors higher returns over time. Of late, however, investors' money has been pouring into Small Cap and Value and so I don't think these market segments will outperform Large Cap by much in the future, maybe a half or one percent over time, if investors are lucky.

The game is now very small ball.

Going forward, Small Cap and Value premiums will, I think, be found in Emerging Markets. Investors might be looking at a five percent premium there, and perhaps a two to three percent premium in international developed economies. ...

Rick Ferri on saving, asset allocation and investing in foreign markets:

... Let's step back and look at the three legs on a successful index investing stool. They are philosophy, strategy and discipline.

Philosophy is your belief about how to achieve the returns you need to make your life easier. Do you believe you can outperform the markets with market timing or security selection, or do you believe you're better off getting a fair share of market return through a sensible long-term asset allocation and low-cost market matching funds? ...

Strategy is how you implement the philosophy. Here, we are all different. My portfolio is different than your portfolio. The asset allocation and security selection is based on each of our own individual needs and in some cases our desires and beliefs. Jack Bogle would prefer to get his international exposure through US stocks. I prefer to use between 30-40 percent in international unhedged equity. Who is right and who is wrong? Who cares! It doesn't matter much because it's the allocation to stocks and bonds, broad diversification and low fees that matters most. To use foreign or not use foreign isn't the cake, it's the icing on the cake.

... The third leg to all this is Discipline. This is the ability to implement your strategy and maintain though all market conditions. You can do this only when your philosophy is pure. You keep your philosophy pure by continuing education. ...

My take-away from everything I heard is, broad asset allocation is the most important aspect of investing. How much you put into stocks, how much you put into bonds, and how much you save over the course of your career are the most important things.

Everything else -- the tilts, the rebalancing, -- is just icing on your pile of assets.

Here's a write-up from the Bogleheads meeting from a year ago. Not much has changed.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

The REAL Box Office

So the weekend b.o. has some newbies at the top of the list.


1). Goosebumps (SONY), 3,501 theaters / $7.35M Fri. / 3-day cume: $24.5M /Wk 1

2). The Martian (FOX), 3,701 theaters (-153) / $6.4M Fri. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $22M (-41%)/ Total cume: $144.5M /Wk 3

3). Bridge Of Spies (DIS), 2,811 theaters / $5.35M Fri. / 3-day cume: $15.9M /Wk 1

4). Crimson Peak (UNI), 2,984 theaters / $5.29M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13M /Wk 1

5). Hotel Transylvania 2 (SONY), 3,533 theaters (-235) / $3.35M Fri. (-37%)/ 3-day cume: $12.8M (-37%) / Total cume: $137M /Wk 3

6). Pan (WB), 3,515 theaters (0) / $1.67M Fri. (-68%) / 3-day cume: $6M (-61%) /Total cume: $25.85M /Wk 2

7). The Intern (WB), 2,707 theaters (-517)/ $1.69M Fri. (-36%) / 3-day cume: $5.5M (-37%)/Total cume: $58.8M/Wk 4

8). Woodlawn (PURE), 1,553 theaters / $1.48M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.6M /Wk 1

9). Sicario (LGF), 2,130 theaters (-490) / $1.34M Fri. (-41%)/3-day cume: $4.4M (-42%) /Total cume: $34.6M /Wk 5

10). Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (FOX), 1,976 theaters (-871)/ $791K Fri. (-47%) / 3-day cume: $2.76M (-49%)/ Total cume: $75.4M/Wk 5

Transylvania 2 has a relatively small drop week to week, Number Two is keeping pace with Number One (and even a bit ahead of the original, by our reckoning).

Currently the picture has the kid trade all to itself.

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Box Office Predictions

As foretold by the Mojo.


Goosebumps (3,501 theaters) - $31,596,525
The Martian (3,701 theaters) - $24,052,799
Bridge of Spies (2,811 theaters) - $19,677,000
Crimson Peak (2,983 theaters) - $15,213,300
Hotel Transylvania 2 (3,533 theaters) - $12,457,358
Pan (3,515 theaters) - $6,892,915
The Intern (2,707 theaters) - $6,074,508
Woodlawn (1,500 theaters) - $5,250,000
Sicario (2,130 theaters) - $4,775,460
Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (1,967 theaters) - $3,115,728 ...

With another $12.5 million in the moneybag, Hotel Transylvnia 2 will be closing in on a $150 million domestic gross.

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Friday, October 16, 2015


The Animation Guild now has 3,000 members. Officially. ....

This is a new high in unionized animation work.

In the seventies and early eighties, TAG moved through the space-time continuum with 1200 to 1500 card-carrying members. This was in the days when ink-and-paint departments still exited in studios, and lots of television animation was done in-house. Disney took its own sweet, leisurely time turning out a new animated feature every few years.

By the middle eighties the Los Angeles animation biz was sputtering. Ink-and-paint work, with the exception of the Disney feature department, had jetted off to Asia. TV animation was disappearing in the same direction. Digital and traditional cel painting jobs were gone, assistant animation was a thing of the past, small screen production work could be found in Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines. Very little of it was happening in Southern California.

Then in 1989, Filmation closed its doors after a 26-year run, and the only thing left in Los Angeles on the television side was scripts, storyboards, and key design work. Disney was about to release The Little Mermaid, but active membership in the Animation Guild had dropped to 700 people.

And that, ladies and gents, turned out to be the bottom of a deep, dark canyon.

At the end of the year, Disney's feature-length, Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale turned out to be a game changer, and staff at the Mouse House was expanded. Warner Bros. Animation, breathing new life as it developed Tiny Toon Adventures with Spielberg. Lucrative syndication deals was making small-screen cartoon a viable product and various studios upped their output. Disney Television Animation introduced a package of new product with "The Disney Afternoon" and Disney Feature went on a tear: Beauty and the Beast was followed by Aladdin after which came The Lion King, and the money poured in.

Which caused other entertainment conglomerates, anxious to cash in on the cartoon bonanza, to build their own feature studios.

By now it was the mid 1990s. Jeffrey Katzenberg was thrown overboard at Disney and swam off to found DreamWorks (and its feature animation unit) with Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Geffen. Warner fielded its own long-form cartoon division, as did 20th-Century Fox, and the Animation Guild had a record high 2800 members.

That turned out to be the crest of the wave. Hand-drawn animated features began to falter at the box office, and by the end of the decade Disney was laying off hundreds of long-time animation employees. Syndication money dried up, and TV work contracted.

From the turn of the century to the late oughts, animation was again in the doldrums, and the Guild's active membership dropped back to 1500, back where it had been when Hanna-Barbera was churning out animated half-hours with care-free abandon and much of the animation was done in L.A. It's only been in the last three years with new distribution channels (Netflix, Amazon, Disney XD, Cartoon Network) and record-breaking profits for theatrical CG animation that the tide has (again) rolled in, lifting one hell of a lot of boats.

So today we celebrate a new high in membership for the Guild. Animation is always a roller coaster, but currently it rides on high demand and profits ... and the entertainment conglomerates' strong desire to create more profit with ambitious slates of TV and movie theater cartoons.

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Meantime, Down South

Georgia is serious about ramping up its movie and television business.

— Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed believes the new film training program for residents can create more experienced workers for the state's growing television and motion picture industry.

Reed and partners launched the City of Atlanta Entertainment Training Program with the hopes of educating local workers who aspire to be employed in the TV and film industry. The program will focus on aspects of movie making including animation, cinematography, post production, visual effect, editing and makeup.

"Providing a trained below-the-line workforce is critical to the film industry's growth in Atlanta and Georgia," Reed said in a statement. "This program will ensure that our residents and young people have access to a unique opportunity to learn from world-class professionals and acquire vital skills." ...

Georgia hosts live-action TV and feature work in a major way. It has an aggressive program of giving movie-makers free money to come make their product on Georgia's red clay. And unlike California, Georgia's subsidies cover animation. (Which might explain why Cartoon Network, Bento Box and others have animation studios in and around Atlanta.)

What we'd like to see is soe of Atlanta's animation artists get a bit of experience below the Mason-Dixon line, then drive out to L.A. and join us in Los Angeles. Where the wages are higher.

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The Blue Genie On Stage

Disney animated features don't just inspire live-action features. They make Broadway musicals happen.

... The last of Alan Menken’s Disney collaborations with the late Howard Ashman (and with additional work from Tim Rice), the Genie tuner Aladdin has been a sell-out at Mickey’s Broadway showcase, the New Amsterdam Theatre, since previews began in February 2014. As it closes in on 700 performances, the show has rung up $122.4 million in ticket sales and been seen by more than 1.1 million people.

With a Japanese copy already running in Tokyo since May and the European premiere set for December in Hamburg, Disney said today that the musical, staged by Casey Nicholaw, has booked London’s Prince Edward Theatre, where it will begin performances on May 27, 2016. ...

Wouldn't it be nice if some or all of the animation crew that made this money spinner possible got a mention? The board artists? The animators? The designers, writers and directors?

Someone? Anyone? I know I dream.

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Amazon Pilots

We're not talking flyers from the jungles of Brazil, but cartoons.

Amazon has unveiled six new animated pilots for kids, set for debut November 5. They hail from creators including William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, Scarecrow), Bill Motz and Bob Roth (The Penguins of Madagascar), Mike Owens (Yo Gabba Gabba!), Shadi Petosky (Mad), John Rogers (The Player, The Librarians), Ken Scarborough (Arthur, Doug), and Niki Yang (Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors). ...

“Our new kids pilots will combine rich worlds with unique characters that we hope will appeal to our customers,” said Tara Sorensen, Head of Kids Programming for Amazon Studios. ...

Some of these November launches will likely end up as series.

It appears that Amazon is using the Cartoon Network strategy from the 1990s and beyond: Do a grab bag full of shorts, throw them out to the audience, and see which ones people like. Maybe there will be several.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sony On A Mission

The Culver City Studio is preparing a live-action/animated movie.

Hollywood multihyphenate Will Gluck has been brought on board to both pen the script for and produce Sony Pictures Entertainment’s adaptation of PETER RABBIT, based on the classic stories by Beatrix Potter. Gluck will produce through his Olive Bridge Entertainment, while Eric Fineman will oversee for Sony.

A Peter Rabbit feature was first rumored when the project was referenced in emails leaked during the Sony hack, but Gluck’s official involvement has put some spring in the step of this adaptation of the classic children’s storybook. After initially coming on board to produce, we can confirm that Gluck is actively writing the script as well. ...

One thing: Sony is nothing if not aggressive about doing more animation and building more franchises with possible tent poles.

They're more into this animation thingie than they've been for a looong time.

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Hand Drawn

So a higher profile actor joins the cast of a hand drawn feature:

Williams Shatner has been cast in the animated horror feature film Malevolent.

Malevolent follows the story of four siblings who are called upon when their evil, estranged father finds out he is dying. He announces to his children that he plans to set out his will, but the will is a guise to get them together so that he may exact revenge on his offspring. The father's plans go awry when intergalactic gamblers take an interest in the situation, waging bets on the family's in-fighting.

The former Captain Kirk will play the Overseer, the film's narrator. ...

This production is a lower budget feature, so I'm assuming lots of the work will be done offshore. But hey. Hand drawn.

Shatner has done animation voice-over work throughout his career; he voiced one of the characters in DreamWorks Animation's Over the Hedge, a picture that didn't over-perform at the box office (there were no sequels) but is an entertaining and amusing film, nevertheless.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Writers Cast

A stop motion feature just got itself some writers.

“Robot Chicken” writers Matthew Senreich, Tom Sheppard and Zeb Wells will team up to write the screenplay for the hybrid live-action/stop-motion animated “Rabbids” feature film for Ubisoft Motion Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment. ...

The film is based on the wacky characters from the popular “Rabbids” TV series and Ubisoft video games. Similar to the Minions in the “Despicable Me” franchise, the “raving rabbids” first appeared in the “Rayman” series and became so popular, they were spun off into their own franchise. ...

Stoopid Buddies Stoodios, headquartered in Burbank, is going to be a producing partner with this feature, a stop-motion movie of the kind that LAIKA studios and Tim Burton makes. (Whenever Burton produces an animated feature. For some reason Tim doesn't like to do the sort of hand-drawn film he worked on a life-time ago at Walt Disney Productions.)

There haven't been a lot of wildly successful American stop-motion features. There's the Burton/Selick Nightmare Before Christmas, there's the (somewhat less successful) Selick/LAIKA Coraline, and then ... not very much.

Sony Pictures Animation has had two CGI hits with its Hotel Transylvania franchise; it's clearly looking for another tent pole and willing to take some risks. Maybe Rabbids is the kind of movie it's looking for.

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Python Animation

Monty, that is. Made long ago, but never seen until now:

Interesting to see because an integral part of the Python films.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Middle Kingdom

India's animation industry is growing, but India isn't the only large country with a rocketing animation sector.

"Monster Hunt," the highest grossing film of all time in the Chinese box office, is considered a testament to the improving quality of Chinese visual effects. (Photo : Movie Poster)

The disparity in the visual effects quality of Chinese and Hollywood films is decreasing, according to both film industry analysts and Chinese box-office receipts.

In particular, three special-effects films released this year were deemed to be box-office hits, namely, "Monster Hunt," "Monkey King: Hero Is Back" and "Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe." All three films have won over the Chinese market, generally outperforming their Hollywood counterparts. ...

China, of course, has more than just a robust domestic movie industry going for it. THe Middle Kingdom has a large and growing consumer market, which Hollywood knows it can't ignore.

And Hollywood isn't. Disney has a presence with film production and amusement parks; DreamWorks Animation has a jointly-owned cartoon studio and other entertainment pieces in place. Kung Fu Panda 3 will be released next year as a domestic Chinese production because of all the Chinese animators and tech directors who worked on it.

Jeffrey Katzenberg ain't stupid.

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The Male/Female Thing

Once again, the man/woman divide in Movieland.

... A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.

I’m over trying to find the “adorable” way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard. ...

This could be various female board artists I know speaking, or designers, or even directors (the few of them that there are.) But in the case above, it's Jennifer Lawrence, rich movie star.

Some men in the business will take one kind of behavior from fellow males, but a different one from women. Happily it's not all men, but enough own a double standard that it sometimes becomes a point of contention.

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Voice Cast

Mr. Anderson reels in the actors performing in his second animated picture.

... It has been announced that Anderson veterans Bob Balaban, Edward Norton and Jeff Goldblum will be lending their voices to [Wes Anderson's new stop-motion feature]. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston is also said to have joined the cast, marking the actor's first time working with the stylistic director. ...

Mr. Cranston is a first-timer in the Wes universe, but isn't a new-comer to voice acting. He'll be heard in the third installment of the Kung Fu Panda franchise at the start of '16. Click here to read entire post

Monday, October 12, 2015

Meanwhile, On the Sub-Continent

Reuters reports:

... India's animators, long-time partners for the likes of Walt Disney Co, are reaping the rewards of surging demand for visual effects and gaining the confidence to venture out on their own.

India's animation industry generated revenue worth 44.9 billion rupees ($675.7 million) in 2014, a 13 percent increase from the previous year, according to data from a FICCI-KPMG report on India's media and entertainment industry.

The industry is expected to double in size to 95.5 billion rupees within five years, as Hollywood studios tap a large pool of low-cost, English-speaking animators who are familiar with Western culture.

So far, animators based in India have created crowd scenes and props for the Emmy award-winning TV series "Game of Thrones" as well as more prominent visual effects for films including Disney's 2014 Angelina Jolie movie "Maleficent" and Dreamworks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon", among other Hollywood hits.

"We are one of those best kept secrets. We do all this amazing work and no one knows about it," said Biren Ghose, who runs the Indian subsidiary of U.S. firm Technicolor, which includes the India-based animation units that worked on "Maleficent" ...

I honest to God don't know where Biren Ghose gets off fantasizing that Indian animators are some kind of well hidden secret. Most of the American animation community is well aware that India has a large animation business, and that the business, now valued in the hundreds of millions, has created product that is highly profitable ... and product that isn't.

Indian animators have played supporting roles on hit DreamWorks features and hit live-action features. They have also created animated features that laid eggs at the box office, such as the domestic flop Roadside Romeo and the international non-performer Planes: Fire and Rescue (which despite John Lasseter's involvement, failed to ignite much excitement at the global box office).

India will continue to do live-action visual effects and animated features because they have a robust industry with some talented players, and their price-point is low. But they haven't yet made a breakout, worldwide animated hit, let alone a second one. Until they do, they'll be regarded as suppliers rather than creators of animated features.

I'm not convinced that the structure of their business models for cartoon features will allow that to happen, but I could always be wrong. We'll just need to wait, I guess, and see.

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Regular Show - The Long Version

Tomorrow TRG rolls out its first feature via the Little Silver Disk.

And what is this longer form presentation about? Per Animation Scoop:

... The epic adventure centers around Mordecai and Rigby who, after accidentally creating a Timenado, have to go back in time and battle an evil volleyball coach in order to save the universe…

Regular Show, one of the pillars of Cartoon Network, was renewed for a new season in July. When you rank near the top of the cartoon pack, you get a feature to go with your TV half-hours.

H/t Animation Scoop.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015


Once more for luck ... and hefty box office moolah.

... Disney is accelerating its prep for Cruella, a live-action version of the 101 Dalmations story with an emphasis on the puppy-hating villain, Cruella de Vil. ...

British screenwriter Kelly Marcel will write the film, scheduled for release some time between 2017 and 2019. (Yesterday, Disney announced its upcoming release schedule, planting several untitled films in that three-year window.)

Marcel’s resume would seem just about perfect for the project: Her first script was for the Walt Disney-flattering Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of Mary Poppins, while she also adapted Fifty Shades of Grey, which was critically reviled but put Marcel in the head of a kinky, sadistic billionaire — qualities that are bound to come into play with Cruella. ...

101 Dalmatians was the animated feature that followed the opulent, expensive Sleeping Beauty that had under-performed at the box office and triggered layoffs and restructuring inside the animation department of Walt Disney Productions.

Storyman Bill Peet adapted the Dodie Smith novel, cutting characters, streamlining plot, but retaining the core of the novel. The picture was the first Disney feature to use the Xerox system transferring animation drawing to acetate sheets, and production moved briskly along.

Two years after the release of Beauty, 101 Dalmations hit the nation's screens. The new picture ended up being a major hit, and the tenth highest grossing film release of the year. To date, after multiple releases, 101 Dalmations has earned north of $215 million (unadjusted for inflation).

Since that first release, there have been animated sequels, live-action sequels, TV series, video games and a plethora of toys. 101 Dalmatians has been a money-spinner for more than five decades, and given the company's recent success with live-action versions of old animated features, it's hardly a surprise that Diz Co. is going to build on (and profit from) that very lucrative franchise of spotted dogs yet again.

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