Saturday, December 31, 2016

So Long, 2016!

A collection of the studios that employ our members; we now have contracts with more than two dozen studios. In 2016 we have seen record employment - that's definitely something to celebrate.

Here's some of the other things that happened this year...

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Monday, December 26, 2016

It was the best of times...

2016 is predicted to be another record-setting year for movie-going. Animation Domination is part of the lingua franca ( even if it's a thing of the past. ) One of the top three cable channels from last year has 'cartoon' in its name. So things are good, right?

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Warming up for the Oscars

With the recent news that the Visual Effect contenders for Academy Award nominations have been trimmed from 20 films down to ten, it makes sense to look at the Animation category...

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Friday, December 16, 2016

The IAP: the ( kind of ) 401(k) match you didn't think you had...

Have you heard about the Individual Account Plan (IAP)? Know what it is? A bunch of artists I saw at Nickelodeon today didn't know - so I write this post about a pretty cool benefit for Animation Guild members...

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Based on estimates, two animated films hold spots in the top ten - and Moana clings to #1 for the third weekend in a row.

The weekend box office for the period of Dec. 9-11 based on industry estimates as of Sunday AM (still waiting on Disney):

1). Moana (DIS), 3,875 Theaters (0) / $4.1M Fri /$8.6M Sat/$6.1M Sun/ 3-day cume: $18.8M (-33%)/Total: $145M/Wk 3

2.) Office Christmas Party (PAR/DW), 3,210 theaters (-156) /$6.7M Fri. /$6.8M Sat/$4M Sun/ 3-day cume: $17.5M /Wk 1

3). Fantastic Beasts… (WB), 3,626 theaters (-362) /$2.8M Fri./$4.8M Sat/$3.1M Sun/3-day cume: $10.8M (-40%)/Total: $199.3m/Wk 4

4). Arrival (PAR), 3,115 theaters (+200)/$1.55M Fri/$2.5M Sat/$1.55M Sun/3-day cume: $5.6M (-23%)/Total:$81.45M/ Wk 5

5).Doctor Strange (DIS), 2,763 theaters (-172) /$1.2M Fri /$2.1M Sat/$1.3M Sun/3-day cume: $4.6M (-31%) /Total cume: $222.4M/Wk 6

6). Allied (PAR), 3,018 Theaters (-142) /$1.19M Fri/$1.76M Sat/$1.05M/3-day cume: $4M (-43%) /Total: $35.6M/Wk 3

7). Nocturnal Animals (Focus), 1,262 theaters (+1.135) /$1.1M Fri /$1.3M Sat/$773K Sun/3-day:$3.19M (+356%)/Total: $6.2M/ Wk 4

8.) Manchester by the Sea (RSA/AMZ) 368 theaters (+212)/$913K Fri/$1.4M Sat/$850K Sun/3-day: $3.155M (+37%)/Total: $8.3M/Wk 4

9) Trolls (DWA/20th Century Fox), 2,786 theaters (-370) /$625K Fri/$1.5M Sat/$975K Sun/3-day cume: $3.11M (-34%) /Total Cume: $145.5M/Wk 6

10). Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate), 2,277 theaters (-217) / $672K Fri /$1M Sat/$604K/3-day:$2.3M (-31%)/Total: $60.9M/ Wk 6

Comparisons of Moana to Frozen are out there, but it seems too early to tell which way the graph will bend.

Trolls continues to attract theater-goers, both domestically and internationally. Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 09, 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Swearing In...

"I do hereby pledge my word of honor to perform the duties of my office as set forth in the Constitution and By-Laws of the Animation Guild
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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

She's A Wonder

President emeritus Tom Sito recalls:

Dec 6, 1941- WONDER WOMAN, Psychologist William Moulton Marston was an educational consultant for Detective Comics, Inc. (DC Comics).

Marston saw that the DC line was filled with images of super men like Green Lantern, Batman, Superman. He wondered why there was not a female hero?

DC head Max Gaines, was intrigued by the concept and told Marston that he should create a female hero - a "Wonder Woman." Marston's 'good and beautiful woman' made her debut in All Star Comics #8. ...

And now a digression from super heroes:

A few hours ago, I stopped being Business Representative of the Animation Guild and commenced being a retired person. So this will be the last in a string of posts going back to '06, when TAG President Kevin Koch and I added our voices to the internet conversation about the animation business.

The single most talked about post would have to be this one. The series of posts that attracted the most eyeballs would be these.

It's been a fast and frenetic decade, and there have been BIG changes in the world of animation. Jason Macleod, the new Guild rep, plans to continue this blog and will no doubt take it in new directions. I hope to drop in from time to time, but for now I'm taking several long steps back and wrapping my had around other things.

Hulett out.

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Monday, December 05, 2016

So Long, Farewell

In 24 hours, I won't be the Animation Guild's Business Representative anymore. I've done the job for twenty-seven years, but there comes a time to hang the biz rep thing up. To go off fishing. To take a breather.

Now is that time. ...

I became Business Representative of the Animation Guild on November 13, 1989.

It wasn't called the Animation Guild then. It was known as the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, and it was at a low ebb, with 740 active members. Filmation, a large union employer, had closed its door several months before. Disney was ramping up a bit but wasn't a huge employer. Hanna-Barbera was chugging along with its normal output. Warner Bros. was developing a show with Steven Spielberg called Tiny Toons, but nobody knew how that would pan out.

One of the first things I did after taking the union job? I went to the crew screening and wrap party for The Little Mermaid because my wife worked on the picture and I went along as her faithful spouse. I was all prepared to not like TLM, but fifteen minutes into the picture I was thinking "Damn. This is GREAT!" and went along for the ride.

Soon after, the animation business changed in major ways. It stopped being the small, sleepy, side-water village of film-making, one that no self-respecting, big-time movie exec cared about and into which few of the big entertainment conglomerates ventured. The features rolling out of Disney feature animation all seemed to be blockbusters: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, the good times seemed to roll on forever. And television animation, whether it was created by Disney or Warner Bros. or the upstart Nickelodeon, seemed to rake in piles of cash.

Four decades on, animation is the most profitable corner of movieland, with every big movie company developing animated projects

And it all happened because cartoon features and animated television shows became audience magnets. Large corporations noticed, built themselves sizable studios, and the Animation Guild, formerly known as the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, rode the slow-building wave. The 740 members at the tail end of the 1980s grew to 3300 members by 2016, making TAG one of the larger production locals in the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees.

Along the way there have been growing pains: Disney's string of animated blockbusters faded at the turn of the century as hand-drawn features were supplanted by their CG cousins, and employees who couldn't make the switch were let go. Television animation expanded, then shrank, then expanded again. Growing a production staff is pleasurable; laying one off is painful.

It's been an eventful roller coaster ride these past twenty-seven years. I would be lying if I said every day of the run was wonderful. There were mornings I hated getting out of bed. There were evenings I was grateful I could lock the office doors and go home and veg out in front of the TV screen.

But I can honestly say that there was far more good times in the job than bad. Helping people find work; fighting for a better deal in contract talks; helping artists get the wages or dismissal pay they deserved, all these things made the job meaningful.

And I hope that Jason Macleod, my talented successor, finds as much pleasure in the job as I have these last three decades. I wish him all the best, as I wish every TAG member a long and prosperous career in the years ahead.

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Dragon Moves Its Schedule

The third installment of How To Train Your Dragon shifts back a year.

‘How To Train Your Dragon 3’ Flies To 2019; Uni’s DWA To Scale ‘Everest’

Universal Pictures said that DreamWorks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon 3 will now nest on Friday, March 1, 2019 instead of its previously announced May 18, 2018 date. Dean DeBlois, the film series’ director, is on deck.

Recent logline for HTTYD3 reads “As Hiccup fulfills his dream of creating a peaceful dragon utopia, Toothless’ discovery of an untamed, elusive mate draws the Night Fury away. When danger mounts at home and Hiccup’s reign as village chief is tested, both dragon and rider must make impossible decisions to save their kind.”

In addition, Oriental DreamWorks’ Everest will hit theaters on Friday, September 27, 2019. Pic will take moviegoers on 3000-mile journey from Shanghai to the breathtaking Himalayan snowscapes. A group of misfits encounter a young Yeti named Everest, and they set off to reunite the magical creature with his family on the mountain of his namesake. ...

Comcast-Universal told DWA staffers about the changes above at a staff meeting on the Glendale campus a few weeks ago, and now they announce the the alterations to previous schedules to the public.

As DreamWorkers have said to me, it's all about getting the pictures right. No point in releasing a picture early if a delay and a rework will raise its quality ... and theatrical grosses.

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Bugster

A song-filled, action-packed clip, but the feature failed to set hearts aflutter.

President emeritus Tom Sito remembers a movie release from just before Pearl Harbor:

75 Years Ago - Dec 4, 1941- The animated film "Mr. Bug Goes to Town" opened.

Max Fleischer's last gamble to keep up with Walt Disney and keep his studio alive. Songs written by top pop song writer Hoagy Carmichael. However, the events of Pearl Harbor three days later not only sink the American Navy, but also Hoppity's box office and puts The Fleischers out of business. ...

Two years previously, the Fleischers' Gullvers' Travels had done relatively well at the box office. Gullver was released during Christmas of '39, coming out several weeks before Pinocchio.

This time around, Mr. Bug had no such luck. Paramount released MBGTT around the same time RKO launched Walt Disney's Dumbo into the marketplace. Dumbo flew. Mr. Bug Goes To Town did not.

The picture will be issued on Blu-ray in June '17.

Click here to read entire post

International Box Office

Animation continues to ride the global wave.


1. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them - $60,400,000 -- ($607,907,403)

2. Moana - $32,000,000 -- ($177,388,330)

3. Your Name -- $40,900,000 -- (243,100,000)

4. Allied - $12,100,000 -- ($53,727,432)

5. Underworld: Blood Wars - $16,300,000 -- ($18,900,000)

6. Arrival - $12,100,000 -- ($112,178,514)

7. Trolls -- $11,700,000 -- ($306,271,445)

8. Sully -- $11,200,000 -- ($200,408,177)

9. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children -- $10,500,000 -- ($271,713,419)

10. Doctor Strange -- $10,200,000 -- ($634,909,177)

11. Sword Master -- $7,300,000 -- ($7,300,000)

12. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back -- $6,100,000 -- ($155,159,104)

So there are two animated epics in the Global Top Ten, and as the trade papers tell us:

JK Rowling’s wizarding world expansion [Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) continued its international voyage this weekend with another $60.4M on approximately 23,000 screens in 67 markets for a 54% drop from the sophomore session. The overseas cume is now $424.4M. ...

Riding a $32M weekend wave in 30 markets, Disney’s Polynesian princess Moana has tallied $57.5M overseas to date after two frames. The global take is $177.4M. International saw strong launches in France, Russia, Belgium and the Netherlands. Moana opened at No. 2 in the UK. ...

Paramount’s World War II drama Allied added $12.1M in 36 markets this weekend, taking the international cume to $24.8M. The Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard film debuted in China on November 30 and landed $3.6M in a crowded frame. ...

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Box Office Record

The House of Mouse has achieved tall turnstile totals in the U.S. of A.

With $2,491.4M at the domestic box office through today, The Walt Disney Studios has set a new industry record. The Mouse tops the previous record of $2.45B which Universal revved up in 2015. Overseas, Disney has crossed the $4B threshold for the first time in the studio’s history with $4,079.5M. Universal last year was the first studio ever to tilt past $4B, ending the year at $4.44B.

Worldwide, Disney’s stable of super and animated heroes has accumulated $6,570.9M to date. Walt Disney Animation’s Moana has just begun her global voyage ($177.4M to date). ...

Between Marvel Studios (run by Marvel brass that Disney trusts to rake in large amounts of cash) and Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios (run by John Lasseter/Ed Catmull), Diz Co. is firing on all cylinders.

And of course the Star Wars franchises will be adding significantly to the bottom line.

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Saturday, December 03, 2016


Coming to a movie screen hopefully near you.

Spirited Away, the Oscar-winning animated film from acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, will return to theaters on Sunday to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Fathom Events, which in the past has coordinated limited theatrical runs for other beloved, nostalgia-drenched movies like The Iron Giant and Space Jam, originally teamed up with distributor GKIDS to bring the Studio Ghibli movie to theaters this Sunday and Monday only.

But ticket sales for the event were so promising, they decided to add an additional date, with an extra screening coming on Thursday. ...

The demand is there, the playdates are there. So go see it.

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Disney's Animated Feature For Next May

With a trailer dropped today.

And sure, it's got some live-action sprinkled through it, but huge chunks of the epic are animated. With animated characters.

(They shot the live-action in Atlanta, Georgia on the same stages -- and almost immediately after -- Passengers was photographed. So Mr. Pratt will have back-to-back sci fi movies.)

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Your American Box Office

It's another robust weekend for animation.


1). Moana (DIS), 3,875 Theaters (0) / $6.5M Fri (-70%) / 3-day cume: $30.3M (-47%)/Total: $121.8M/Wk 2

2). Fantastic Beasts… (WB), 3,988 theaters (-156) /$5.3M Fri. (-71%) / 3-day cume: $17.2M (-62%)/Total: $182.2M/Wk 3

3). Allied (PAR), 3,160 Theaters (0) /$2.2M Fri (-55%)/3-day cume: $7.7M (-39%) /Total: $29.6/Wk 2

4).Doctor Strange (DIS), 2,935 theaters (-73) /$1.8M Fri (-67%) /3-day cume: $6.7M (-51%) /Total cume: $215.5M/Wk 5

5). Arrival (PAR), 2,915 theaters (+473)/$2M Fri (-55%)/3-day cume: $6.6M (-43%)/Total:$72.4M/ Wk 4

6.) Trolls (DWA/20th Century Fox), 3,156 theaters (-166) /$1.09m Fri (-73%)/3-day cume: $4.9M (-54%) /Total Cume: $141.7M/Wk 5

7). Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate), 2,494 theaters (+162) / $958K Fri (-56%)/3-day:$3.1M (-42%)/Total: $57.1M/ Wk 5

8.) Bad Santa 2 (BG/MX), 2,945 Theaters (+25) /$901K Fri (-61%) / 3-day cume: $2.8M (-55%)/Total: $13.8M/Wk 2

9). Almost Christmas (UNI), 1,556 theaters (-213) /$692K Fri (-70%)/ 3-day cume: $2.4M (-58%)/Total: $38.1M/ Wk 4

10.) Manchester by the Sea (RSA/AMZ) 156 theaters (+108)/$653K Fri/3-day: $2.2M (+85%)/Total: $4.3M/Wk 3 ...

Moana and Trolls cling firmly to their places on the list, #1 and #6 respectively. Moana has a strong second weekend, declining 47% which is close to Frozen's second weekend numbers.

Trolls closes in on a $150 million gross, which it should be able to reach in the next week-plus.

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Women Rising

Variety tells us:

... Statistics from the animation guild, IATSE 839, paint the picture for animators. Right now about 3,800 artists, writers and technicians work under the guild’s jurisdiction in and around Los Angeles and slightly more than 23% of this number are women. Roughly 18 months ago, around 21% were female, so the number is climbing a bit.

That’s still not fast enough for Women in Animation co-chair Marge Dean, who is working with the organization on a 50-50 by 2025 initiative that aims to see an equal split of jobs for men and women on animation productions by the year 2025. Though such animation schools as CalArts report that more than 70% of their program is made up of female students, women are still underrepresented in hiring at most studios.

“Women are pushed into producer positions or into production assistant jobs and they aren’t encouraged to become creators or storytellers,” says Dean. “We want to encourage women to become creators and animators, to do their own projects and have their own creative voice.” ...

I've seen a steady uptick in the numbers of women who are making careers in the animation industry. Ms. Dean could well be right that progress is too slow, but I've seen more women art directors, more women show runners in the last few years than I ever did in the go-go nineties.

Twenty years back, you could have counted the number of women in high creative positions on the pitching hand of Three Finger Brown. It's considerably different today. Now, there are female directors, female story supervisors, female show-runners, and a lot more women down in the trenches doing production boards and design work for most of the major studios. Just yesterday, I was in a meeting with a Disney TVA showrunner who was a woman.

So yeah. Progress might not be as rapid as Marge Dean would like, but progress is being made. And that's damn important.

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The French Way

France has long since come into its own in the world of animation.

... Animation in France is considered a crown jewel of local culture and as such is nurtured not only by schools but also by film festivals, such as Annecy Animation Film Festival or even Cannes Film Festival, including Directors’ Fortnight. ...

France’s track record in animation features also stems from its large pool of top-notch producers such as Les Armateurs, Sacrebleu Prods., as well as distribution house Gebeka Films, and its leadership in TV animation — a heavily subsidized industry that requires TV channels to pre-buy and program homegrown toon shows. ...

“I think our international crew component helps us in a huge way to appeal globally. We rely on the good ideas of the artists at every step of the way as part of our process, and we benefit always from the expansive talents and unique perspectives that our diversity provides,” says Illumination MacGuff’s Paris-based producer Janet Healy. She also acknowledged the major role played by French production designer Eric Guillon, on both “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Sing.”

In terms of international sales and foreign box office prospects, French animation is a huge driving force.

As much as 90% of all French animated features travel abroad and most, if not all, of French animated films find U.S. distributors, says Renouard. He notes that a trio of French toons — “The Little Prince,” “Asterix and the Domain of the Gods,” and “Mune” — repped 20% of Gallic films’ ticket sales outside the country in 2015. ...

For a long time, no animated feature produced outside the U.S. of A. could get much traction at the world box office. France changed that equation with Despicable Me, The Minions Movie, The Secret Life of Pets, etc. In short, all the films Illumination Entertainment created at its Paris studio MacGuff.

But beyond the Hollywood movies, France has produced plenty of home-grown animated features that have gone into the black. They might not make a billion dollars like their California cousins, but with smaller budgets, it only takes a worldwide gross of $70 or a $100 million to turn a profit.

Not every movie needs to be Toy Story or Zootopia. And French animated features don't want to be imitation Disney.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

DreamWorks Layoffs

DWA news from the San Fernando Valley Business Journal:

DreamWorks Animation will lay off 170 employees at its Glendale campus in January as the studio continues to be integrated into NBCUniversal following its acquisition early this year by Comcast Corp.

The staffing cuts come two months after DreamWorks eliminated 200 positions in the corporate office and in its distribution and consumer products operations.

The Glendale film and television studio in August closed on its $3.8 billion sale to Comcast and is now part of NBCUniversal’s Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.

The latest round of layoffs includes positions in the DreamWorks film animation group, according to a source familiar with the situation. Universal Filmed Entertainment is in the process of film slate planning and some staff cuts were due to cancellation of the animated film “The Croods 2,” the source said.

“This is separate from the positions eliminated earlier in the year in corporate functional areas,” the source added. ...

What's happening here is ...

Croods 2 has fallen off the DWA production schedule. So staff positions for the show have been eliminated.

Two features still on the production schedule have had their release timetables revamped. They now have no hard and fast release dates.

Because of all this, various production departments at DreamWorks' Glendale campus have been informed that some positions will be eliminated.

Some artists and tech directors have been given end dates (some of which occur tomorrow), but most everyone will be paid through January 20th.

Note: Newsmax Finance, where all discerning connoissieurs go for business news, picked up the story from the Journal and called the layoffs "firings". No, they're not firings. These are layoffs. But we get how the f-word sounds more dramatic.

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Free Money in Different Corners of the Globe

This Free Money thing is really catching on.

The Animation Council of the Philippines, Inc. (ACPI) seeks to boost the growth of the Philippine animation industry through bilateral agreements with countries that produce animated films.

The group hopes to enter into bilateral agreements with the governments of France, Canada and Spain by 2017.

Under these deals, ACPI plans to entice large foreign production houses to produce animated films in the country beginning 2017. ...

ACPI is also in talks with the Board of Investments (BOI) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on the possibility of granting fiscal incentives to production houses from these three countries that will produce their films in the Philippines.

“If we will have the same [tax incentive policy as that of Malaysia and Singapore], the Philippine animation industry will really be thriving,” Del Rosario said. ...

"Granting fiscal incentives". Now there's a surprise.


The free money give-away continues all over the world. Canada hands out cash, as does Britain, Georgia (U.S.A.), and various other countries.

Large corporations expect it. Large corporations demand it. Otherwise they pick up their productions and drag them off to a geographic location that will put them on the dole.

Isn't our robust, free enterprise system a sight to behold?

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Down Argentine Way

It's worth remembering that American animation isn't the whole deal. That projects are bubbling up in different corners of the globe. Take, for one example, Argentina, down at the south end of the hemisphere.

Historias Cinematograficas, the family production house boasting the talents of Academy Award winning Luis Puenzo (“The Official Story,” “Old Gringo”) and Lucia Puenzo (“XXY,” “The German Doctor), plus Nicolas and Esteban Puenzo, has set a 2016-17 production-development slate which must rank as one of the largest of any independent family business in Latin America.

... The line-up is bulking, heterogenous, and ambitious. It also represents the latest projects from one of the few companies in Argentina capable of making films which gross seven-figure box office outside Argentina. ...

*Written and to be directed by Luis Puenzo, animated feature “The Last Wish” adapts the New York-set comic published over 1982-91 from Argentina’s Carlos Trillo and Horacio Altuna about a world where a mass-sterilisation bomb has wiped out the whole adult population and children die at puberty, terrified of love and lust. “The Last Wish” is designed as an international co-production. “I’ve filmed most everything I wanted to, but haven’t done animation and this is an incredible story,” said Puenzo about a movie which looks set to be a live action-animation hybrid. ...

This picture sounds a wee bit different than your usual Yogi Bear of Alvin and the Chipmunks hybrid.

And it probably won't be a laugh riot. But maybe an interesting subject for a provocative film.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Disney Shares

The House of Mouse has seen its stock price decline over the last 11 months; even so, the Diz Co. today made some happy announcements:

Disney recorded revenue this fiscal year that rose to $55.6 billion, in large measure due to 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'

Walt Disney, buoyed by record financial results, boosted its semi-annual dividend by 10 percent, saying Wednesday it will pay stockholders 78 cents for each share they own on Dec. 12, up from 71 cents previously.

In the fiscal year, which ended Oct. 1, Disney recorded revenue that rose 6 percent to $55.6 billion and net income that rose 12 percent to $9.4 billion, in large measure due to a record $7.5 billion in box-office results led by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ...

Whether you like how Robert Iger has turned the Walt Disney Company into the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates or you hate it, it's hard to argue with Disney's success under his leadership.

Perfectly true that Mr. Iger has made Disney less like the company it used to be, but Diz Co. has changed and evolved continually over the past ninety years. Frankly, it ceased being genuine Disney when Walt and Roy exited the corporate offices half a century ago.

Click here to read entire post

Meanwhile ... At Warner Bros.

In the nineties, Warner bros. had a tough time making a go of long-form theatrical animation, even as its television product, particularly the cartoons produced in conjunction with Steven Spielberg, did exceedingly well.

In the oughts, its TV output became choppy, and Warner Bros. Animation cycled through a number of top-kicks. Today, Warners is aggressively expanding its animation footprint, with animation facilities in several parts of Burbank and Hollywood.

In addition to Warner Bros. Animation, the conglomerate has launched the Warner Animation Group (WAG) to develop a new generation of theatrical cartoons. (The company had two in the mid-nineties: Warner Bros. Feature Animation and Turner Feature Animation, both in Glendale and both long-since shuttered).

A couple of days ago, Warner Bros. head honcho laid out what the company planned to do going forward: ...

Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara said the studio is doubling down on its major franchises in a Tuesday Q&A session at an investor conference, undoubtedly good news for fans of DC Comics, Harry Potter and the Lego movies. And some of that content may be delivered direct to consumer. ...

“What is becoming more and more important is really these big franchises,” Tsujihara said.

The studio chief pointed out that three years ago, the top 10 films made up about 25 percent of the box office. This year, the top 10 will comprise about 30 percent, which makes nailing tentpoles that much more important. Tsujihara also said that the proliferation of prestige TV has favored big spectacle movies.

“If you look at what’s happening with the quality of the television product, the movies that are breaking through are the big franchises,” he said, adding that only Disney has a comparable selection of big franchises as Warner Bros. ...

Warner Bros. plans to produce plenty of new content from familiar — and reliable — intellectual property.

“Do we have an opportunity to rejuvenate ‘Looney Tunes?'” he asked.

Warners has yet to create blockbuster animated franchises, though the first Lego movie was perhaps a start. The company has long-since figured out how to do quality super hero cartoons for television. It's still striving the crack the animated feature market in the way that Disney/Pixar learned to do long ago.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

TAG General Membership Meeting

The last membership meeting of the year, and the last meeting before new Guild officers take over, happened at 1105 N. Hollywood Way tonight.

The new officers -- incoming Business Representative Jason Macleod, new President Laura Hohman, and soon-to-be board members Steve Kaplan, Candice Stephenson, and David Woo were introduced. President Jack Thomas noted that the outgoing business representative had been in office for twenty-seven years and that he couldn't think of very many things he's done for that long.

The outgoing rep said, "A lot of members and officers have made the Guild work over the years. President emeritus Tom Sito spearheaded a petition drive to get a 401(k) Plan, something that the Guild had failed to achieve in negotiations. President emeritus Kevin Koch championed the new building the Guild occupies. And President Thomas pushed to a dues increase that the Animation Guild badly needed." ...

In his report the biz rep noted:

* The television segment of the Los Angeles animation industry continues to thrive, but Walt Disney Animation Studios and DreamWorks Animation's feature division have had crew layoffs over the previous few months.

* The length of storyboard tests continues to be an issue, but the Testing Abuse Committee will be meeting with one o the major studios about problems this week.

* The Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan now has $258 million in assets, with 84% of those assets in Vanguard Target Date Funds.

* The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan has $8.3 billion in assets, 100,000 active participants, and 21,000 retirees. Assets are spread across bonds, stocks, real estate and alternative investments.

The meeting adjourned at 7:30.

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Early Awards

And the winner is ...

The National Board of Review has named ... Kubo and the Two Strings as the Best Animated Feature. ...

The National Board of Review was set up in 1909 to champion movies at a time when the Mayor of New York, George B. McClellan Jr.* was dumping on them. Young George B. thought moving pictures were a pox on the community, the brand new NBOR thought otherwise.

The Board of Review has been a censor in its time, but has also extolled movies. It's been doing its "Ten Best" lists since 1930. Hopefully this award will aid Jubo in getting a bit more commercial oomph

* Junior was the son of a Civil War General who, for a short time, commanded all the union armies. Sadly, George B. McClellan didn't win many battles, and Lincoln ultimately replaced him. Junior was born in 1865, served in Congress and as Mayor of New York, and died in 1940 at the age of 75.

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Yuletide Cards!

Time again for the 839 Gallery exhibit of Ralph Hulett Christmas cards ...

A big splashy showing representing decades of work. On continual exhibit from now through the end of December at

1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank California. Gallery open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Digital World

Robert Zemeckis might be done making digital features (Christmas Carol, Polar Express, etc.) But the lessons learned impact the movies he's now making.

With 776 of the Allied's 954 total shots involving effects, it's the latest example of a film that relies on VFX more heavily than most audiences might realize.

For discussions about Robert Zemeckis' World War II thriller ..., visual effects might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But with 776 of the film's 954 total shots involving effects, it's the latest example of a film that relies on VFX more heavily than most audiences might realize.

To stay within the Paramount film's $85 million budget — while enlisting Brad Pitt as intelligence officer Max Vatan, who in 1942 North Africa meets French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour, played by Marion Cotillard — the VFX-savvy director made the call not to send his cast and crew to film in remote locations such as a vast Sahara Desert and Morocco's largest city, Casablanca.

Rather the majority of the film was shot by cinematographer Don Burgess on sets in London — some quite minimal — with bluescreen and then completed with CG environments and set extensions. ...

Most of the effects in Robert Zemeckis's new picture are seamless. They resemble nothing so much as various locales in North Africa and Britain, and audiences wouldn't know otherwise.

Allied is one more step in the digital evolution of movie-making. No distant planets or jungles from Kipling's India here, but World War II airfields, British streets, and North African squares.

... To create the CG Sahara Desert, Casablanca and various small villages in France, Baillie and a small team visited the actual locations to take photographs, digital scans and surveys that were later used to accurately create fully digital versions of the locations. ...

An overall challenge was the schedule, and to finish on time, Atomic Fiction — which maintains facilities in Oakland, Calif. and Montreal — relied on its cloud-based rendering service Conductor that allows the company to ramp up or down on rendering power as needed by the production. Says Baillie: "From the moment we wrapped to the time we had to be done with the VFX, it was only four and a half months. The final month alone, I think we did 4 million processor hours of rendering in Conductor."

Shrinking production schedules aren't just part of effects heavy live action pics. Animated CG productions have also seen progressively shorter time-frames. Extra staff is hired in front of release deadlines, then laid off when the crunch is over.

The brave new world of movie-making.

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The Annies

ASIFA has announcements:

BURBANK, CA (November 28, 2016) – The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, announced nominations today for its 44th Annual Annie Awards™ recognizing the year’s best in the field of animation.

(Find a complete list of nominations here).

This year’s Best Animated Feature nominations include: Finding Dory (Pixar Animation Studios), Kubo and the Two Strings (Laika), Kung Fu Panda 3 (DreamWorks Animation), Moana (Walt Disney Animation Studios) and Zootopia (Walt Disney Animation Studios).

Nominees in the Annies™ newest category, Best Feature-Independent, spotlighting features with a much smaller distribution footprint than major studio releases, include: Long Way North (Sacrebleu Productions, Maybe Movies, Norlum Studios, France 3 Cinéma and 2 Minutes), Miss Hokusai (Production I.G.), My Life As A Zucchini (Rita Productions, Blue Spirit Productions, Gebeka Films, KNM), The Red Turtle (Studio Ghibli, Wild Bunch, Why Not Productions) and Your Name (CoMix Wave Films).

“Once again, this year has seen another increase in Annie submissions, and a continuing and broadening interest from not only the animation community, but also the film industry in general, “ said ASIFA's executive director, Frank Gladstone. “We are ever mindful that the Annie Awards have become an early and welcomed addition into the 'Award Season' mainstream.” ...

The Annie Awards cover 36 categories and include Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Feature-Independent, Special Productions, Commercials, Short Subjects, Student Films and Outstanding Individual Achievements, as well as the honorary Juried Awards. The winners will be announced at a black tie ceremony on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. A pre-reception and press line begins at 5:00 pm with the awards ceremony following at 7:00 pm. A post-show celebration immediately follows the ceremony. All events will be held at Royce Hall.

"It has turned out to be an especially successful year for animation on movie screens, on broadcast and cable TV, for new streaming networks, in games and VR," said ASIFA-Hollywood President, Jerry Beck. "I really believe we are in a new 'golden age', as outstanding examples of the art form - whether hand drawn, CG, stop motion or mo-cap – are represented by this years Annie nominees."

The Juried Awards honoring career achievement and exceptional contributions to animation will also be presented. Three Winsor McCay recipients have been selected by the ASIFA-Hollywood Board of Directors – legendary animator Dale Baer; independent animation champion Caroline Leaf; and influential anime director Mamoru Oshii, for their career contributions to the art form; The Ub Iwerks Award will go to Google Spotlight’s Virtual Reality Platform for technical advancement; Life, Animated, a documentary about animation's effect on one young autistic man's journey will receive this year's Special Achievement Award; and the June Foray Award will be given to Bill & Sue Kroyer for their career-long benevolent, public-spirited influence within the animation community. Certificate of Merit awards will be presented to Leslie Ezeh, ASIFA-Hollywood volunteer coordinator and Gary Perkovac, ASIFA-Hollywood's office manager. ...

The Nominees (Partial List)

Best Animated Feature

Finding Dory - Pixar Animation Studios

Kubo and the Two Strings - LAIKA

Kung Fu Panda 3 - DreamWorks Animation

Moana - Walt Disney Animation Studios

Zootopia - Walt Disney Animation Studios

Best Animated Feature - Independent

Long Way North - Produced by Sacrebleu Productions, Maybe Movies, Norlum Studios, France 3 Cinéma and 2 Minutes

Miss Hokusai - Production I.G

My Life As A Zucchini - Rita Productions, Blue Spirit Productions, Gebeka Films, KNM

The Red Turtle - Studio Ghibli – Wild Bunch – Why Not Productions

Your Name. - CoMix Wave Films

Best Animated Special Production

Audrie & Daisy - A production of AfterImage Public Media in association with Actual Films for Netflix

Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Scroll - DreamWorks Animation

Little Big Awesome - Titmouse, Inc. / Amazon Studios

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life - CBS Films/J.P. Entertainment/Participant Media

Pear Cider and Cigarettes - Massive Swerve Studios and Passion Pictures Animation

Best Animated Short Subject

Blind Vaysha - National Film Board of Canada

Deer Flower - Studio ZAZAC

Path Title Sequence - Acme Filmworks

Pearl - Google Spotlight Stories/Evil Eye Pictures

Piper - Pixar Animation Studios ...


Winsor McCay Award – for their career contributions to the art of animation

Dale Baer
Caroline Leaf
Mamoru Oshii
Ub Iwerks Award – for technical advancement in the art of animation

Google Spotlight’s Virtual Reality Platform

Special Achievement Award

Life, Animated

June Foray Award – for their significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation

Bill & Sue Kroyer

Certificate of Merit

Leslie Ezeh
Gary Perkovac

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Striving to Lift Up An Industry

From the Hindustan Times:

India’s first gaming and visual effects centre gets green light

... As the appetite for visual effects, animation and comics in films increases, India’s first National Centre of Excellence in animation, visual effects, gaming and comics (AVGC) is all set to come up in Mumbai.

The National Centre of Excellence in AVGC is aimed at creating a platform for formal education in this sector and address the shortage of skilled professionals through undergraduate, postgraduate, PhD and short-term programmes.

The project, a PPP between the ministry of information and broadcasting and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), will be set up and run by the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC).

“The centre will impart world class education in AVGC to cater to the needs of Indian industry and global players. Initially, the executive council of IIMC will be the managing committee,” KG Suresh, director general of IIMC, said. ...

According to the I and B ministry, the AVGC industry constitutes over 7% of the overall media and entertainment industry in India and is expected to reach a size of Rs 14,747 crore by 2019.

“Indian animation companies are now moving up the value chain and are creating more original content. Many studios have developed intellectual property (IP) and entered into co-production agreements with international studios. This has led to an increase in demand for talent required to produce high-quality content.” ...

India certainly has a growing animation and visual effects industry, and certainly does a share of the majors's subcontracting work. But to hear industry pros describe it, the subcontinent continues to have quality and delivery issues.

It's not that India doesn't have talent in abundance, because there are any number of excellent CG artists in its studios.

It's that, given the reported structures and dynamics of many Indian studios, top Indian artists hit glass ceilings as they gain skill and expertise, and so move off to Europe or the States where they will

A) Make more money,

B) Find fewer creative roadblocks to their high-flying ambitions.

Too many studios (apparently) emphasize speed and quantity of product, rather than quality. This proves frustrating to many Indian artists who want something better. so they ultimately move on to greener pastures, and the studio they leave behind remain in a creative rut.

But it's good that India is beginning (maybe) to address these problems with a Centre of Excellence. We'll soon see if the reality lives up to the billing.

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Your Worldwide Box Office

As is the TAG blog habit, the foreign box office receipts for animated features and selected others.


Fantastic Beasts -- $132,000,000 -- ($473,700,000)

Moana -- $16,300,000 -- ($97,400,000)

Doctor Strange -- $9,800,000 -- ($616,000,000)

Allied -- $9,400,000 -- ($27,400,000)

Trolls -- $7,200,000 -- ($291,023,620

Arrival -- $6,700,000 -- ($92,600,000)

Jack Reacher -- $6,100,000 -- ($145,825,613) ...

And the trade press informs us:

... Moana sailed to a $16.3M start in China and 11 smaller offshore territories. That’s 23% of the international footprint as rollout continues through December and January, and wraps in March in Japan. ... The current global cume is $97.4M.

In China, Moana bowed at No. 2, coming in behind Fantastic Beasts and with a significant Friday-Saturday bump. Releasing on Friday, the weekend cume is $12.3M for the 2nd biggest Disney Animation Studios three-day opening there ever, after only Zootopia. ...

Trolls went to a futher $7.2M happy place in 59 markets this session to bring the international cume to $155.9M. ...

With another $132M offshore in its 2nd frame, the David Yates-directed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them now has an offshore gross of $317.5M. Coupled with domestic, the total is $474M worldwide. ...

Trolls has made 54% of its world grosses overseas, and will move past the $300 million marker in the next few days. Domestically, the DreamWorks Animation feature will take in $14,300,000 over the Thanksgiving holidays, #6 for the weekend.

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Eighty Years Ago This Day

President Emeritus Tom Sito reminds us:

... Nov 27, 1936- Max Fleischer had heard about Walt Disney developing a feature length cartoon. So he rushed two Popeye featurettes into production to hopefully get the jump on his West Coast rival. Today the first one premiered "Popeye meets Sinbad the Sailor".

"...WHO is the most remarkable and extra-ordinary fell-low..?" ...

The brothers Max and Dave Fleischer brought out Popeye Meets Sinbad the Sailor thirteen months before Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

At the time, Fleischer and Disney were the nation's two heavyweight cartoon studios, Disney in Los Angeles, Fleischer in New York. Popeye was the most popular cartoon character in the U.S. of A., so doing a longer animated piece with him made sense. Paramount, the Fleischers distributor, wasn't willing to finance a feature, but a third of a feature was better than nothing at all.

The year Sinbad was released --- 1936 -- marked the high point of the Fleischers' fame and influence as cartoon creators. Two more Popeye featurettes followed, also a pair of feature films and the Superman series, but losses and discord piled up and by 1942 the Fleischer Studios were swallowed whole by Paramount Pictures and Max and Dave Fleischer shown the door. A twenty-year run as independent studio operators had come to an end.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Handicapping VFX Candidates For The Little Gold Man

... as regards "Best Visual Effects".

... Members of the Academy’s visual effects branch will have their work cut out for them in narrowing this year’s wide-ranging field of big-screen spectacles down to 10 semi-finalists for the bakeoff stage in a few weeks, let alone settling on five nominees. ...

Two films are all but locked for recognition, one of them “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Also strong in the category is another Disney film, Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book" and might as well be considered the front-runner in the category. ...

A notable latter-year entry is Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” which dazzled audiences with “Inception”-like mind-bending effects. Speaking of which, “Captain America: Civil War” deserves a mention. ...

Duncan Jones’ “Warcraft” could be a favored son in ILM’s ranks. It may have met disastrous reviews but it was a grueling undertaking. A great effects reel at the bakeoff could easily sell it. ...

“Passengers” could be top of mind. The work was diverse and included a huge spaceship build, various environments within the ship, outer space, and, of course, the zero-gravity swimming pool sequence seen in trailers. ...

Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” was a box office bust, [but] it still featured expert visual effects that transported the viewer to a world of giants. ... “Allied.” Robert Zemeckis’ World War II spy craft drama, feels like it was shot on location in 1940s London, and that’s thanks to the digital trickery Zemeckis loves so much. ...

Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon” is an impressive entry this year, capturing the horrific disaster on the eponymous oil rig with aplomb. ... But some surprises could nose into the bakeoff list, like “Deadpool,” “A Monster Calls,” “Pete’s Dragon” or “Sully.” And movies like “Arrival,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” have obvious strengths as well. ...

An obvious question looms up here: if The Jungle Book is going to be considered for a Visual Effects Oscar, then why the hell aren't' Zootopia, Finding Dory and especially Moana (with all those dazzling ocean and wave effects) contenders?

There really isn't a compelling argument for excluding CG animated features from the category, since they're using the same hardware, software and often the same personnel to achieve identical images on-screen. Live-action and animated features compete together in other Academy categories. There's no reason that the Little Gold Man for VFX shouldn't encompass both kinds of movie-making. Seems only right.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Robert Iger Answers Questions

And talks about growing the company ... and guiding things along:

... Q: The Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm acquisitions have been big. You’ve received a lot of praise from the heads of those companies, now subsidiaries, for allowing them to preserve their creative cultures. Was there any key to those acquisitions that has been overlooked?

A: If anything, it’s, “Why did we buy those things and no one else did?” I don’t get described as necessarily being aggressive. I don’t know if “laid-back” is the word. I think, if anything, what I would want people to say about me is, “I think he had guts.” You know? ...

Q: The Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm acquisitions have been big. You’ve received a lot of praise from the heads of those companies, now subsidiaries, for allowing them to preserve their creative cultures. Was there any key to those acquisitions that has been overlooked?

A: If anything, it’s, “Why did we buy those things and no one else did?” I don’t get described as necessarily being aggressive. I don’t know if “laid-back” is the word. I think, if anything, what I would want people to say about me is, “I think he had guts.” You know? ...

Q: You spent most of the past two decades helping build Shanghai Disney, which opened in June. You even tasted more than 200-plus items on restaurant menus there. Can you give a specific instance of how you applied your critical eye?

A: There was stonework on the side of the castle. It was just pure stone. I said, “It’s supposed to look old. It’s an old castle. There’s no moss growing on it. It would look at lot better if there was some green moss on it. It would look more real.”

Q: I am guessing there is moss on that stone.

A: There is moss on there now…. That’s not a criticism. They’re looking at a thousand things. I’m looking at as much as I can. Now, that sounds like micromanagement. I don’t mean it to sound that way. What it is — it’s just perspective. ...

Robert Iger had some heavy lifting to do after he took over from Michael Eisner.

Profits and growth had stalled out. Disney Feature Animation was floundering. Roy Disney, shoved out of the corporate boardroom by Eisner, was ticked off. Steve Jobs, head of Apple and Pixar, was even more ticked off when Disney exercised its right to make sequels to Pixar features and hired staff to create them.

Mr. Iger soothed Roy's damaged feelings by welcoming him back to the company, and made Steve Jobs a happy man by 1) canceling the sequels and 2) buying Pixar for a princely $7.2 billion.

At the time, some analysts criticized Robert Iger for "paying too much" for the Emeryville studio, but the purchase has panned out nicely. Ditto for the subsequent Marvel and Lucasfilms purchases. But Disney's absorption of Pixar, the one that kicked the cycle off, was kind of a forced circumstance. Pixar was on the cusp of finding a new distributor and partner, and the Diz Co. badly needed to keep the smaller company in the fold.

It's a testament to Robert Iger's skills as a CEO that he pulled it off.

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Thanksgiving Box Office

Theaters have four days of no competition from school or work. The results?


1). Moana (DIS), 3,875 Theaters / $15.7M Wed. (includes $2.6M previews)/Thurs. $9.9M (-37%)/ 3-day cume: $60.9M /5-day: $86.7/Wk 1

2). Fantastic Beasts… (WB), 4,144 theaters / $11.1M Wed./Thurs. $9.6M (-12%)/ 3-day cume: $44M (-41%)/5-day: $64.8M/Total: $155.3/Wk 2

3).Doctor Strange (DIS), 3,008 theaters (-686) / $3M Wed. / $2.5M (-17%) Thurs./3-day cume: $13.8M (-18%) /5-day:$19.3M/Total cume: $205.5m/Wk 4

4). Arrival (PAR), 2,442 theaters (+107)/ $2.1M Wed./ $2.2M (+5%) Thurs./3-day cume: $10.7M (-12%)/5-day: $15.1M/Total:$61.8M/ Wk 3

5). Allied (PAR), 3,160 Theaters / $2.7M Wed. (includes $600k previews)/ $2.3M (-14%) Thur. $2.3m (-14%)/3-day cume: $10.5M /5-day: $16.8M/Wk 1

6.) Trolls (DWA/20th Century Fox), 3,378 theaters (-567) / $2.66M Wed. / $1.25M Thurs (-54%)/3-day cume: $8.7M (-50%) /5-day: $12.6M/Total Cume: $133.5M/Wk 4

7). Almost Christmas (UNI), 1,868 theaters (-511) / $811K Wed. /$1.2M (+36%) Thurs/ 3-day cume: $6.5M (-11%)/5-day: $8.4M/Total: $35.5M/ Wk 3

8). Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate), 2,418 theaters (-465) / $1.1M Wed. /$1.15M (+5%) Thurs/$5.9M (-11%) 3-day (-55%)/5-day:$8.1M/Total: $52.7M/ Wk 4

9). Bad Santa 2 (BG/MX), 2,900 Theaters / $1.58M Wed. (includes $330k previews)/$1.3M Thurs (-16%)/ 3-day cume: $6.8M /5-day: $9.7M/Wk 1

10.) The Edge of Seventeen (STX) 1,945 theaters/ $733K Wed../$528K (-28%) Thurs./3-day: $3.5M (-26%)/5-day $4.7M/Total: $10.8M/wk 2 ...

Trolls, which had been holding well through the first part of the week, took a 54% hit when Moana entered the marketplace, and will end up at the $133,000,000 marker when the holiday weekend is done. Globally, the picture's approaching $300 million, with 54% of it total take coming from overseas.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mining the Vault XXIII

Always good to follow the original classic. Like, as closely as possible.

That way you can't mess up. Because the first one is tried, true, and a box office winner.

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To nobody's surprise:

Perennial family favorite A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving once again delivered for ABC, ranking as the top-rated program on Thanksgiving eve among adults 18-49 with a 1.9 Live+same day rating. ...

There are not many forty-three-year-old prime-time half hours that land at the top of the ratings heap decades later (like close to zero?), but ACBT is one of them.

Years ago, there used to be re-runs of It's A Wonderful Life, reprises of The Wizard of Oz, and that was pretty much it. But now, of course, we've got the annual airing of long-ago Shulz/Melendez animated specials. The continuing popularity of ancient television shows is an indicator about why animation is today re-hot in the blobal marketplace.

And, of course, like many well-loved classics, this one has to deal with accusations over the internet:

But like lots of items on the web, this one is ... uhm ... questionable.

The above-displayed image showing various Peanuts characters gathered around a table tends to circulate online during the holiday season, along with the accusation that it shows comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz was himself a racist for sitting Franklin, the show's only black character, by himself on the opposite side of the table from all the other characters.

This is a screenshot taken from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving television special, which first aired on the CBS network on 20 November 1973. ...

Per Nat Gertler in the Snopes article:

... While Schulz definitely kept a hand in the animated work, by 1973 when the Thanksgiving special aired, the Peanuts characters were starring in not only a steady stream of TV specials, but also a series of animated feature films. Schulz certainly wasn't laying out every shot himself - he had a day job to take care of, writing and drawing the most popular comic strip going, as well as creating original books, handling licensing materials, and so on. A talented team of animation folks were doing their job on this.

Besides, if you look, Franklin may not have had a table mate, but he did get more desserts than anyone! ...

The conjecture/accusations are really much ado about not very much.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Box Office Prognostications

Now with Add On:

... fresh from the Reporter.

Animated family film Moana is prospering in its Wednesday box-office launch for a likely first-place Thanksgiving holiday finish ahead of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. ...

Moana is projected to earn roughly $13 million to $14 million on Wednesday from 3,875 theaters, including a record $2.6 million from Tuesday-night previews. Fantastic Beasts — which already has amassed $252 million at the global box office — is tipped to earn an estimated $10 million to $12 million from 4,144 locations, according to early returns.

At this pace, Moana, the latest offering from Disney Animation Studios, could score a five-day opening of $75 million or more, and possibly north of $80 million. ...

With a sky-high "Fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a stellar Cinemascore, Moana will likely sail along through the holidays and into the new year.

Earning four times its opening weekend grosses (doing the turnstile math on the Koch Box Office Calculator -- patent pending), Moana could end up in the $250,000,000-$300,000,000 domestic gross range.

Add On: Also from the Reporter:

Disney's homegrown animated family film Moana feasted at the Wednesday box office, opening to $15.7 million from 3,875 theaters as it sails toward a historic Thanksgiving holiday debut of $87 million to $91 million, according to early estimates. ...

Add On: Regarding Moana, Lin-Manuel Miranda talks about the joys and challenges writing songs for Disney's latest blockbuster.

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Fred Moore

Tom Sito remembers:

Nov 23, 1952 - Animator Fred Moore, who drew Mickey Mouse in Fantasia and The Brave Little Tailor, died from cerebral injuries incurred in an auto accident in the Big Tujunga Canyon area of Los Angeles. He was 41. ...

Fred also animated The Three Little Pigs and the seven dwarfs of Snow White And fame. ...

Ward Kimball, one of Disney's Nine Old Men, knew Fred Moore well and (years ago) recalled:

... Fred was the first [animator] to escape from the rubber hose school. He began getting counter movements, counter thrusts, in the way he drew. More drawing. He decided to make Mickey’s cheeks move with his mouth, which had never been done before when you drew everything inside that circle. He squashed and stretched him more.

And this was right at the time, but Fred was a high school-trained animator. He never went to art school, and he more or less emerged drawing that way. Nobody seems to remember any development. It just came there and started, but the interesting thing is he never went beyond that part. The rest of us came into that place. It was a strange place, we adapted to it and we kept trying to improve and change, and we became students of it. Milt Kahl, myself, Frank and Ollie. We knew it was a tough art, and there were many nuances of techniques and conceptions regarding the way you drew, and the thing we saw was that there were millions of things of things to be learned yet and to try.

Fred never thought of that. He wasn’t a student of animation, he was just a naturally gifted animator whose style and development was perfect, timing-wise, for that point of time of where the studio wanted to go. And when the studio kept going in that direction it became the students, the guys I named, who carried it on. And Fred, being the type of character he was, almost juvenile in a way, was not able to cope with this. He took to drinking instead of saying “Gee, this is interesting. I’ll sit down and explore it too, and improve and rise above what I’ve done.”

The idea was to try to do better than you did the year before, because it was such an open thing. We were pioneering techniques in animation styles that had never been done before. But Fred was content to stay at this one level, and he got all his adulation for The Three Pigs. Pigs isn’t bad. It’s wonderful for the time. It made everything that came before look very crude, and it gave the studio the shot in the arm that Walt thought was wonderful.

So Fred was the man of the hour and couldn’t handle it, really, if you want to know. He just expected to be the man of the hour forever, and then we began to notice that as we got more into the subtleties of animation, slowing in and out, and the little nuances which were not banging and jumping around all the time, Fred’s work began to look crude.

Now that’s a hell of a thing to say, but I’m talking relatively speaking. I noticed it on The Reluctant Dragon. Fred was given the knight with the little boy, and what had been the acceptable way on The Three Little Pigs and in some cases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there were parts, even though they were drawn well, that were crude, timing-wise.

Fred would hit a pose and just freeze there and while we were already loosening those things up and putting in the subtle things that would keep [the animation] alive a long time. That’s what I meant, that at that time Fred was drinking heavily, and I was secretly going in with his exposure sheets and adding these other little drawings that would make them work with the rest of the animation that was being done on the picture.

And more and more, Fred became defensive, and hitting the bottle and feeling sorry for himself. He’d come back from lunch and would want to talk about it, and of course we didn’t want to talk about it. And he wanted to talk about it every afternoon, how the place was giving him a bad deal, and all that, and Walt wasn’t good to him any more.

We just felt sorry for him. We didn’t know what to do and all of a sudden ... you know his brother and father, they had the same drinking problem. We didn’t know that. We’d all go out and have a martini, and with Fred it would become an obsession. And it became an escape when he couldn’t handle the situation in the studio. ...

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On Layoffs

Members and TAG officers have asked, "What does an Animation Guild member do if he finds himself laid off?"

The first order of business is to thumb through this booklet. ...

Inside you will find information about:

How long Motion Picture Industry health benefits will last.

Generally six to fifteen months beyond layoff, but you'll need to check with the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan -- 855-275-4674.

Dismissal Pay from your studio.

Employees who work on cable or network shows*, or theatrical motion pictures are entitled to 1 to 2 weeks of additional pay 110 days after layoff. Employees who work 6-12 months receive one week's pay, employees who work more than twelve months receive two weeks' pay. They must be laid off and not recalled for 110 days before they're eligible for payment. (If they turn down work from the studio before the 110 days run out, they waive the right to Dismissal Pay).

Tapping into 401(k) accounts if things get tight.

This is doable, but understand that if you're under 59 1/2 years of age, the withdrawn cash will be subject to both income tax and a 12 1/2% excise tax. (If you're over 59 1/2, you can withdraw as much money as you like without any excise tax penalty). Members can also take a personal loan out from their account for up to 50% of assets.

Non-payment of dues when not working. Members who are current in their dues and aren't working under a TAG contract can request going on Honorable Withdrawal by letter or e-mail to the Guild office. No further dues will need to be paid until a member resumes working at a Guild studio.

(If a member is not current in their dues or hasn't paid off initiaion fees, they can ask to go on suspension. This will entail an additional $25 reinstatement fee down the road, but will stop any further dues obligation until they return to work). Dues are NOT connected to the receipt of health coverage. The two are separate.

When members are laid off, one of the first things on their minds is: "How do I find my next gig??" The first order of business is networking with friends and professional acquaintances. They're generally the best source for employment info.

Members should also be plugged into the Guild's private Facebook page available to Guild members. There they can contact other members and/or share job information.

Almost everyone hits rough patches in her/his career. The main way Guild members stay employed long-term is:

1) Keeping their skills sharp and current. (Refresher courses and continuous training work wonders).

2) Being professional on the job. (Showing up on time, putting in a full day's work, playing well with co-workers).

3) Having more than one or two arrows in your quiver. (The more jobs you can do, the more employable you are).

4) Always having a "Plan A", "Plan B", and a "Plan C". Because often more than a single plan is necessary.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Film Roman South

Film Roman, which was located on Hollywood Way near the Bob Hope-Hollywood-Burbank Airport for some years, has moved to the West Valley. But there are also some newer digs, as a press release tells us:

Film Roman has entered into a joint venture with Baja California-based animation facility Boxel Studios to create Film Roman Baja J.V.

Boxel co-founder and creative director Uriel Reyes Botello and co-founder and director Andres Reyes Botello are overseeing day-to-day operations, with Film Roman founder Phil Roman and Film Roman CEO Steve Waterman providing senior management and oversight of the Baja studio.

“The venture’s driving purpose is to execute high-quality, cost-effective animated properties across a broad spectrum of platforms including features, television and new media productions,” Waterman commented in a statement. ...

A lot of animation studios today use Canadian studios. But a Mexican studio? It isn't new. Gamma Studios of Mexico City was used by Jay Ward Productions five-plus decades ago. At the time, most television animation was done in Los Angeles, soup to nuts. Outsourcing to Asia hadn't started yet.

But Jay Ward pioneered the outsourcing of animation to foreign locales. All those Rocky and Bullwinkle shorts, all those Fractured Fairy Tales pieces, they were produced in Mexico City.

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Ron Thornton, RIP

From the Reporter.

Ron Thornton, an Emmy-winning visual effects designer, supervisor and producer who worked on such shows as Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Voyager, has died. He was 59.

Thornton, often credited with bringing the power of CGI to television visual effects, died Monday at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., after a short battle with liver disease, his friend, veteran VFX supervisor Emile Smith, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Thornton received his Emmy for the 1993 telefilm Babylon 5: The Gathering (the pilot for the series) and also was nominated for his work on episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and on the 2002 telefilm Superfire. ...

Mr. Thornton was working as a visual effects specialist all the way back to the 1970s. Star Trek, the Movie, Babylonf 5, Star Trek, Voyager and the immortal Space Balls.

Fifty-nine is far too early to depart, but stuff happens. Condolences to Mr. Thornton's family and friends.
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Thirty Years On

Three decades ago, An American Tail was released to positive reviews and solid box office. It was Don Bluth's second animated feature away from Disney, and Steven Spielberg's start as a producer of full-length, theatrical cartoons.

[No animated feature] presented the whole lost child scenario as effectively as An American Tail. Released in 1986, it was the apex of unique family-friendly films created by director-animator Don Bluth–a diverse batch which also includes beloved classics like The Secret of NIMH (1982), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Rock-a-Doodle (1991), A Troll in Central Park (1994), and Anastasia (1997).

Disney–specifically Pixar’s Finding Nemo (2003)–owes a lot to little Fievel Mousekewitz. This film–with Steven Spielberg as the executive producer and presenter–was ahead of its time for establishing serious issues under a G rating, and 30 years later, with the current immigration crisis at hand, An American Tail is an especially relevant animated film for children and adults today. ...

Don Bluth had a long, notable career in animation.

He started at Disney in the 1950s, working on Sleeping Beauty, then departed to pursue other goals. A decade later, after a stint at Filmation, he returned to the House of Mouse and quickly rose through the ranks. In the mid-seventies he was a directing animator, then the animation supervisor for (the first) Pete's Dragon, then the director of the holiday featurette The Small One.

Management was grooming Don to take over the department, but Don put together a deal to direct and produce The Secret of NIMH as an independent feature, and left in the middle of The Fox and the Hound.

NIMH was the first feature in a string of long-form animated productions that ended with Titan A.E. in 2000. Nobody has made more independent hand-drawn features than Mr. Bluth; American Tail was the second that he directed ... and (after Land Before Time) the most successful. American Tail was made by Don and his staff after NIMH and the production of some pioneering, hand-drawn video games. The budget for the feature was not large, but Don, always good at getting a lot of production value up on the screen, made the feature look more expensive than it was.

Hard to believe it's been thirty years since its release.

H/t President Emeritus Tom Sito.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Two Animated Features -- Year Over Year

Alrighty then. A year ago, Blue Sky Studios (of Fox-News Corp.) released The Peanuts Movie. It's domestic opening weekend went like this:

$44,213,073 in 3,897 theaters.

Twelve months later, DreamWorks Animation's Trolls rolled out. And its opening numbers went this way:

$46,581,142 in 4,060 theaters

The two cartoons had pretty similar three-day windows. But then the roads diverged. ...

The second weekend drop for Trolls was a mere 25%, while The Peanuts Movie declined an alarming 46%.

TPM's final global box office was $246,233,113, with a domestic gross of $116,054,702. This total came at the end of twenty-one weeks of theatrical release.

Now consider Trolls.

The DreamWorks picture's been out since early November, and has already grossed $262,371,439 worldwide. (This, after 17 days of release). It's domestic tally stands at $116,163,206, 44.3% of its world gross, and will obviously climb higher.

In retrospect, The Peanuts Movie had the disadvantage of being a well-worn American property that didn't play as well overseas as Fox might have hoped. (The recent Ice Age: Collision Course performed only half as well as Peanuts domestically, but has beaten the Charlie Brown movie hollow overseas. To date it's worldwide cume is $407,168,056. These days, foreign markets are real important).

The lesson here: American companies need their animated movies to play in foreign markets, since they contribute 60%-80% of the total take, and too often American-centric features don't cut it in the rest of the world. It also helps to have lots of comical non-humans populating your productions.

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SAG-AFTRA Strike Continues

Per Deadline:

SAG-AFTRA will launch a virtual picket line on social media tomorrow to “show that our greatest strength is our unity.” ...

“Beginning at noon,” the union is telling its members, “show your support on social media by sharing the tweets below and these images; retweet and share SAG-AFTRA’s Facebook and Twitter posts; take a solidarity selfie or group photo, use the hashtag #PerformanceMatters and post it to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.” ...

SAG-AFTRA has been picketing video game companies in southern California (with other unions -- including TAG -- assisting) but now they've moving to the virtual world.

We'll see what kind of leverage is brought to bear.

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Cars Forever

It's a good thing Pixar is unenthusiastic about sequels ...

Because otherwise, we might already be seeing a teaser trailer for Cars V.

From the hyper-ventilating press release:

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez, with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!

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El Smurfos

Sony renews the short blue people franchise with an April 2017 release: Smurfs: The Lost Village

From the breathless press release:

In this fully animated, all-new take on the Smurfs, a mysterious map sets Smurfette and her best friends Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty on an exciting and thrilling race through the Forbidden Forest filled with magical creatures to find a mysterious lost village before the evil wizard Gargamel does. Embarking on a rollercoaster journey full of action and danger, the Smurfs are on a course that leads to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history!

Animation veteran Kelly Asbury is directing The Lost Village. Mr. Asbury has a long and successful track record in the land of cartoons: story artist on The Little Mermaid and Toy Story; the directors on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Shrek 2, Gnomeo and Juliet. He had this to say about his upcoming feature:

How different is SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE from the previous two Smurfs features?

KA: Sony Pictures Animation’s previous two SMURFS movies were live action films in which real humans interacted with more realistically designed and animated Smurfs, and the stories centered as much around the human characters’ issues. SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE has nothing to do with those other films. It is a radically different take on the Smurfs and their imaginary world, fully computer animated, and much closer to the tone and style that creator Peyo initially envisioned.

What was the inspiration for this film?

KA: Many things inspired the type of movie we wanted to make. Everyone involved agreed that the story should be a high-adventure journey, so classic movies like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and GOONIES came to mind. The richness in color was influenced by the great French Impressionists painters. The Forbidden Forest where the Smurfs venture was envisioned as equal parts Oz, Pandora and Wonderland, filled with dangerous and magical creatures like Smurf-eating Flowers or Boxing and Kissing Plants, to name a few. ...

The feature rolls out across the fruited plain on April 7th. It will likely do brisk business at the box office.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Asset Allocation Plans (Or ... Putting Enough Away For When You Decide To Hang It Up)

The end of another year is fast upon us, so it's time for another look at investing for retirement.

TAG members have two automatic pension plans -- the Defined Benefit Plan that gives you a monthly payout at retirement, and an Individual Account Plan. Think of the IAP as a big basket of money earning interest and stock income that the Motion Picture Pension Plan will pay to you when you are ready to ride off into the setting sun and leave the 9-to-5 deal behind.

And if you know little about where to stash part of each paycheck, not a problem. You can use Vanguard Retirement Date Funds, and let the giganto mutual fund company do the heavy investment lifting (and deep choices) for you, or you can do some reconnoitering and decide on your own where you want to put your investment dollars to work.

Here's a place to start. ...

150 Portfolios Better Than Yours

... No one knows which [investment] portfolio is going to outperform in the future. You can change all the factors you want- more or less diversification, additional risks/factors, lower costs vs additional risk or diversification, more of this and less of that. Does it matter? Absolutely. Take a look at Madsinger’s Monthly Report some time. But it doesn’t matter that much. No diversified portfolio in that report has done better than 1-2% per year more than a similarly risky portfolio over the last 15 years. Now 1-2% does matter, especially over long periods of time, but keep in mind the edge that a very complex portfolio might provide over a very simple one can easily be eaten up by advisory fees, behavioral errors, and poor tax management.

I suggest you pick a portfolio you like and think you can stick with for a few decades, and then do so. Eventually, any given portfolio will have its day in the sun. Just don’t continually change your portfolio in response to changes in the investment winds. This is the equivalent of driving while looking through the rear view mirror, or, as Dr. Bernstein likes to phrase it, skating to where the puck was. ...

Portfolio 1: The S&P 500 Portfolio

100% Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund

Don’t laugh. I know a very successful two-physician couple who invest in nothing but this, are 7 years out of residency, have a net worth in the $1-2 Million range. Their investment plan is working fine. Every investment dollar, whether in a retirement account or a taxable account, goes into this single fund. It is simple, very low cost, diversified among 500 different companies, and has a long track record of exceptional returns.

Portfolio 2: Total Stock Market Portfolio

100% Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund

Perhaps one step up on the S&P 500 portfolio, for about the same cost you get another 5000+ stocks in the portfolio.

Portfolio 3: Total World Stock Market Portfolio

100% Vanguard Total World Index Fund

This 100% stock portfolio has the advantage of not only holding all the US Stocks like the Total Stock Market Portfolio, but also holding all of the stocks in pretty much all the other countries in the world that matter. It is a little more expensive (and in fact it is actually cheaper to build this fund yourself from its components), but it still weighs in at less than 20 basis points if you buy the ETF.

Portfolios 4 and 5: Balanced Index Fund

100% Vanguard Balanced Index Fund

Prefer to diversify out of stocks? Actually want some bonds in the portfolio? How about this one? For less than 10 basis points you get all the stocks in the US and all the bonds in the US in a 60/40 balance. Still just one fund. If you’re in a high tax bracket, you may prefer the Tax-Managed Balanced Fund, a 48/52 blend of US Stocks and Municipal bonds, all for just 12 basis points.

Portfolios 6-9: Life Strategy Moderate Growth Portfolio

100% Vanguard Life Strategy Moderate Growth Fund

For just 16 basis points, you get all the US (32%) and international (18%) stocks and all the US (42%) and international (8%) bonds wrapped up in a handy, fixed asset allocation. Want to be a little more (or a little less) aggressive? Then check out the “aggressive growth” (80/20), “conservative growth” (41/59) or “income” (30/70)version with a slightly different allocation of the same asset classes. ...

And so on and so forth. Here's the rub: You can use any number of the portfolios shown above (and many more), stick with them, and you will have a sizable nest egg by the time you become a seasoned citizen.

There are really only a few simple rules:

1) Keep costs low.

2) Keep your portfolio diversified.

3) Stick with the program.

And understand that there will ALWAYS be a portfolio better than yours, but that it doesn't matter. What matters is saving and investing for the day when you'll need the money to live comfortably without a regular paycheck.

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International Box Office

Trolls runs up a nice tally, but nothing compared to the continuing Dr. Strange or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or the Chinese release I Am Not Madame Bovary.


Fantastic Beasts -- $143,300,000 -- ($218,300,000)

I Am Not Madame Bovary -- $27,900,000 -- ($28,400,000)

Doctor Strange -- $26,000,000 -- ($571,500,000)

Trolls -- $11,400,000 -- ($261,300,000)

Arrival -- $6,500,000 -- ($54,215,853)

Inferno -- $3,800,000 -- ($211,873,473)

Jack Reacher -- $3,800,000 -- ($136,869,185)

The Girl On The Train -- $1,600,000 -- ($161,100,000)

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children -- $758,000 -- ($259,862,899)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $400,000 -- ($873,372,980) ...

And a trade paper tells us:

With an $11.4M weekend in 66 markets, DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls has grossed $145.1M overseas. The overall session was 42% down with good holds in the UK, Spain, Germany and Mexico. The UK leads overseas at $26M, followed by France with $17.3M and Russia at $12M. ...

The Denis Villeneuve sci-fi drama [Arrival] added $6.41M in combined Sony and Film Nation markets in its 2nd outing. In five FNE hubs, it beamed up $2.91M and in 22 for Sony, it garnered $3.5M. The total offshore cume thus far is $21.8M. ...

[Dr. Strange] cast a $26M spell in offshore markets this weekend — its 4th. That takes the international cume to $390M and the worldwide tally to $571.5M as the film closes in on Iron Man’s $585M global. ...

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