Monday, February 29, 2016

The Making Of ...

... (and selling of) the next big-budget animated feature Zootopia.

... “With the sloth scene, we spent a long time editing it. When we got it to our animators”—here [co-director Byron] Howard finishes [co-director Rich] Moore’s sentence—

“They made it longer. They came back to us and were like, ‘No, it’s not nearly long enough.’” Moore: “‘No, we need more time; to really milk it; we need more time.’” Howard: “We started to freak out a little bit. Especially that scene where—“

Here, Howard rather ably imitates the sloth slowly beginning to smile at the punch line to Nick’s joke. “Darrin [Butters], the guy who animated it, kept coming back and kept adding footage, adding footage, and it became so long.”

Howard: “We call it ‘the animation creep.’ The timing of it was so great, and much longer than we had planned for, but we kind of knew something magic had happened.” Moore: “It’s damn near immaculate; it’s almost scientific. There’s a point where timing comedy goes from artistic to science! A frame can make or break a laugh.”...

Thus far, Zootopia has received solid reviews and a strong launch overseas, but big entertainment conglomerates can't rest on their laurels. ESPN isn't the powerhouse it used to be, so the selling of other parts of the empire has to continue unabated.

Star Wars is so ... December and January. Zootopia springs on us March 4th.

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The Animation Guild Golden Awards Interviews #!3 -- Betty Anne Guenther and Grace Godino

Betty Ann Guenther and Grace Godino broke into the animation business at Disney in 1937. Naturally enough, they both landed in the Ink-And-Paint Department because that was the career route women had open to them in the 1930s.

Grace Godino was born in 1916, starting her show business career at Walt Disney Productions in early 1937. There she joined a growing staff that worked long hours getting Walt's first animated feature out. (In the interview she recounts seeing the picture projected on a sound stage over half a year before its release, and knowing that the feature was going to be a hit.) ...

Besides the ink and paint career, Grace served as a stand-in for Rita Hayworth in Gilda and The Loves of Carmen. She passed away in 2011, aged 96. ...

Betty Ann Guenther arrived at Disney in the same year that Ms. Godino did. She began as an inker on Snow White but was terrified of being cut during the weeks spent training for the job. Within six years she had risen to supervior, a position she retained through decades of work. Ms. Guenter died in 2010 at the age of 93.

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Saving For the Rocking Chair Years

I'll be racing around doing 401(k) enrollment meetings for the next month, so this:

... The median household approaching retirement has a nest egg of between $10,000 and $20,000. This number is drawn down significantly because 41% of these households have no retirement savings whatsoever. ... That doesn’t necessarily mean these retirees will have nothing to provide income in retirement. Consider:

56% are homeowners, with 22% having paid off their house in full.

32% have a defined benefit plan (i.e., a pension).

Furthermore, though the report doesn’t provide a specific number, most of these retirees will eventually claim some type of Social Security benefit. As the authors note, “Social Security replaces a higher percentage of earnings for lower-income workers and their dependents than for higher-income workers.” ...

Animation Guild members are in better positions than the unfortunate wretches above; they have two automatic pension plans going for them: 1) A monthly annuity known as a Defined Benefit Plan, and 2) an Individual Account Plan, which is a lump sum payout that happens when participants are retires. Few pension plans around today have both. Most have the second item, and that's about it.

Guild members are among the few lucky duckies in the cartoon biz who have three pension plan available to them. On top of the default pensions named above, there is also TAG's 401(k) Pension Savings Plan, which enables TAG members to defer up to $18,000 ($24,000 for 50+ folks).

Enrolling in the Guild's 401(k) is a matter of filling out a couple of sheets of paper. But it also take a recognition that the more you tuck away now, the less you'll have to save when you're nudging up against retirement and suddenly realize it would be great to have more money.


Wild Canary Animation -- Tuesday, March 1st, 2 pm -- North Conference Room (Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake)

Dreamworks Animation -- Wednesday, March 2nd, 10 am -- Dining Room B & C (DWA Glendale Campus)

Dreamworks TV -- Thursday, March 3rd, 10 am Conference Room 2508 (Central Avenue location)

Disney Feature -- Tuesday, March 8th, 3:30 pm -- Room 2401 "Caffeine Patch" (Hat Building, Riverside Dr.)

DisneyToons Studio -- 2:00-3:00 pm -- Room 102 (833 Sonora Ave., Glendale)

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Upset. Not.

To nobody's surprise, a studio in Emeryville won "Best Animated Feature".

Jonas Rivera and Pete Docter.

Director Pete Docter — a member of Pixar Animation Studio’s so-called "brain trust" — won his second Oscar for Disney/Pixar’s juggernaut Inside Out on Sunday. He previously won for 2009’s Up.

Inside Out’s producer Jonas Rivera won his first Academy Award for the film. (He also produced Up, but at that time the producer wasn’t included on the animated feature category ballot.)

"We are so lucky. Not just us, but everyone in this room, because, regardless of a gold man or not, we get to make stuff," Docter said. ...

Who the Little Gold Man for long-form animation might have been going to was totally up in the air ... like wondering if there'd be summer sunshine in the San Fernando Valley.

When a picture owns critical raves, a huge box office, a host of other golden trophies from earlier awards ceremonies, and has the backing of a large, international entertainment conglomerate, 99.7% of the suspense about who the winner will be has been drained away.

But maybe the other nominees will get some commercial boost by being competitors. That's the hope, anyway.

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International Box Office

The global steep chase sees a bunch of animated features in the mix. Zootpia, which hasn't yet launched domestically, is already in various foreign markets.


Deadpool -- $40,200,000 -- ($609,739,009)

Zootopia -- $30,000,000 -- ($81,400,000)

Kung Fu Panda 3 -- $4,500,000 -- ($314,255,359)

Alvin and the Chipmunks $6,100,000 -- ($224,521,401)

Star Wars 7 -- $1,600,000 -- ($2,048,044,000) ...

And the trade journals inform us:

With 975M yuan ($149M) to date, and a 30-day theatrical extension ahead of it, DreamWorks Animation/DreamWorks Oriental’s Kung Fu Panda 3 has topped Monkey King: Hero Is Back (956M yuan) to become the biggest animated film ever in the Middle Kingdom in local currency. Sage that he is, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg predicted this would happen. ...

And elsewhere across the world:

Disney’s Zootopia had a very strong $30M 3rd frame as it gets ready to be uncaged in North America later this week. ...

The Fox anti-superhero juggernaut Deadpool has crossed $600M globally with an international weekend of $40.2M. ...

Disney’s animated charmer Zootopia is in its 3rd week overseas with $81.4M to date. The Byron Howard/Rich Moore-helmed animal tale added another $30M in the frame, a 4% drop from last, with no major market openings. It’s playing in about 42% of its international rabbit’s footprint — 31 territories. ...

Adding yet another $1.6M, [Star Wars 7 and] the Millennium Falcon crew has an international cume to date of $1.122B and a global total of $2.048B. Rankings have not changed, and it’s still playing in 20 territories. ...

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Won't You Give? And Give GENEROUSLY?"

Diz Co's CEO asks for assistance.

The Walt Disney Company has a reputation for lobbying hard on copyright issues. The 1998 copyright extension has even been dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by activists like Lawrence Lessig that have worked to reform copyright laws.

This year, the company is turning to its employees to fund some of that battle. Disney CEO Bob Iger has sent a letter to the company’s employees, asking for them to open their hearts—and their wallets—to the company’s political action committee, DisneyPAC.

In the letter, which was provided to Ars by a Disney employee, Iger tells workers about his company's recent intellectual property victories, including stronger IP protections in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Supreme Court victory that destroyed Aereo, and continued vigilance about the "state of copyright law in the digital environment." It also mentions that Disney is seeking an opening to lower the corporate tax rate. ...

"For your convenience, DisneyPAC has implemented a payroll deduction system, through which your contributions to the PAC will be deducted from your weekly paycheck," Iger explains. ...

See? Your hard-earned dollars are just a click away from helping the Walt Disney Company fight for truth, justice, an extension of copyright AND lower taxes.

And if you act now, the company might see fit to extending your employment by a couple of months before shipping your job to Canada, where there is Free Money in abundance. (That's fair, isn't it?)

Because if there is anything that we're sure of, it's that Chief Executive officers are overburdened with taxes, onerous regulations, and the oppressive chains of an evil, socialistic government.

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Your American Box Office

Where we are a week away from the release of a new animated feature, and a super hero continues to rule.


1). Deadpool (FOX), 3,856 theaters (+134) / $8.9M Fri. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $31M-$31.5M (-45%) / Total Cume: $2856M / Wk 3

2). Gods of Egypt (LG), 3,117 theaters / $4.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13M-$13.7M / Wk 1

3). Kung Fu Panda 3 (DWA/FOX), 3,296 theaters (-152) / $1.9M Fri. (-31%) / 3-day cume: $8.7M (-30%) / Total cume: $128.2M / Wk 5

4). Risen (SONY), 2,915 theaters (0) / $1.9M Fri. (-51%) / 3-day cume: $6.7M-$7.1M (-40%) / Total cume: $22.4M-$22.8M / Wk 2

5). Triple 9 (OR), 2,205 theaters / $2M Fri. /3-day cume: $5.8M-$6M / Wk 1

6). Eddie the Eagle (Fox), 2,042 theaters / $1.9M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.6M-$5.8M / Wk 1

7/8/9). How To Be Single (WB/MGM/New Line), 3,047 theaters (-310) / $1.6M Fri. (-39%) / 3-day cume: $4.8M-$5M (-40%) / Total cume: $39.4M / Wk 3

Race (FOC), 2,387 theaters (+18) / $1.2M Fri. (-49%) / 3-day cume: $4.1M-$4.5M (-40%) / Total cume: $13.8M-$14.1M / Wk 2

The Witch (A24), 2,046 theaters / $1.4M Fri. (-56%) / 3-day cume: $4.5M-$4.9M (-44%) / Total cume: $16.5M / Wk 2

10). The Revenant (FOX), 1,645 theaters (-294) / $970K Fri. (+0%) / 3-day cume: $3.6M-$3.8M (-5%) / Total cume: $170.4M / Wk 10

The big panda continues to hold nicely in the Top Three, but we'll see how it fare when Zootopia materializes in lots of theaters next week.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Disney Mistake

And while we're on the subject of the Academy Awards, President emeritus Tom Sito points out that when Walter Elias Disney won the Motion Picture Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award on February 26,1942, Walt was a wee bit downcast and defensive:

... I've got a lot of thanking to do. First, for the little short subject award which we're very proud of. My musicians for their music -- it's going to be hard to get along with them now, I know. "Fantasia," in a way I feel like I should have a medal for bravery or something. We all make our mistakes, I know, but it was an honest mistake. ...

I'm well aware of the high ideals that this award symbolizes, and I sort of feel like I should rededicate myself to those ideals. I've been through a very trying year, the toughest year. I hope there's never another one like it. ...

Disney was melancholy for a reason. Fantasia had tanked at the box office. Dumbo, modestly budgeted, was on its way to profits, but Bambi, not yet released, had a big price tag and Walt was understandably nervous. (Justifiably so. The picture lost money in 1942).

Then, of course, there was the long strike that the studio had endured. Forty percent of Walt's staff walked out in a bitter job action, and Disney took it personally. Employees who had been with him for years were black-listed, consigned to a special filing cabinet on the third floor of the Animation Building and ultimately let go, some of them years later.

Some wounds never heal, especially when you're a hard-scrabble mid-Westerner with a demanding and distant father.

But it's all long ago and far away at this point. Walt's Company is about as far away from bankruptcy and receivership as a publicly-traded company can be, and most of the participants from that distant time are gone. Still in all, it's good to peer back and hear what the founder was thinking seventy-four years ago.

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Oscar Forecasts

Just as swallows return each year to that Spanish mission on the California coast, the movie trade journals tell us who will win the Little Gold Man.

Best Film Editing -- Mad Max: Fury Road ...

Best Film Editing -- Star Wars: Episode VII ...

Best Costume Design -- Mad Max: Fury Road (Dark Horse: Cinderella) ...

Best Makeup & Hairstyling -- Mad Max: Fury Road ...

Best Sound Mixing -- The Revenant ...

Best Sound Mixing --- The Revenant (Stands to reason, donnit?) ...

And there are five animated features in the running for "Best Animated Cartoon".

But let's cut to the finish line, shall we? The winner, unless the earth shifts out of its orbit, will be Inside Out.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Nervous Reaction

Yesterday, this:

... British Columbia's Finance Minister Mike de Jong says the province can no longer afford to keep the tax credits that draw film and TV-productions such as the box-office smash Deadpool at their current levels.

“We’re not prepared to see payouts grow at the rate they have. We have a balanced budget, but we have other priority areas that we feel we need to address on behalf of British Columbians.” ...

And now, this: ...

...The mayors of British Columbia’s two largest cities are reminding the provincial government of the economic benefits of film and television production and are urging Finance Minister Mike de Jong to be cautious about his plans to pare back production-sector tax credits the minister has deemed unaffordable. ...

There is NOTHING that sets corporate and municipal hearts all aflutter like the threat of taxpayer money being limited ... or worse, removed altogether.

Long live free enterprise! Up with rugged individualism! (And please let me know when you see either.)

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Remaking Animation ... With Animation

Disney created the animated Cinderella in 1950. It was the first full-length feature from the House of Mouse in almost a decade, and it became the hit that gave Walt Disney Productions a crucial lift just when it was needed.

Sixty-five years later, the company remade the movie that had pulled it back from the cliff-edge in the middle of the previous century. This time, the company made a movie that was half animated and engaged director Kenneth Branagh to sprinkle a few flesh-and-blood performers throughout. This helped give it the semblance of a live-action movie. ...


There was a good deal of rotoscope in the 1950 version of the fairy tale, and a lot of key frame animation in the Branagh version. So the question is, how much animation was in the remake? And how much live-action ended up in the original?

If you break down the percentages of live-action to animation in each project, they really might not be that far apart. In today's movie universe, cg animation and cg environments make up a large part of what audiences see.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Mon Dieu! Could some geographical locales the screaming "Uncle!" as regards Free Money.

... British Columbia's Finance Minister Mike de Jong says the province can no longer afford to keep the tax credits that draw film and TV-productions such as the box-office smash Deadpool at their current levels.

“We’re not prepared to see payouts grow at the rate they have. We have a balanced budget, but we have other priority areas that we feel we need to address on behalf of British Columbians,” Mr. de Jong said in an interview on Wednesday. He was elaborating on concerns about the credits recently addressed in the B.C. budget speech, which said a solution would be announced in coming weeks after talks with the industry. ...

According to the most recent B.C. budget and fiscal plan, foreign production spending – largely linked to Hollywood – was about $1.6-billion in 2014-15, and about 20,000 people are employed in the sector.

The relatively low Canadian dollar is among the factors that make Canada appealing to U.S. producers. About 80 per cent of the film and TV productions shot in B.C. are developed for Hollywood. ...

It always happens at some point. Some killjoy politician says "This is too expensive" and takes away Tinsel Town's vodka laced punch bowl. But of course, then Hollywood scoops up its shiny marbles and goes off to some other schoolyard where Free Money can be found in abundance. London. Atlanta. Montreal.

There is always someplace willing to put large entertainment conglomerates on the dole. If not for the subsidies and bargain exchange rates, Los Angeles would have double or triple the work it now has.

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Warren B.'s Wisdom

I'll be starting 401(k) enrollment meetings shortly, so it's time for investment advice. To start, here is what Warren Buffett (the "Wizard of Omaha") WOULDN'T do.

Warren's No-Nos

Don’t be too fixated on daily moves in the stock market (from Berkshire letter published in 2014).

Don’t get excited about your investment gains when the market is climbing (1996).

Don’t be distracted by macroeconomic forecasts (2004).

Don’t limit yourself to just one industry (2008).

Don’t get taken by formulas (2009).

Don’t be short on cash when you need it most (2010).

Don’t wager against the U.S. and its economic potential (2015). ...

Advice from the world greatest investor is fine, but how does anybody implement something like the above?

Stripped down to ultimate simplicity, translating the above into action would mean:

Putting 1/3 of your investment money in a Total U.S. Stock Market Index Fund.

Putting 1/3 of your investment money into a Total International Stock Index fund.

Putting 1/3 of you investment money into the Total Bond Market.

The above gets you wide diversification with a mere three funds. It also goes a long way to fulfilling Warren Buffett's advice up above.

And if you contribute money every week, and train yourself to not pay attention or not freak out if you do, you can pile up a lot of money over the course of ten ... twenty ... or thirty years. But always remember the simple advice that's difficult to follow: "Don't just do something, stand there!"

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Paramount Pictures Changing Hands ... Maybe

One of the oldest movie studios in the country might soon be put on the block.

Viacom is planning to sell a "significant" minority stake in its film and television studio Paramount Pictures.

The company had been approached by several investors, said chief executive Philippe Dauman, and would be holding talks with some investors.

Viacom is under pressure to revive its fortunes after a run of poor results.

Earlier this month it posted a 6% year-on-year fall in quarterly revenues to $3.2bn (£2.2bn).
Paramount Pictures has also struggled, with revenue falling 15% and an operating loss of $146m. ...

In the late thirties and straight through World War II, Paramount was the most successful movie studio going. All the majors of the time made money, but Paramount was up there at or near) the top. It has so many completed motion pictures lined up on the tarmac that some biggies didn't get a release for over a year.

But the high-flying days are long gone. Now the division of Viacom is sputtering, which might explain why the parent conglomerate desires to unload some of it. Paramount/Viacom is one of the few conglomerates that hasn't been making animated features.

But that reality will soon be changing. Paramount now has its own animated feature unit on the lot with the next Sponge Bob movie and several others in development. Production will be along the lines of the Illumination Entertainment model, with development in Los Angeles and production outside U.S. borders.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

DreamWorks Exceeds the Street's Expectations

Jeffrey and Co. soar above market assumptions.

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. posted fourth-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates, reflecting growth from its TV and home video businesses as the maker of “Kung Fu Panda” movies restructures its struggling movie operation. Shares rose. ...

The positive earnings report is a shot in the arm for DreamWorks Animation, led by Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg, which last year cut 500 jobs, shelved films and sold its campus in California following several disappointing features. A shift in strategy may be starting to pay off: The company has grown its TV business, focusing on home-video releases and making shows for Netflix Inc., including “Dragons: Race to the Edge” and “Dinotrux.” Its only 2015 theatrical release, “Home,” contributed $55.3 million to feature film segment revenue in the fourth quarter -- primarily from TV and home video.

Katzenberg, on a call with analysts Tuesday, said the company was driving film production costs below $130 million, with a goal to be in the range of $120 million starting with its next release, “Trolls.” ...

Fourth-quarter revenue from DreamWorks’ TV segment was $104.9 million, compared with $50.7 million a year earlier, because of a higher number of episodes delivered under licensing deals, among other things. ...

DreamWorks Animation has been expanding out from its core business, and it looks to be working.

Three years back, DWA launched its partnership with Netflix, beginning with Turbo Fast based on the feature, and then expanded that beachhead to 300 hours of new series programming. Since then the Netflix-DreamWorks alliance has expanded globally, and it's bearing profitable fruit for the Glendale cartoon company.

Six years ago, DreamWorks Animation had a simple business model: Produce-hit-features-nonstop. Turns out that's a wonderful aspiration, but it's hard to execute in the Real World. (Even Pixar slams up against the occasional under-performer.)

Happily, three years ago DreamWorks Animation came to its senses and commenced building new businesses. It put together a television facility to turn out TV series. It beefed up its merchandising arm. And the last piece? The company is carving a better pathway to profitable theatrical features by bringing those features' costs down.

All of these things contributed to DreamWorks Animation's fourth quarter performance. Revenue jumped 36% to $319.3 million, crushing the $274 million consensus estimate, which should set DreamWorks Animation stock on an upward trajectory.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Asia - Pacific Pay TV Operators Summit

The movers and shakers will soon be gathering.

Internet TV network Netflix co-founder, CEO Reed Hastings, the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos, Dreamworks Animation co-founder, CEO, director Jeffrey Katzenberg, Lionsgate president interactive ventures and games Peter Levin, Endemol Shine Group CEO Sophie Turner Laing, Vice founder, CEO Shane Smith, Astro COO Henry Tan, A+E Networks executive VP, CFO David Granville Smith and A+E Networks president international, digital media Sean Cohen are among the speakers at the television trade event Apos 2016.

The summit focuses on the video sector and the ecosystem for creating, distributing and monetising content. The Asia Pacific video industry, including TV and digital video, is a $105 billion juggernaut. Future growth could be exponential as the customer experience transforms with new content, services and technologie. Among the topics:

The streaming video wars

In the search for scale – global, regional and local – which platforms, players, and business models will prosper in the world of online video distribution?

The power of social video in the age of multimedia curation

Social networks continue to leverage data to drive traffic and could capitalise on multimedia content curation, creation and distribution with new tools that leverage bundling, subscription and commerce. What will be the impact in Asia’s emerging and high growth mobile markets? ...

Sounds like the corporate barons will be having themselves a party.

So how do the working tiffs who create ... you know ... the content fit in?

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Sofia Hits a Peak

And we don't mean flying into the side of a mountain.

A new episode of the hit animated series "Sofia the First," entitled "Sofia the First: Olaf and the Tale of Miss Nettle" with a special appearance by Olaf from Disney's blockbuster "Frozen," ranked as the series' most watched telecast in 15 months in Total Viewers (3.3 million) - and its #5 telecast overall - and hit a one year ratings high among Kids 2-5 (975,000/6.3 rating) - since 11/23/14 and 2/20/15, respectively.

The telecast also generated 15 month highs in Girls 2-5 (664,000/8.8 rating), Adults 18-49 (1.0 million/0.8 rating) and Kids 2-11 (1.7 million/4.4 rating) - since 11/23/14. ...

Certainly helps to have a character from a blockbuster feature do a guest appearance. It's about synergy, boys and girls, about one division reinforcing another division. Otherwise what's the point of being a monster conglomerate?

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interviews #12 -- Wilma Baker and Jay Gould

Jay Gould*, who started his career at the Fleischer Studio in New York, moved to California in the last half of the thirties, doing a stint at Leon Schlesinger's shop before settling in for a 42 year career at Walt Disney Productions.

What makes this particularly remarkable is that Jay went out on strike in '41 and stayed on to tell the tale. Mr. Gould didn't seem to go on Walt's naughty list like other, more senior employees who hit the bricks. (Being an inbetweener and under the radar is sometimes helpful in the longevity department. He doesn't mention the strike ... or his participation in it ... in the interview here.)

Wilma Baker, who retired from Disney as a final checker in 1983, began her career at the studio as a painter on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs during the final, frantic rush to get the picture completed.

Ms. Baker is still alive and active, even as she nears the age of 100.

* Jay Gould the animator is not related, so far as we know, to Jay Gould the railroad tycoon and robber baron. But if by chance he is, that would go a long way to explaining why Walt didn't lay him off after the strike. Who would want to mees with the Gould family?

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

International Movie Ticket Sales

There's a lot of animation of one sort and another on the international box office list just now.


Deadpool -- $85,000,000 -- ($491,694,887)

Zootopia -- $31,200,000 -- ($39,000,000)

Kung Fu Panda #3 -- $7,200,000 -- ($294,104,584)

The Revenant -- $8,600,000 -- ($381,616,550

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $11,700,000 -- ($215,533,375)

Star Wars 7 -- $2,600,000 -- ($2,039,843,000)

And as an entertainment journal of record states:

Fox’s Deadpool and China’s The Mermaid lead this weekend, respectively dropping 35% and 49%. Deadpool picked up $85.3M in 74 offshore markets on its way to a $500M global cume as early as tomorrow. ...

In 3rd place, Disney’s Zootopia stood upright in 22 markets in its much-expanded sophomore session. The animated pic voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and many others, flashed to $31.2M with several major territories — including China — still to come. ...

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Pete's II

Couldn't they have had the decency and good manners to provide a cameo for Helen Reddy?

(But hey. Maybe they do. And it's nice to see Robert Redford in the Mickey Rooney part.) ...

Pete's Dragon was shot in Burbank in 1976. It was the studio's big-budget attempt to recapture some Mary Poppins magic. I remember being told that Gene Kelly had at one time been in discussions to direct and play the villain, but the studio failed to reach a deal. Stage star Jim (Barnum!) Dale ultimately played the role.

Don Bluth supervised the hand-drawn animation of the original (with Disney veteran Ken Anderson designing Elliot the dragon). The new Dragon seems closer to How To Train Your ... than the 1977 version. And it doesn't look as though it has any toe-tapping tunes.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Boy and the World" Director Speaks

Ale Abreau, the director of the Brazilian feature Boy and the World, notes the obvious:

Q: In the U.S., Pixar’s style of 3D animation rules the day. What are your thoughts on current trends in animation technique?

Abreu: I think animation is a big universe that is infinite. It doesn’t have an ending, but is a very beautiful, rich universe. What I see happening with the movies is that there has been a standardization of the movies itself, like all the movies came out from the same production company. And I think this is very poor, because if they are standard, they’re not taking advantage of the full scope; animation can be much more than that—can be much more than just technical. ...

Animation can come in many styles and approaches, but let's face the obvious: Most commercial animation, from the 1930s to the present, has followed the Disney model. First it was in the hand-drawn format; now it's in the CG format. Obviously Pixar led the way with CG features, but truth be known, the style was pretty much a descendant of the Walter Elias Disney sensibility. (John Lasseter, after all, spent the first half dozen years of his professional life at Disney).

Now that Pixar-is-Disney and Disney-is-Pixar, the reality is even plainer than before. Yeah, there are European features that break the mold, and the occasional brave indie, but it's all about the Disney model. The conglomerates believe that's where all the audience's dollars are, so Disney-style animated features are what roll down the pike. (And yes; Illumination Entertainment's and Blue Sky Studio's movies are a bit different, but not by very much.

The Walt approach still rules.

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Your American Box Office

The R-rated super hero remains atop the heap, but the chubby Panda is #2, declining a mere 33%.


1). Deadpool (FOX), 3,722 theaters (+164) / $16.2M Fri. (-66%) /3-day cume: $56.5M (-57%)/Total Cume: $236.9M/Wk 2

2). Kung Fu Panda 3 (DWA/FOX), 3,448 theaters (-396) / $2.8M Fri. (-28%)/3-day cume: $13.2M (-33%)/Total cume: $117.8M/ Wk 4

3). Risen (SONY), 2,915 theaters (0) / $4M Fri. /3-day cume: $11.5M / Wk 1

4). The Witch (A24), 2,046 theaters / $3.2M Fri. /3-day cume: $8.3M/ Wk 1

5). How To Be Single (WB/MGM/New Line), 3,357 theaters (+14) / $2.67M Fri. (-50%) /3-day cume: $8M (-55%)/Total: $31.5M/ Wk 2

6). Race (FOC), 2,369 theaters / $2.3M Fri. /3-day cume: $7M/ Wk 1

7). Zoolander 2 (PAR), 3,418 theaters (+24) / $1.58M Fri. (-63%) /3-day cume: $5.38M (-61%)/Total: $23.6M/ Wk 2

8.) The Revenant (FOX), 1,939 theaters (-327) / $955K Fri. (-26%) / 3-day cume: $3.8M (-42%) / Total cume: $165.1M / Wk 9

9.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 1,618 theaters (-192) / $906K Fri. (-24%) /3-day cume: $3.7M (-40%)/Total cume: $921.5M / Wk 10

10). Hail, Caesar! (UNI), 1,726 theaters (-522) / $764K Fri. (-48%) /3-day cume: $2.6M (-60%) /Total cume: $26M / Wk 3 ...

Kung Fu Panda 3 has had a strong hold that's gone on now for a month. It appears it will get to $150 million or more without a huge struggle. But we'll see.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Frederator En Espanol

Fred Seibert seeks new worlds in which to make money.

Fred Seibert’s Frederator Networks is making a jump into YouTube toons en español, creating a Spanish-language animation network in a joint venture with Mexico City-based Ánima Estudios.

The partners’ newly formed Átomo Network will actively recruit Spanish-language animators, and will provide the same kind of audience-development and programming services available to creators in the Channel Frederator Network on YouTube. Frederator and Ánima Estudios are together pooling $1 million to launch Átomo. ...

Initial content under the Átomo banner is slated to include original cartoons from Ánima Estudios and localized versions of some Channel Frederator shows, including the “107 Facts” series, “Tooned Up” and “Cartoon Conspiracy.”

The pact comes as Channel Frederator has grown its YouTube network from 1,200 to 2,500 channels over the course of 2015, and boosted monthly views from 120 million to 540 million. ...

Mr. Seibert, if you don't know, headed up Hanna-Barbera in the early 1990s and was the godfather of Cartoon Network. For some years, his company provided successful cartoon franchises to Nickelodeon.

Mr. Seibert knows a commercial opportunity when he sees one. Two thirds of the Western Hemisphere speaks Spanish, so it's a fine market in which to create and market cartoons.

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Chinese Regs Grow Tighter

The Middle Kingdom seeks more Con. Trol.

China is taking another step to restrict what can be posted on the Internet in its country by issuing new rules barring foreign companies or their affiliates from engaging in publishing online content there without government approval.

The rules, which were jointly released this week by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said that beginning March 10, foreign companies or foreign joint ventures will be restricted from disseminating a wide range of content online, including text, maps, games, animation, audio and video. ...

“This is the latest in a series of legal changes that seek to restrict the influence of foreign or western ideas,” said Jacques deLisle, an authority on Chinese law who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. “And it’s also part of a larger attempt to exercise control over the Internet and new media.” ...

DreamWorks Animation and Disney have large and growing footprints in China, with co-ventures in animation studios and amusement parks. Now that the Chinese government tightening its choke chain on Western companies doing business in the country, it's an open question how the new regs are going impact Disney and DreamWorks bottom lines.

Probably won't be for the good, but probably won't be hugely detrimental. Our fine, entertainment conglomerates are nothing if not nimble. And adaptable.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bordertown's Alcaraz and Arellano Speak

The L.A. Times' Morrison interviews two scribes from Fox's latest prime-time animated half hour.

Patt Morrison: Is "Bordertown" intended to be “South Park at Sea Level,” or what?

Arellano: It’s “All in the Family” in the desert, mixed in with a bit of “Bob’s Burgers” in Aztlan. Really what we’re trying to do is a satire not just of Mexican and American relations but also a satire of the American Southwest. So while the rest of the country will see a show that deals with what happens when Mexicans – Latinos, but Mexican specifically -- become the majority in a town, those of us in the Southwest will love all the visuals, the visual cues, that say this is very much a Southwestern show. The mega-churches, the obsession with high school football. Even our beloved Santa Ana winds will make a full cameo in a upcoming episode that’s going to be our version of “Treehouse of Horror” ...

I've watched multiple episodes of the show, and I'm amazed that Fox (Fox!) would dive into this kind of comedy.

The initial thirteen half-hourss of BT were written long before Donald Trump dove into the Republican primaries and made illegal immigration with its "rapists and drug lords" the center of political discourse. (Bordertown has its share of drug lords, if not rapists).

So events and personalities have overtaken the show, and what impact they'll have on the rest of the season will be interesting to see.

(BT has Seth McFarlane as one of its executive producers, so its edgy humor is sort of a given. Whether the show is picked up for an additional thirteen episodes remains an open question.)

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Afternoon of Remembrance -- Saturday February 20th

Per President Emeritus Tom Sito:

"On Saturday, the animation community in LA will come together at the Animation Guild in Burbank (1105 N. Hollywood Way) for the annual Afternoon of Remembrance.

It's a non-denominational service where we remember, laugh, cry, and share stories, as we say one more goodbye to all our friends who left us in 2015." ...

The list of the departed is long. Sadly, it usually is.

In Memoriam 2015

Jane Aaron, illustrator, Sesame Street designer
Joyce Alexander, ink & paint artist
Abiud Alvarez, ink & paint artist
Jim Brummett, animator
Gene Coe, Animation educator, USC
Donna Cooney, ink & paint artist
John Culhane, animation historian, author.
Eileen Dunn, assistant animator
Hani El Masri, Disney concept designer
Geoffrey C. Everts, visual effects
John Fredericksen, animator
Lois Freeman, ink & paint artist
Stan Freberg, legendary voice actor
Antonio Gaio, the father of Portuguese animation
Ira Blaine Gibson, Disney animator (and WED sculptor)
Jonathan Goley, background artist
Frank Gonzales, animator, inspiration for Speedy Gonzales
Lee Guttman, ink & paint supervisor, Kurtz & Friends
Jeff Hale, animator, director
Rene Joidoin, NFB filmmaker
Gordon Kent, producer, writer
Zoe Leader, Disney Production
Kelvin Lee, animator
Scott Mankey, CG Lighter
Richard Manginsay, director, layout
Takashi Masunaga, designer, director
Jim MacCaulay, animation educator, Sheridan College
Jo Anne Merrill, ink & paint supervisor
Rolando Oliva, background artist
Monty Oum, anime artist
Gary Owens, legendary voice actor, announcer, radio host
Al Pabian, animator
Ray Parker, animation writer
Rocco Pirrone, layout artist
Zora Polensek, ink & paint artist
Phil Robinson, co-founder Wild Brain Studio
Louise Sandoval, Filmation animator
Sam Simon, Producer of the Simpsons
Danilo Taverna, storyboard an6t5d layout
Eve Valsatik, ink & paint artist
Cliff Voorhees, layout artist
Bob Walker, layout, animation director
Nancy Wimble, cel service

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Sito's Month in History -- February

President emeritus Tomas takes us through the month.


Feb 1, 1915-The Fox Film Company formed (Later Twentieth Century Fox).

Feb 2, 1922-Twenty one year old Walt Disney started Newman’s Laff-O-Grams in Kansas City.

Feb 2, 2006- The Cartoon Riots. A Danish newspaper printed a political cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with his turban shaped like a bomb. This cartoon offended the Muslim world so much that rioting broke out in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jakharta and European capitols. Grenades were thrown at Danish embassies and Danish nationals had to flee. Cartoonist Peter Westergaard dodged a Somali man who attacked him with an axe, and even today needs a bodyguard.

Feb 3, 1945- Walt Disney’s “The Three Caballeros” premiered.

Feb 3, 1986- After three months of negotiations, Steve Jobs bought the George Lucas Film Graphics Division, under their new name Pixar Inc.

Feb 3, 1989- Swiss firm L’Oreal/Nestle bought animation studio Filmation from Westinghouse and shut it down laying off 229 artists the day before a new federal regulation requiring a company give it’s employees 60 day notice before closing went into effect. {I was there at the time. Sady day.}

Feb 5, 1919- Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith form the United Artists Studio.

Feb. 5, 1937- Charlie Chaplin’s film “Modern Times” premiered. Chaplin was inspired to lampoon modern technological madness when he was invited to view the auto assembly production lines in Detroit and saw men moving like machines.

Feb 5, 1953- Walt Disney’s “Peter Pan” premiered.

Feb 7, 1964- THE BRITISH ROCK INVASION BEGAN. Thousands of screaming fans welome THE BEATLES to New York for their first U.S. Tour. The crowds of teenagers were so excited they mobbed a Rolls Royce in front of the Warwick Hotel where the Beatles were staying, just because they figured a Rolls Royce would be something they drove in. They had actually arrived in a taxicab.

Feb 8, 1914- THE FIRST TRUE CHARACTER ANIMATION- Windsor McCay’s “Gertie the Dinosaur” premiered as part of a vaudeville act. Up to then most U.S. animations were attempts to bring popular newspaper
comic characters to life, but Gertie was a new character never before seen. Some critics had wondered if animated characters weren’t some kind of man in a special suit, so McCay drew a dinosaur, a character that couldn’t possibly be impersonated by a living thing. The brilliant draftsmanship and timing of this film would inspire the generation of Animation artists of the Golden Age of the 1930’s-40s. ...

Feb 8, 2001- Walt Disney’s California Adventure theme park opened. {With carny rides galore! -- SRH}

Feb 9, 1914- “Mabel’s Strange Predicament” The Max Sennett Keystone short where Charlie Chaplin first donned his baggy pants, little mustache and derby to create The Tramp, one of the most beloved characters in cinema history.

Feb 10, 1940- MGM’s “Puss gets the Boot” aired. It was the first Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the first collaboration of the team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.

Feb 13, 1886- Artist Thomas Eakins resigned his professorship at the Philadelphia Academy of Art in disgust when he was attacked for having male nudes in his art class with women as students.

Feb 13, 1937- Hal Foster’s comic hero Prince Valiant first appeared.

Feb 14, 1967- The Birth of Lara Croft, of the Tomb Raider franchise.

Feb 14, 1931- Tod Browning’s film of the play Dracula, starring Hungarian actor’s union organizer and recreational morphine addict Bela Lugosi, premiered.

Feb 15, 1947- During the anti-Communist witchhunts, the FBI revoked the visa of famed documentary filmmaker and founder of the National Film Board of Canada John Grierson because they thought his politics were too lefty.

Feb 15, 1950- Walt Disney’s “Cinderella “opened in general theater release.

Feb 15, 1984- Touchstone Pictures created so the Walt Disney Company could do more adult PG movies. Their first film was “Splash”, starring a tastefully topless Darryl Hannah.

Feb 16, 1987-”Family Dog” episode on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories TV show. The first direction by Brad Bird.

Feb 17, 1912- THE NEW YORK ARMORY SHOW - Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Stein introduce Post expressionist modern art to the U.S. public. The first U.S. showings of Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp and the Italian futurists. The show was denounced as a “chamber of horrors” and Matisse was burned in effigy in Chicago. Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” was described by an art critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory”. Duchamp was highly gratified, I believe.

Feb 18, 1950- First Mr. Magoo cartoon “Ragtime Bear” premiered.

Feb 18, 1953- First 3-D stereoscopic movie, “B’wana Devil” starring Robert Stack.

Feb 19, 1960- Bill Keane’s “Family Circus” cartoon strip debuts. Bill Keane is the father of animator Glen Keane and the young son Billy in the strip is modeled on him.

Feb 20, 1925- Willis O’Brien’s silent movie “The Lost World” premiered. The stop motion animation of dinosaurs and exploding volcanoes issued in a new era of special effects films.

Feb 22, 2009- "Slumdog Millionaire" won best picture and best cinematography at the 81st Academy Awards. The first movie shot completely digital, with no film used, to be so honored.

Feb 23, 1935- Walt Disney’s Mickey & Donald cartoon “The Band Concert”. This was the first color Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Feb 23, 1942- In the dead of night a Japanese submarine surfaced off the California coast and fired it’s cannon at lights it thought was a city. In reality it’s an oil refinery near Goleta just north of Santa Barbera. The brief bombardment caused $150 dollars in damage. The sub breaks radio silence to report to Tokyo that “ Enemy coast sighted. Los Angeles is in Flames.”

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Is It Real? ...

Or is it a shot in a box?

Major cinematographers have spoken out against the increasingly deceptive use of VFX in films.

When you think of CGI you probably think of the very unsubtle Michael Bay, robots smashing skyscrapers kind, but the technology is now used in many ways you wouldn’t even notice - from enhancing landscapes to thickening forests.

"I wish there were two categories," Oscar-nominated The Hateful Eight cinematographer Robert Richardson told The Hollywood Reporter, because there are "films that are shot relatively 'normal,' and then there are films that are shot with all visual effects and very minimal live action." ...

This is kind of an issue, isn't it?

When the most stunning shots in the movie are manufactured in a computer, what exactly is the director of cinematography doing?

But we can take it a step further. Those arresting visuals in The Good Dinosaur or Tangled or any number of other animated features have no credited cinematographer, yet are created in the same way that Avatar and Gravity were created: inside computers by people who work with a keyboard and flat screen.

So why does one movie have a director of photography and the possibility of winning an Acadeny Awards for the d,p.'s work, and the other gets nothing at all? The Life of Pi and Gravity get Oscar nods, but Inside Out gets nothing?

Kind of arbitrary, don't you think?

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Chinese Beachheads

The Middle Kingdom is making investments on the Left Coast of the U.S. of A.

Beijing-based video game maker Perfect World has agreed to invest in Universal Pictures' movies, marking the latest deal between a Hollywood studio and a Chinese company.

Perfect World Pictures, the gaming firm's movie and television operation, has entered a five-year agreement to help finance 50 of Universal's upcoming pictures starting this year. ...

A digital animation studio backed by Chinese social networking company Tencent Holdings, for example, has launched an animation studio in Culver City run by former DreamWorks Animation executives.

Last month, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group bought Burbank production company Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion. ...

All these Chinese companies, like corporations elsewhere on the globe, are looking to tap into the talent pool and general expertise of the California move community. Sometimes they entice that talent away. Sometimes they build a partnership or satellite studio.

In the case of Tencent Holdings, they've built a studio called Original Force, and The Animation Guild is in the process of doing an agreement with them.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Boutique VFXs

As visual effects have become more cost effective ... and dressing sets increasingly expensive ... the solution has been to use computer magic to make even modestly budgeted shows look more "big budget." For example:

The Man in the High Castle, produced in Canada, is a Streaming Video on Demand (i.e. "New Media") production that's underwritten by Amazon. So dollars are limited.

The same goes for a lot of broadcast and cable shows. They all need to be done for a cost, but they can't look chintzy. A lot of the work is done in the provinces to the north because of the Free Money sloshing around, but a chunk of this lower-budget VFX work has rolled back to Southern California. (It's not lost on producers that California ALSO has a tax subsidy for visual effects).

The result: more jobs at more small facilities, specializing in television and lower budgeted feature work.

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DHX Revenues

Free money has its benefits.

Canada’s DHX Media reported revenues of CDN$81.5 million (US$58.6 million) for its second quarter of 2016, a 27% increase over revenues for the same quarter a year prior, thanks primarily to increases in distribution and proprietary production revenues.

In its quarterly report released Tuesday, DHX Media said stronger proprietary production revenues – which increased by 68% to CDN$20.7 million (US$15 million) – accounted for 48% of overall growth. This increase was a direct result of some titles being delivered ahead of schedule.

For the second quarter, DHX Media added 76 proprietary half hours of programming to its library, as well as 16 half hours of third-party titles for which DHX Media holds the distribution rights. ...

Revenues generated by DHX-owned licensing agency CLPG on third-party properties, however, were up by CDN$4 million (US$2.9 million) to CDN$7.1 million (US$5.1 million), driven primarily by the strong performance of the Despicable Me and Minions brands in several territories, as well as growth among Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, The Pink Panther and Jurassic World brands. ...

But of course, it's good to remember what helps this growth along.

Are live-action actors worth less than animated creations? It would appear so, under the new provincial funding regime for digital animation finalized last week.

A media production company such as DHX Media Ltd., worth $1.2 billion on the Toronto Stock Exchange, would receive refundable tax credits worth about 70 per cent of animation labour costs under the funding stream that will take effect July 1.

A bonus of 17.5 per cent for labour costs directly tied to animation will now be stacked on top of the existing digital media tax credit to create an animation tax credit, with a ceiling on eligible salaries. ...

DHX has deals with Sony, has deals with DreamWorks Animation, and is always ready to leverage its advantages with Canadian tax money. Free Enterprise, hell yeah!

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Sometimes we forget that though the movie is nice, toys, games, gadgets and clothes are where a lot of the profits are.

... PetSmart and NBC/Universal Brand Development Group today announced a strategic partnership with Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures’ The Secret Life of Pets. Under the agreement, PetSmart has become the exclusive retailer to carry a collection of pet products featuring the characters from the film. ...

The exclusive PetSmart product collection includes pet apparel such as the iconic Gidget ruffle-skirted dress and hoodies; slogan tees like “Every Dog Has His Day,” featuring Max and Duke; plush and rope squeaker toys featuring Norman and Snowball; and cat and dog beds featuring Gidget and Duke. Also featured is a curated collection of the Characters’ “Top PetSmart Picks” – a list of PetSmart favorites as picked by the main characters in the movie. Big Heart Pets, the company behind Milk-Bone® dog biscuits, will also offer an exclusive-to-PetSmart line of movie-themed pet treats. ...

I guess PetSmart's deal with Disney on Zootopia fell through. Poodles trump smart aleck foxes every time.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Never Too Much

So Star Wars 7 rakes in more than $2 billion and naturally enough, Disney wants to get more SW product into the marketplace. The Mouse recently announced:

... “With ‘The Freemaker Adventures’ we are thrilled to bring all new stories to life that could only be realized in the ‘Lego Star Wars’ universe,” said Carrie Beck, vice president, animation development at Lucasfilm. “We are embarking on an unprecedented collaboration that will allow us to extend the narrative experience of the ‘Star Wars’ saga with the same playful spirit that’s always made ‘Lego Star Wars’ so much fun to watch." ...

And two days back dropped this:

A potent combo, Lego and Star Wars, don't you think? It beefs up the franchise (and accompanying toys, games, action figures, etc., etc.) and puts Star Wars content on new and different platforms.

So what we've got here is a glorious Disney "Win-Win". But at some point, out there in the dim future, do our friends at 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank California, pump the well dry?

Just asking.

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Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #11 -- Lucifer Guarnier

Lu Guarnier has the distinction of being Chuck Jones's last animation assistant ... before Chuck was promoted from animator to director, a position from which Mr. Jones never descended. ...

Lucifer B. Guarnier began his career on the west coast at Leon Schlesinger's, where the going was tough and the wages paltry. Per Michael Sporn:

[Lu] started as inbetweener to Clampett and worked his way up to animator. $12 a week. He once told me of the “hurt” jokes that were enormously popular for a short period back in the day. How “hurt” was he?

Well, as an inbetweener, he was the last to receive some animation that Clampett had done in a particular Porky Pig cartoon. An axe was falling on Porky and at the very last moment, the pig was saved from the blade falling on him. Lu, for a joke – a “hurt” joke – decided to continue the animation with Porky being cut in two as an alternate ending that he sent to PT. After they watched the dailies, they could watch the alternate – the correct version. ...

It just so happened that that was the day Leon Schlesinger was making the rounds. The fresh dailies arrived and the assembled animation crew watched Porky cut in two. Leon turned to director, director to Clampett, Clampett to the lowly inbetweener who squirmed his way out of the room. Lu expected to be fired, but wasn’t; they all laughed after he’d left the room. ...

Mr. Guarneir spent the rest of the 1930s at Schlesinger's, but in early '41 the armed forced made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and into the army Lu went. He spent the duration of World War II in New York and New Jersey, animating on training and intelligence films. After he was mustered out, Lu spent the balance of his career working for Lee Blair (Preston's brother) at Graphic's Studio, then at UPA's east coast facility, and finally freelancing for New York City animation shops.

Mr. Guarnierdied in December 2007, at the age of 93.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Son of Tashlin

Tim Miller, director of Deadpool discusses his first live-action feature.

... Q: With a background in animation with Blur [Studios], how was the transition to live action?

Miller: It’s extremely painful. Every day I wake up and- (LAUGHS). Y’know, the directing part is not that different and I think running a bigger company had a lot of value to running a bigger- I mean this-basically this production is about the size of business my company does in a year sort of crammed into a six month period. So, I think just managing people and not having them hate you, utterly, a little bit maybe, but not completely, that was a big help. ...

The Brew notes how the movie was a looong time in gestation, and that Fox wasn't gung ho to make it until these footage leaked out and momentum began to build.

But that's not unusual. There have been a large number of movies that studios were unenthusiastic about making that ended up huge hits, one of the more notable examples being Fox's own Ice Age. (On that one, Rupert's minions were less than totally enthusiastic until a trailer from the movie got big audience reactions in Europe. At which point, Fox decided not to sell Blue Sky Studios.)

But Mr. Miller and Mr. Reynolds have now created a big hit on a small budget. And Hollywood and the wider world now become their oysters. At least for a while.

And if you don't know, you can find out who Frank Tashlin here.

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Your International B.O.

Super heroes and chubby pandas are in the mix. And the new Disney talking animal cartoon has been launched.


Deadpool -- $125,000 -- ($260,000,000)

Kung Fu Panda 3 -- $14,600,000 -- ($256,112,38)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $15,300,000 -- ($192,167,000)

Star Wars 7 -- $4,300,000 -- ($2,026,638,964)

Zootopia -- $4,500,000 -- ($4,500,000) ...

An entertainment journal of record notes:

... Taking advantage of school holidays in various markets, Disney’s Zootopia began opening in a very limited number of international markets this weekend, earning $2.8M in Spain and an additional $1.7M in Belgium and Denmark for a total of $4.5M. It was the No. 1 family film in all 3 markets it debuted in for the weekend. Opening in mid-term school holidays, it was the biggest ever animated opening for a Disney or Pixar movie in Belgium. ...

Alvin & the Chipmunks just packed in another $15.3M from 52 markets for Fox which is having a heck of a weekend. The animated family film just crossed $100M this weekend internationally for a total cume of $108M. ...

The third installment of Kung Fu Panda continues to kick it, adding another $14.5M to its coffers in its third weekend of release. It has grossed an international cume of $162.1M so far picking up another $1.2M in Russia where it is second only to Deadpool. Of course, in China, it has grossed over $100M in three weeks time and pocketed another $10.7M this weekend to bring the market cume to $124.6M. ...

We should also note that The Peanuts Movie is still in release overseas, and has now raked in $114,159,589, up from $104 million last weekend.

And The Good Dinosaur now has a foreign gross of $184,300,000, now 60.3% of global earnings that now total $305,498,000.

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Six Days From Now

TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito reminds us:

"On Saturday Feb 20th at noon, the animation community in LA will come together at the Animation Guild in Burbank (1105 N. Hollywood Way) for the annual Afternoon of Remembrance.

It's a non-denominational service where we remember, laugh, cry, and share stories, as we say one more goodbye to all our friends who left us in 2015."

Sadly, the list of the departed is long. ...

In Memoriam 2015

Jane Aaron, illustrator, Sesame Street designer
Joyce Alexander, ink & paint artist
Abiud Alvarez, ink & paint artist
Jim Brummett, animator
Gene Coe, Animation educator, USC
Donna Cooney, ink & paint artist
John Culhane, animation historian, author.
Eileen Dunn, assistant animator
Hani El Masri, Disney concept designer
John Fredericksen, animator
Lois Freeman, ink & paint artist
Stan Freberg, legendary voice actor
Antonio Gaio, the father of Portuguese animation
Ira Blaine Gibson, Disney animator (and WED sculptor)
Jonathan Goley, background artist
Frank Gonzales, animator, inspiration for Speedy Gonzales
Lee Guttman, ink & paint supervisor, Kurtz & Friends
Jeff Hale, animator, director
Rene Joidoin, NFB filmmaker
Gordon Kent, producer, writer
Zoe Leader, Disney Production
Kelvin Lee, animator
Scott Mankey, CG Lighter
Richard Manginsay, director, layout
Takashi Masunaga, designer, director
Jim MacCaulay, animation educator, Sheridan College
Jo Anne Merrill, ink & paint supervisor
Rolando Oliva, background artist
Monty Oum, anime artist
Gary Owens, legendary voice actor, announcer, radio host
Al Pabian, animator
Ray Parker, animation writer
Rocco Pirrone, layout artist
Zora Polensek, ink & paint artist
Phil Robinson, co-founder Wild Brain Studio
Louise Sandoval, Filmation animator
Sam Simon, Producer of the Simpsons
Danilo Taverna, storyboard an6t5d layout
Eve Valsatik, ink & paint artist
Cliff Voorhees, layout artist
Bob Walker, layout, animation director
Nancy Wimble, cel service

If you wouldlike to participate in the remembering, contact TAG, or Tom Sito, or Bronwen Barry.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Son of Unpaid Overtime

What most gripes animation employees? As previously stated, tight schedules would be Number One with a bullet.

But not just in television work. Production schedules for animated features have also gotten shorter, and story development is more frenetic. Sequences can have less time from start to finish, do-overs often have cast-iron schedules, and the number of drawings required for ten-minutes of story time are way more than Bill Peet, Vance Gerry or Pete Young ever cranked out. As a Disney staffer remarked some months back:

John wants big changes and lots of times he wants them fast. We might have three or four days to re-work half a sequence, and so you come in over a weekend and work your brains out. ...

And what's some of the major gripes over in Televisionland? ...

One is from board artists. Many don't like putting together animatics in addition to drawing the boards themselves, but since Toom Boom software has that application as part of the program, that's what lots of artists do.

What I tell them is, as long as they're getting paid for the time spent cobbling together a digital story reel, it's all good. Editing animatics normally falls under Editors Guild's jurisdiction, but the Editors don't have some contracts at various studios that TAG represents, and it's up to the EG to police the jurisdiction at companies where its contract is in force. (TAG doesn't police other unions' jurisdictions. We give a "heads up" and the rest is up to them).

Other issues that have recently bubbled up? The New Media Sideletter in the new TAG contract has negatively impacted some artists' and writers' salaries, mostly at DreamWorks Animation TV but occasionally at other studios doing animation over the internet. It's called "Subscription Video On Demand" and we'll likely see more of it before this contract cycle ends in 2018. Anything not delivered on a cable or broadcast network -- product pipelined on Netflix, Amazon and other similar delivery systems -- is "New Media". That means pension and health contributions apply, but contract wage minimums don't. Every employee negotiates her/his own deal. Most people achieve rates at or above current minimums, but some people work at lower wages.

So you know, "New Media" was a BIG point of contention in the 2015 negotiations. TAG argued vociferously that the language negotiated by the live-action entertainment unions -- SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, WGA and IATSE -- weren't a good fit for the Animation Guild because live-action budgets bear only a distant resemblance to animation budgets.

In the end, we ate the Vaseline sandwich because (it turned out) SAG-AFTRA voice actors had eaten the same delicacy before us ... so our leverage wasn't what we would have liked it to be.

Though there's now a lot of work around town, the studios work hard to make sure real pay rates remain as close to the minimums as the market allows, and that work schedules stay demanding. Our fine entertainment conglomerates don't want to pay a nickel more than they have to, and we encourage folks who think they're getting chiseled to contact us.

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Your American Box Office

Rupert's posse is cleaning up with a Marvel super -- does Diz Co get a cut? -- hero and a panda.


1). Deadpool (FOX), 3,558 theaters / $47.5M Fri. /3-day cume: $118.4M-$123M /4-day: $129-$136M/ Wk 1

2). Kung Fu Panda 3 (DWA/FOX), 3,844 theaters (-143) / $3.9M Fri. (-25%)/3-day cume: $20M (-6%)/4-day: $26M/Total cume: $100.3M/ Wk 3

3). How To Be Single (WB/MGM/New Line), 3,394 theaters / $5.2M Fri. /3-day cume: $16M-$17M /4-day: $18M-$20M/ Wk 1

4). Zoolander 2 (PAR), 3,343 theaters / $4.2M Fri. /3-day cume: $13M-14M /4-day: $15M-$16.5M/ Wk 1

5). Hail, Caesar! (UNI), 2,248 theaters (+16) / $1.47M Fri. (-66%) /3-day cume: $6.4M (-43%) /4-day: $7.4M/ Total cume: $22.2M / Wk 2

6). The Revenant (FOX), 2,266 theaters (-752) / $1.3M Fri. (-38%) / 3-day cume: $6.1M (-12%) /4-day: $7M/ Total cume: $159.3M / Wk 8

7). Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 1,810 theaters (-452) / $1.2M Fri. (-33%) /3-day cume: $6M (-13%)/4-day: $7.5M/ Total cume: $916.1M / Wk 9

8). The Choice (LG), 2,631 theaters (0) / $1.1M Fri. (-54%) /3-day cume: $4.5M (-25%)/4-day:$5.1M/Total cume:$13.1M/ Wk 2

pride and prejudice and zombies9). Ride Along 2 (UNI), 1,564 theaters (-608) / $821K Fri. (-40%) /3-day cume: $4M (-13%) /4-day: $4.6M/ Total cume: $83.1M / Wk 5

10). The Boy (STX), 1,450 theaters (-764) / $630KFri. (-51%)/3-day cume: $2.8M (-31%) /4-day:$3.2M/Total cume: $31.1M/ Wk 4 ...

Meantime, Alvin and the Chipmunks remains in a few hundred theaters and is topping out around $84 million.

The Good Dinosaur, in release since the end of November, is still shown on a handful of screens, but its $120,722,126 domestic gross is pretty close to its final tally. Globally, its earned $305,022,126 and has a few markets (China and Japan) as yet untapped.

The Peanuts Movie did somewhat better than The Good Dinosaur in its U.S. release ($130 million), but like many American-centric animated features, it under-performed overseas. It's global total: $244,155,474.

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Friday, February 12, 2016


Not White. But Boob Boop Ba Doop.

[The iconic Betty Boop] is being developed by Normaal Animation, the producer of the Peanuts TV series, in partner with Fleischer Studios and King Features, so it's only bound for greatness.

"We are delighted to be partnering with an innovative production company such as Normaal Animation," said Mark Fleischer, President and CEO of Los Angeles-based Fleischer Studios. "My grandfather, Max Fleischer, created Betty Boop as a fun, feisty and fashionable female – and she has proven to be a character for all time." ...

Normaal is a French animation company. FRENCH. Like based in Paris. They've previously done a newer batch of Peanuts half-hours. I understand since Bill Melendez has moved on, the Schulz family needed to find a new studio, but one in Europe?

So I guess that the new deal is to do American-themed cartoons in the City of Light instead of the U.S. of A. Especially since the French are throwin Free Money around.

Deadline's take on the story is here.

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Marionettes Are So ... Fifty Years Ago

And the characters and stories? Also 1960s. But that's the charm.

Amazon has ordered four 13-episode seasons of “Thunderbirds Are Go” from ITV Studios Global Entertainment, under a pact that includes exclusive U.S. rights. The show features the five Tracy brothers of the International Rescue squad, who go on missions spanning the globe and into outer space. ...

The first 13 episodes of the show are scheduled to debut on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. later in 2016, followed by the U.K., Germany and Austria. “Thunderbirds Are Go,” produced by ITV Studios and New Zealand-based Pukeko Pictures in collaboration with Weta Workshop, uses a mix of CGI animation and live-action model sets. ...

Amazon, Netflix and their ilk appear to be insatiable absorbers of content, and they have (apparently) the deep pockets to pay for it. The Los Angeles animation industry has been getting a share of it, but the Free Money of New Zealandd, Canada, Britain and Europe offers fierce competition ... as evidenced by Thunderbirds Are Go.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Of Unpaid Overtime and Other Contract Infractions

Uncompensated overtime and tight schedules have been issues for Animation Guild members for like ever.

I used to listen to my predecessor Bud Hester complain about them in executive board meetings. When I became biz rep, I encountered these things out in the studios myself.

There was the Warner Bros. production manager who asked layout artists to “help out” after regular hours for free. (This was back in the Bronze Age – 1990). There were Disney TVA board artists who rebelled at cramped schedules a few year later, had a meeting at Guild headquarters and then argued among themselves over what schedule was “good enough”. They never did decide.

There was the over-ambitious production manager at DreamWorks who had a crew of traditional animators working extra hours for free. (Remember pencils? Remember paper? This was waay back.) Somebody tipped me off, I made a late-night visit to the overworked staff and reported my findings to a company attorney. To DWA’s credit, it made all the late-night employees whole … and metaphorically paddled the production manager’s backside. ...

Then, more recently, there was the small sub-contracting studio that worked board artists on weekends ... and pretended not to know about it. Several artists complained to me, we held a meeting at a nearby diner, after which I swooped in on a bright Saturday morning, took names, and got the practice halted.

And several years ago, while walking around one of our fine conglomerate-owned animation studios, a surly board artist dragged me into his office and growled: “You know, the guy on the LEFT side of me is taking home work at night, the guy on the RIGHT side of me is taking work home at night, and neither is billing the studio! They’re making me look bad! Because I won’t do free work!”

I briefly considered offering to break those naughty artists’ drawing hands, then thought better of it. Instead I offered to talk to both story boarders, but the guy said no, believing it to be hopeless.

Which leads me to my point. It’s never hopeless to point people to their better selves (“forty means forty”); never pointless to make companies follow the collective bargaining agreement that they’ve negotiated and signed. Studio Human Resource departments like saying to employees (when it works for them): “You don’t like the on-call provision? Well, this is what YOUR union negotiated!” or “You’re not happy being a daily employee? It’s what your guild agreed to!”

But funny thing. When the same studio is on the far side of double time and/or time and a half, they don’t use the “what your union agreed to” argument so much. Often they pretend the overtime provisions aren’t there. The schedule is the schedule, and that’s it. We’ll look the other way while you stay late or take the work home, and if you hit your delivery dates, maybe we’ll retain you for the next cycle of shows.

When I bring up, in meetings and studio hallways, that members should follow the provisions of the contract, an artist will invariably say to me: “Easy for you to take that position, but we’re worried about getting fired. Or let go at the end of the season. The production people keep telling us ‘The board’s due on Wednesday and there’s no money in the budget for overtime.’”

When I respond that this is a non sequitur, that the show’s budget isn’t the artistic staff’s problem, the usual response is “Yeah, but we’re scared of being laid off.”

So let’s cut to the chase. Over the past year, studios have complained they can’t find qualified board artists; members have said in meetings that even slower storyboarders are being retained because it’s tough to find people. I know departments that refuse to work uncompensated hours and everyone continues to work. Hell, I know individuals that won’t falsify a timecard and they remain gainfully employed.

And those examples of “whistle-blowing” I gave up above? The people who reported contract violations to the guild? Every one of them continued to work. Every. Single. One.

But fear springs eternal, and old habits die hard. If you want to behave like it’s 1886 and there’s no contract in place and you’ll be cashiered at the end of the next shift if you don’t Knuckle Under, nobody can stop you.

But please know that there are alternatives to violating the contract and state law. You can call the Guild (818-845-7500) and explore other options, up to and including filing a grievance. There’s no charge, and you’ll probably gain some new knowledge … and maybe some extra self-respect.

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Exploiting the Franchise

Because what's the point of spending billions purchasing a company and its library and copyrights if you don't?

Disney XD is launching a new series that combines two of pop culture’s hottest properties: “Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures,” an animated adventure comedy scheduled to debut this summer.

The series, set between “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” and “Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” centers around new characters the Freemakers, a family of scavengers who build and sell starships from the scoured debris of space battles strewn throughout the galaxy. When their youngest discovers a natural connection with the Force through an ancient artifact — the Kyber Saber — his world is turned upside down, and he and his family are thrown into an epic struggle against the Empire ...

Warners proved that there are a lot of eyeballs to be attracted with a good Lego property, and here's a fine chance to do a little cross positioning, product and franchise wise.

The unspoken worry, of course, with all the Star Wars toys and games and action figures and bubble gum cards, not to mention the sequels, prequels and spin-offs rolling down the factory chutes over the next few years, will Diz Co. murder the golden goose in its feathery nest?

I guess we'll have to wait a few years to find out.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Different Cartoon Company Business Model

There are the big feature animation producers, and then there are smaller entities manuevering outside the box.

... Unlike the other companies in the running for the animated-feature Oscar, GKIDS doesn’t bankroll or produce its own films; instead, it scours the world for worthy animated films, picks them up for the American market and enters them in the Oscar race. The company was founded in 2008 as an offshoot of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, with a specific mission statement. ...

GKIDS has two of the five nominees this year, “Boy and the World” and “When Marnie Was There”; they also notched two of the five last year with “Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” and two in 2011 with “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico and Rita.” They’ve also scored nods for 2009’s “The Secret of Kells” and 2013’s “Ernest & Celestine.” ...

The beauty of picking up feature films from elsewhere, rather than developing them from scratch yourself, is that you don't have to staff a development department, or build a production facility, or locate a sub-contractor off in a foreign land that has either A) low wages, B) free money available (a.k.a. tax incentives) or C) both.

All that needs to happen is a screening room and a capacity for looking at a lot of animation product in search of that high-quality needle in a lower-quality haystack. And once that's accomplished, you enter it in the Oscar sweepstake for a jolt of free publicity, followed by a limited release and distribution to secondary markets.

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Sonic Gets Theatrical

A video game pivots to the big screen.

Sega is set to bring their most famous mascot to the silver screen. The video game company has partnered with Sony Pictures to release a film that combines live action with computer animation, set to be released in 2018.

The movie is being produced by Neal Moritz, who is also the producer of the Fast & Furious franchise. It will be written by Evan Susser and Van Robichaux of The Upright Citizens brigade. Sony will be working with Marza Animation Planet, which is a division of the Sega Sammy Group. Sega CEO Hajime Saito told The Worldfolio that this project is part of Sega’s overall plan to expand into other areas of entertainment beyond video games. ...

Sonic's appearing in a hybrid feature. Is this the best use of the small guy? A hybrid production? Some think not:

A hybrid between live-action and CG, which makes it seem like we’re in for Sonic galavanting about with human friends... and the last time that happened we ended up with Sonic kissing a young girl. ...

While there’s not enough alcohol in the world to forget this scene, it’s my journalistic duty to. Dammit Sega and Sony. Please make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

DreamWorks Animation Reaches For New Markets

DWA expands parts of its non-feature business.

Lagardère Active, one of France's biggest media groups, has entered a carriage deal with DreamWorks Animation.

The pact gives Lagardère free-to-air and basic pay-tv rights for its family and kids channels to broadcast DreamWorks Animation’s television series, including "Dragons: Race to the Edge," "The Adventures of Puss in Boots," "All Hail King Julien," "Turbo FAST," "The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show," and "Dawn of the Croods." ...

The deal is the latest example of how DreamWorks, which co-owns with Hearst Corp. the YouTube teen network Awesomeness TV, has been ramping up its television business to lessen its reliance on the performance of movies. ...

DreamWorks Animation has faced the same challenge for some time: It has to expand beyond animated features, because building a business on a string of never-fail blockbusters isn't a viable foundation for a budding entertainment conglomerate.

I used to marvel at DWA's performance with theatrical motion pictures. One hit followed another, but I kept thinking Jeffrey's company was performing a high-wire act that couldn't be sustained. Then under-performers crept into DreamWork's release schedule, and times grew tougher.

So it's good to see the company building a library for the small-screen and selling that library around the globe. Definitely several steps in the right direction.

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Bob Iger Speaks

... on Disney's first quarter earnings report.

... Our Q1 performance was the greatest single quarter in the history of The Walt Disney Company and a phenomenal start to FY '16. Revenue was up 14%, net income was up 32% and adjusted earnings per share were up 28%, to $1.63 which is our highest quarterly EPS ever and is also our 10th consecutive quarter of double digit EPS growth.

We had tremendous performance across our portfolio of businesses. With the incredible success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, our studio delivered $1 billion in quarterly operating income for the first time in history. Our parks and resorts also made history, with nearly $1 billion in operating income. And our consumer products and Interactive business set another record, with $860 million in Operating Income.

Our results clearly show that our long-term strategic focus and investments in brands and franchises are driving remarkable value in these businesses. ...

Turning to a subject that has gotten a lot of attention lately, ESPN and the status of the bundle. In the last couple of months, we have actually seen an uptick in ESPN subs which is encouraging. We're also pleased with what we're hearing from Dish about the response to Sling TV, a light package that includes ESPN. The service appears to be growing nicely and is proving very attractive to young consumers in particular, significantly over indexing among millennials and has been quite successful in bringing previous cord cutters back to pay TV. ...

Disney's broadcast and cable networks have been a drag on the Mouse's growth, expanding 8% while the rest of the company has grown at a 23% clip. Mr. Iger points out that the growth rate since '09 has been 14%, so clearly something has been going right since he took the helm.

Turning the House of Mouse into Berkshire-Hathaway has been good for Disney shareholders, even if lover of the core Disney don't like it very much.

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Viacom Headed South

Sumner Redstone's conglomerate has been getting knocked around just a bit.

Viacom shares are off after a dearth of Paramount hits and weaker ad sales hit the top line and revenues missed expectations.

Revenue by segment: Media Networks, $2.57B (down 3%); Filmed Entertainment, $612M (down 15%). Excluding negative impact from foreign exchange: Media Networks down 2%, Filmed Entertainment down 12%.

Filmed Entertainment also operated at a loss of $146M vs. a year-ago operating loss of $60M. Media Networks, meanwhile, showed an operating profit of $1.06B, down 4% year over year. Ratings hit the TV operations: Despite an increase in ad pricing, ad revenues dropped 4% domestically and international ad revenues fell 2%...

So Viacom the struggling conglomerate is in a sea of hurt. Even so, the company is sinking money into animation, building a new five-story building in Burbank, and digging in for the long haul.

It's true that Nick has lost its pole position in the animation sector, but it isn't crawling into a corner and curling up in defeat. It sees animation has a growth area, and given the resources its pouring into animation (and not just television animation; Viacom has a theatrical feature division housed on its Hollywood lot) it plans to use TV and theatrical cartoons as a profit driver going forward.

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #10 -- Larry Silverman

The tenth chat in this series of chats conducted by Harvey Deneroff, this one with animation veteran Larry Silverman.

Larry started in the business in 1926 on silent cartoons, and was still in the business in the 1980s, animating no television cartoons. Mr. Silverman thinks his most memorable work was done at Harmon-Ising, where he animated on a variety of shorts, including this one, The Gypsy in Me from 1933. Like many cartoons from the era, this one spoofs a live-action feature, this one being Rasputin and the Empress.

One of the lead animators on "The Gypsy In Me" was Friz Freleng. Concentrate on the animation and ignore the soundtrack, which has nothing to do with the images.

Larry Silverman worked in the animation industries on both the east and west coasts, but he relocated to California as the New York cartoon business started to sag, and worked at some of the major animation studios of the time, including Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. Larry retired from the business in 1982, and passed away in 1995, a month shy of his 87th birthday.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

The Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #9 -- Jack Ozark

From long ago (1984) but not particularly far away (Toluca Lake -- at the long-gone Sorrentino's Restaurant on Riverside Drive).

Harvey Deneroff interviews animator Jack Ozark:

Jack Ozark started in the cartoon business at Fleischer in March of 1932. Working his way up to animator, he moved with the company to Miami in the late thirties and worked on Gulliver's Travels, Mr. Bug Goes to Town and the early Superman shorts before his country called him for military service in the dust-up known as World War II.

After the war, Jack spent several years at Famous Studios (the Fleischer studios corporate successor) and then years on the west coast which included work at UPA, Disney, Bakshi and two decades at Filmation. Mr. Ozark passed away on November 16, 2000 at the age of 86.

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