Monday, October 31, 2016

Meanwhile ... Out on the Bricks

SAG-AFTRA continues its job action against video game companies.

The 11-day-old actors’ strike against video game industry will not end until the companies compromise on their refusal to offer some type of residuals for the most successful games, SAG-AFTRA said today. Claiming that it’s already compromised enough, the union says that now “It’s their turn to be reasonable and compromise.” ...

The companies remain resistant to paying residuals to actors, the union said, because “they appear to be concerned that if they are seen to compromise with one group of employees, other groups of their employees might get ideas.”

“These companies pay bonuses – and sometimes even game royalties – to their animators and developers, and so they should,” the union said. “The game companies say that they don’t offer residual payments of any kind to programmers, artists, and other people who work on video games.” ...

The companies say that “The one economic difference between the parties is the companies’ response to the SAG-AFTRA demand for additional income for performers. But here the difference is more about semantics – not about actual money for performers. The main difference is the terminology – what that additional money is called." ...

The battle is the same as always: who's got leverage? And who's got ENOUGH leverage to get what they want? The field would be less tilted if the actors had more game companies under contract, and if the companies that do have agreement had more economic vulnerability to a strike.

But there are no "ifs" here, only the cold reality of what "is". And thus far, the video game companies appear to be immovable objects.

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Illumination Entertainment's Latest

So at the Yuletide, IE will be releasing the Sing feature ...

TAG blog looks at the above and wonders this going to be a hit? Forbes magazine seems to have no doubts:

... The Illumination offering is exactly what it seems like, a star-studded “Let’s put on a show!” comedy with a bunch of known actors/movie stars belting out a deluge of known/popular songs as animated anthropomorphic animals. Like The Secret Life of Pets, this is so primal of a gimmick that I’m a little shocked that no one bothered to do it before now. As I’ve discussed before, I cannot imagine that Sing isn’t going to be a huge/leggy smash when it opens over Christmas weekend, to the extent that I fear a little for anything that isn’t Sing or Rogue One. ...

But the question lingers: with all the animated feare (and animated musicals out before it, can Sing stand out? And match the grosses of its predecessors? Quite possibly. Illumination Entertainment hits a lot of triples and home runs. So maybe an animated musical two months hence is exactly what America and the world are waiting for.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Virtual Somnia

Narrative story-telling is climbing onto new platforms. In this case, Virtual Reality.

... Somnia is IP [that VFX house Framestore] created to utilize its own storytelling and technical talent for projects that actually mean something to itself beyond a paycheck at the end of a few months’ of work. ...

Quietly announced earlier this month, Somnia is the latest in a growing trend of narrative-driven VR experiences that aren’t necessarily games so much as interactive stories. Like Jon Faveru’s Gnomes and Goblins or the upcoming Darth Vader Star Wars story, it casts the audience as an actual character in the world that they’re free to explore, but they won’t encounter any significant challenges or mechanics to block their path to the end. They’re there to experience a story in an intimate, personalized way, not triumph over evil or rack up high scores. ...

From the sounds of it, Somnia could have easily been a survival horror game with full mechanics, but that idea isn’t of interest to its creators. ... It’s releasing in 2017, though Framestore wouldn’t confirm any launch platforms. It did state they would like it to be on all headsets eventually.

Framestore is doing what other visual effects houses have contemplated but seldom done: it's jumping off the job shop treadmill and making product that it owns. And Framestore is betting that doing a virtual reality piece will be an good way to go.

Not long ago, every visual effects studio toyed with the idea of doing their very own CG feature from story brainwave to final distribution. But the infrastructure is more complicated, the outlays for development and production fairly high, and theatrical distributors need to be cut in on the action (meaning they take their distribution fee whether the movie goes into profits or not).

So, leave us to face it, the chances of success somewhat spottier. VR has lower ramp-up costs and distribution paths seem wide open. Added to which, everyone and their younger brother is betting that virtual reality is going to be the Next Big Thing. (The next few years should answer that question).

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International Box Office

Trolls launches well beyond our shores; Storks flaps steadily along*.


Dr. Strange -- $86,000,000 -- ($86,000,000)

Trolls -- $30,000,000 -- ($61,700,000)

Inferno -- $29,100,000 -- ($147,700,000)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back -- $11,600,000 -- ($93,879,177)

The Accountant -- $8,500,000 -- ($81,957,172)

Ouija: Origin Of Evil -- $8,300,000 -- ($43,738,625)

Storks -- $5,200,000 -- ($153,544,612)

Finding Dory -- $2,200,000 -- ($1,021,190,436)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $1,600,000 -- ($867,400,000)

Kubo and the Two Strings -- $700,000 -- ($67,503,334) ...

And a fine internet industry journal tells us:

... Doctor Strange debuted in 33 markets – about 45% of its international footprint — this weekend, and one frame ahead of the domestic (and China) release. The $86M start magically bested predictions. ...

Trolls put $30M in the happy place in 40 markets for a $61.7M cume ahead of the U.S. release. With No. 1s in 13 markets including Russia ($3.3M) and Brazil ($1.7M), the animated Fox release held well in France ($4.7M, up 13% for an $11.6M cume) and the UK ($4.1M, up 8%, $17.8M cume). Released by Oriental DreamWorks in China, the opening was $5M for the No. 5 slot. ...

Storks flapped up another $5.2M in 62 markets as it approaches the $100M mark with a current $93.2M. With kids off from school, France jumped 3% over last weekend for a cume of $4.1M. The UK dipped just 7% for $6.5M in the next and Germany opened to $503K on 470 screens. ...

The Secret Life of Pets woofed it past $500M internationally earlier this weekend and over the frame added $1.6M in 41 territories. That takes the offshore cume to $501M and the worldwide total to $867.4M. ...

* Rentrak used to be a comprehensive and useful tracker of international box office, but everything of worth has gone behind a pay wall, and the little bit that is still out there seems pretty worthless. (Especially this week, where a lot of the numbers are wrong). A shame, but the way it appears to be.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Weekend American Box Office

Inferno opens tepidly; Storks clings to 9th on the Big List.

Domestic Box Office

1). Inferno (SONY), 3,576 theaters / $5.6M Fri. (includes $800K previews)/3-day cume: $15.5M /Wk 1 (figure updated Saturday AM)

2). Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween (LG), 2,299 theaters (+39) / $4.6M Fri. (-51%)/3-day cume: $15M (-47%)/Total B.O.: $50.3M/ Wk 2

3). Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PAR), 3,780 theaters / $2.8M Fri. (-68%) /3-day cume: $9.4M (-59%)/Total B.O.: $39.5M/Wk 2

4). The Accountant (WB), 3,402 theaters (+70) / $2.5M Fri. (-42%)/3-day cume: $8.3M (-39%)/Total: $61M/ Wk 3

5). Ouija: Origin of Evil (UNI), 3,168 theaters (+1)/ $2.2M Fri. (-60%) /3-day cume: $6.4M (-54%)/Total:$23.9M/Wk 2

6). The Girl on the Train (UNI/DW), 2,758 theaters (-333) / $1.4M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-day cume: $4.3M (-39%)/Total: $65.9M/ Wk 4

7). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (FOX), 2,797 theaters (-336) / $1M Fri. (-38%) 3-day cume: $3.8M (-35%)/Total: $79.7M/Wk 5

8). Keeping Up With the Joneses (FOX), 3,022 theaters / $1M Fri. (-49%) /3-day cume: $3.4M (-36%)/Total: $10.8M/ Wk 2

9). Storks (WB), 1,901 theaters (-244) / $670K Fri. (-35%)/3-day cume: $2.6M(-34%) /Total: $68.1M/ Wk 6

10). Ai Dil Hai Mushkil (FIP), 302 theaters / $764k Fri. /3-day cume: $2.4M /Wk 1 ...

Domestically, older animation titles are wrapping up lengthy runs. Finding Dory, which remains in 165 theaters, has a domestic total of $485,583,436, while The Secret Life of Pets resides in 270 theaters with a U.S.-Canadian take of $366,300,035.

Overseas, Pets has reached a new milestone:

... The Secret Life Of Pets crossed $500M at the international box office Friday. With $500.2M, this is yet another milestone for the animated pic that got a belly rub last month as it crossed $800M worldwide.

The total global gross on the Yarrow Cheney- and Chris Renaud-helmed movie is now $866.5M. Overseas, the movie opened No. 1 in 45 markets along the rollout which began in late June. The domestic cume is $366.3M. There, it had the best opening for an original film, animated or otherwise. ...

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Comparing Mid-List Features

Back in the ancient times, say seven years ago, there were four domestic studio making animated features which were in competition with each other. There was Pixar, there was Disney, Sony Pictures Animation and Blue Sky Studios. Other pretenders to the throne came and went, but those were the main players.

Today, that universe has expanded a bit. Now Illumination Entertainment (very successful) is in the hunt, as is Warner Animation Group (semi-successful, and the key-holder to the Lego franchise).

But here's a look at a recent release and some mid-pack animated features from the recent past: ...

Worldwide Grosses

Storks -- $150,759,612

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs -- $243,006,126

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $275,698,039

Turbo -- $282,570,682

Hop -- $183,953,723

Peanuts Movie -- $246,233,113

None of the pictures directly above were breakout smashes like Zootopia or Finding Dory, but several of them moved into profit because production costs were lower and they did relatively well overseas.

Foreign markets loom large for most American animated features.

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Justice League Variations

Comic Book tells us:

... We will see a Justice League Dark animated feature from DC Universe in 2017, while director Doug Liman (Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) is set to direct the live-action movie version, Dark Universe, for DC Films. ...

Justice League Dark brings together fan-favorite mystical characters like John Constantine, Zatanna and Swamp-Thing for a team that defends the DC Universe from dark mystical threats. The animated feature will be a testing ground the same way the Assault on Arkham animated feature was for Suicide Squad.

From what we've seen of the Justice League Dark cartoon, the movie could be a smart combination of humor and horror; that is, if Doug Liman has that sort of "Sam Raimi" spirit in him. ...

The odd thing about the DC vs. Marvel competition? Ardent super-hero fans think that Marvel makes the coolest live-action movies, but DC/Warner Bros. has the edge with the animated versions. This has long been the outlook among the geeks that I know. But whether the playing field will tilt in the underdogs' direction in the coming year and decade is an open question.

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The Blockbuster In Japan

From The Reporter:

Makoto Shinkai on His Anime Hit 'Your Name,' Being Called the "New Hayao Miyazaki" ...

Former graphic designer Makoto Shinkai's latest film has topped the Japanese box office since it was released at the end of August and brought in more than $160 million, becoming the fifth-highest grossing Japanese film of all time. ...

Your Name has already grossed more than 100 times what his last film finished with, become the first anime movie not from Hayao Miyazaki to make more than $100 million and has spent the last nine weekends at the top of the country's box office. ...

Why do you think Your Name is such a huge hit?

It's difficult to explain it. I didn’t imagine it would be this big. I think the biggest reason is that there was a desire from young Japanese audiences in particular to see a boy-meets-girl story, and there has not been that kind of film in recent years. So at a time when there was latent demand for such a film, we happened to produce one.

It has done more than a hundred times the box office of your last film, how does that feel?

I have conflicting feelings about it. Obviously, there is no way that my filmmaking abilities have increased 100 times since my last production, so there are factors beyond my control that have helped make this such a hit. ...

Mr. Shinkai, forty-three years old, started his professional career at Falcom, a video game company where he worked on multiple games before moving on to animated shorts and features in the early oughts. To date, he's written two novels and one picture book, produced commercials, and directed a half-dozen features.

Your Name is Makoto Shinkai's first blockbuster movie; there will likely be others.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Three Score and Two Years Ago

President Emeritus Tom Sito relates:

Oct. 27, 1954- The" Disneyland" television show premiered. Up until then the major Hollywood Studios were all boycotting the new upstart medium of television, then mostly done in New York by blacklisted stage actors and writers. MGM Production head Dori Schary called TV “the Enemy”.

Walt Disney is the first to break ranks with the major film studios and get into television production. He even films the shows on film in Technicolor, figuring television will develop color broadcasting eventually. ...

For mortals today, it's hard to fathom that Walt Disney Productions, now a muscular, international conglomerate, was hanging onto solvency by a wispy thread.

Walt's television show was part of a larger deal with ABC to co-finance his amusement park in Anaheim. ABC bought Disney's weekly anthology show (also the Monday-through-Friday "Mickey Mouse Club") and sank a bunch of money into the Orange County Disneyland for a ten percent stake.

The park was built in a year. When it opened, the place was an immediate hit, and pulled Walt Disney Productions away from the insolvency that had stalked the company for the previous ten years. (The popular animated feature Lady and the Tramp also helped).

Walt Disney Productions was a different animal in 1954. The animation staff was far from the highest paid group of artists in the animation industry, but the lot had a relaxed atmosphere, there were lunchtime softball games on the ball field where the Team Disney building stands today, and employees often performed double duty: animation gagman Roy Williams was the "Big Mooseketeer" on the Mickey Mouse Club; animation staff motored down to Anaheim to paint murals and work on Fantasyland dark rides in the months and weeks before the park opened in the middle of '55.

Disney staffers were, at the time, enfolded in a corporate paternalism that departed the Walt Disney Company decades ago.

But then, the fifties were a different universe from the one humanity occupies today. America was the premiere economic power on the planet, and Americans, by a country mile, enjoyed the highest standard of living.

A different universe. As was, then, Walt Disney Productions.

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Naked Bears

Two days ago this:

Cartoon Network has greenlit season three of the hit animated series We Bare Bears. Created by Annie Award-winner Daniel Chong, the comedy series follows bear siblings Grizzly (voiced by Eric Edelstein), Panda (Bobby Moynihan), and Ice Bear (Demetri Martin) as they attempt to assimilate into human society.

Episodes from season two began airing earlier this year, with the series averaging a global reach of 29.5 million kids for 2016 to date. In the U.S., the series has reached 8.4 million children. ...

Keep in mind: even as animation studios announce new seasons, they are (sometimes) laying off staff because the actual production of the show is winding down.

We're not saying that is happening here, but it has happened before.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Global Franchise

Dreamworks isn't the only studio making animated product with dragons. And Activision is hoping for a winner.

... On Friday, Skylanders Academy, a CGI animation based on a $3bn (£2.5bn) combined video game/toy franchise aimed at pre-teens, will hit Netflix. ...

It is the first release from Activision Blizzard Studios, a division of the gaming behemoth behind titles including Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Destiny, set up last year to take games to TV and screen.

Activision animation partner TeamTO have 160 people working on the project at its headquarters in the French capital and a second site in the south of France. ...

Activision has brought in big names to oversee the project. The co-president, Stacey Sher, has produced critically acclaimed films including Erin Brockovich and Matilda, and worked alongside Francini, whose credits include Django Unchained, with Quentin Tarantino. Her co-president Nick van Dyk is a former Disney executive who played a key role in acquiring Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars for the studio. ...

The approach suggests a desire to avoid the mistakes of the past. ...

Every animation studio worth its salt goes for monster commercial success. That means hit movies, hit television shows, trend-setting video games, plus lots of toys and action figures.

Usually the creative process starts with a movie. Or sometimes a tv show. Video games often have huge popularity in their corner of the universe, but that popularity is often tough to translate into cinema success. (Anybody remember Final Fantasy, the movie? Didn't think so).

It's not enough to have a high profile game title. You must also have a compelling story to tell. More often than not, producers of video games fail to create one, and so audiences stay away in droves. Because having cute characters in exotic environments isn't enough. There must also be a tale with a beginning, middle and end that audiences want to drive to movie theaters and see.

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Muppet Offspring

If they were good once ... good twice ... they'll be good again.

... Disney Junior has announced that the one and only Muppet Babies will be getting the reboot treatment on the young children’s cable channel. While the original 1980’s CBS Saturday morning standard featured conventionally drawn animation, the upcoming reboot will instead manifest as a CGI-based series (as seen in the picture above,) structuring each episode into two 11-minute stories. Per the Disney Junior branding, the new Muppet Babies will be aimed at children ages 4-7. ...

The 20th century Muppet Babies aired original episodes from 1984 to 1991. Also, too, there were four years worth of Muppet Babies in comic book form. The 1980s show was produced by The Jim Henson Company and Marvel Productions, back before both were gobbled up by the Walt Disney Company, and was a hand-drawn cartoon.

This iteration will premiere in 2018, in glorious CGI. Disney now owns all the rights, and will reap all the profits.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Kevin Curran, RIP

A comedy talent passes.

Kevin Curran, a veteran TV comedy writer-producer who won six Emmys as part of the staffs of The Simpsons and Late Night With David Letterman, died today at his Los Angeles home after a lengthy illness. He was 59. ...

Curran wrote nearly a dozen episodes of Fox’s The Simpsons and had been part of its producing team for the past 15 years, most recently as co-EP. He shared three Emmys for Outstanding Animated Program among 14 nominations spanning 2002-2016. ...

Mr. Curran was a student at Harvard College, where he was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon. After college, Kevin Curran wrote for the National Lampoon. He next wrote for Late Night with David Letterman. winning three Emmys.

Mr. Curran died after a battle with cancer. Our condolences to his friends and family.

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Merger Mania (Continued)

It's not just Time-Warner and A.T. & T. who are getting married.

Fred Seibert's Frederator Networks has been acquired by 'Escape From Planet Earth' studio Rainmaker Entertainment to create a kids and animation powerhouse.

The New York-based digital animation studio, which has produced series for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, has been acquired by Canadian animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment to create WOW! Unlimited Media. ...

The deal aims at combining Frederator's digital animation networks, including the Channel Frederator multichannel network on YouTube, with Rainmaker's Vancouver-based animation studio to create and distribute kids and animation content across all media platforms. ...

We're in the age of consolidation. Big deals, little deals, doesn't matter. The Sherman Act is dead and buried, and entertainment companies are clawing for leverage, power and a larger share of show biz dollars.

The most direct way to get there is for corporations to buy each other, so they do. Hell of a lot easier than growing a business all by your lonesome.

H/t TAG President Laura Hohman.

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So the Louisiana animation studio co-founded by William Joyce appears to be going through changes.

Moonbot Studios eliminated jobs late last week, including positions in the marketing and animation design departments.

Several former employees posted on social media that their roles at the Shreveport-based animation company were eliminated and that they were looking for jobs. ...

The report was sketchy on details, but Cartoon Brew went a wee bit deeper: ...

... A source tells us that the buyer of the company is Magic Leap, the secretive virtual reality/augmented reality startup located in Dania Beach, Florida that has raised over $1.4 billion in venture capital from investors. ...

TAG blog has known stuff was up in Shreveport for some time now, but TAG blog was sworn to secrecy. More things (as we understand it) will be coming out in the relatively near future. We'll just have to wait.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Picketing Actors

SAG-AFTRA voice actors hit the bricks today, picketing Electronic Arts on Lincoln Boulevard in Playa Vista. As picketers marched, the Guild said:

We know where our members stand, and we will put a deal in front of the SAG-AFTRA membership when we have an agreement our committee can recommend.

Their attempt to characterize their offer to make “additional compensation” payments at the time of session as equivalent to our “contingent compensation” proposal is disingenuous and misleading. These employers know full well that our issue is the creation of secondary payments that allow our members to share in the success of the most successful games. The employers’ offer purposely does not do that.

The video game companies claim they “did everything in their power” to reach an agreement with us. In fact, we accepted their offer of an upfront payment option in order to avoid triggering any secondary payments. This would have allowed them to preserve their existing compensation practices.

We simply asked to include secondary payments as an option in the agreement. This would allow other producers to avoid those upfront costs by agreeing to share their prosperity on the back end — if their game was successful. ...

The hangup to reach a deal appears to be the companies' terror at offering ANY kind of secondary payment, since that smacks of a kind of residual. And isn't that horrible?

(In case you're wondering, the Animation Guild stands in solidarity with the actors:.

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Sausage Trophy

In the tradition of The Walt Disney Company, Sony lays the groundwork for one of its fine, animated features:

Sony is lining up screenings, mailers, ads and more as part of a quest to land Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's passion project — an R-rated spoof of animated movies that was a hit with critics and audiences — unprecedented recognition.

If you thought that Sony's Sausage Party, the no-holds-barred spoof of animated movies that took Hollywood by storm in August, would rest on its critical and commercial laurels this awards season, then you might be, well, a weenie. ...

Sony's push for the film will launch with a Nov. 1 screening and cocktail party at Westwood's iPic Theater, with Rogen and one of the film's two directors, Conrad Vernon (the other is Greg Tiernan), in attendance. The guest list will include members of the Academy's short films and feature animation branch, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who determine Golden Globe nominees and winners), representatives of other guilds and press who cover the awards season.

In addition, the studio has slated numerous other targeted screenings and events, including a similar gathering in New York around the Thanksgiving break. ...

What Sony is doing make perfect sense.

Perfect commercial sense.

Because since forever, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has been a fine vehicle for increasing the cash flows of various movies, which is (let's face the issue squarely) one of the big reasons AMPAS exists.

So who cares if Sausage Party might be low-brow raunch? If it picks up a Little Gold Man, everything's good.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dumbo's 75th Birthday

Walt Disney's elephant picture was released 75 years ago today. ...

Dumbo was an outlier among Disney's early features, right from the beginning. The only pre-war picture that cost under a million to make. And that was made without Walt being in on every creative twist and turn (Mr. Disney was in South America while a big chunk of it was being made). Unlike Pinocchio and Bambi, the story of the little circus elephant was profitable on its first release.

Dumbo was also made at breakneck speed. Years back, Ward Kimball told me he was animating over thirty feet a week. He then pulled a gag cartoon from the period out of a large cardboard box. The drawing showed assistants Walt Kelly and David Swift looking at a pencil test on a movieola while Ward K. animated madly on the other side of the room. The cartoon Ward has a mic on his desk, with wires running to a speaker by the movieola. Ward yells "Cut it in!" into the microphone without looking up. His voice comes booming out of the speaker.

Gives you an idea of how hurried everybody was.

The studio's third released animated feature was in production before and during the 1941 strike. Dumbo was to be the first of Disney's "low budget" features, with Wind in the Willows slated to be the second. But Willows, though begun as a feature, was re-purposed by director Jack Kinney into a featurette and released with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a 1949 package feature: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

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The International Weekend of Box Office

DreamWorks has a new entry titled Trolls, and some veterans are still chugging along.


Jack Reacher: Never Go Back --$31,000,000 -- ($54,000,000)

Inferno -- $28,900,000 -- ($94,800,000)

Mechanic: Resurrection -- $24,100,000 -- ($71,200,000)

Trolls -- $18,000,000 -- ($21,100,000)

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children -- $13,500,000 -- ($224,469,682)

Ouija: Origin Of Evil -- $7,900,000 -- ($22,000,000)

Storks -- $6,800,000 -- ($147,814,528)

Finding Dory -- $4,000,000 -- (1,017,700,000)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $3,500,000 -- ($863,483,130)

Kubo And The Two Strings -- $1,000,000 -- ($66,249,116 )

One of the data points in evidence: stop motion features do less well than CG animated features. And a trade journal tells us:

Trolls opened last week in Denmark, Holland and Israel although Fox is providing first numbers this weekend. Playing in 14 markets, the film spread $18M worth of happiness for a $21.1M cume. There were No. 1s in nine markets ahead of the North American release. ...

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children has crossed the $150M mark at the international box office to double the domestic take to date. Another $13.5M this weekend lifts the total to $150.04M in a total 64 hubs. France, where kids are on vacation and screens are crowded, dipped just 3% for a $12.9M cume thus far. ...

Storks swooped in on another $6.8M in 60 international territories this weekend on 5,600 screens. The offshore bundle has risen to $83.1M. Italy was the only new delivery with $660K from 381 screens. Elsewhere, France held for a teeny 7% drop with kids on vacation and has now cumed $2.1M. ...

Finding Dory has lifted the international cume to $532.2M and the worldwide total to $1,017.7M. The Disney/Pixar title is still swimming up a storm in Germany where the frame saw a 28% dip for a $29.4M total. ...

The Secret Life of Pets is getting closer to $500M international with a $3.5M weekend taking the total to $497.6M. Globally, the cume on the Illumination/Universal pic is $863.8M. ...

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

American Animated Feature

This Boss Baby trailer should have gone up days ago, but I'm inattentive.

A most unusual baby ... wears a suit, speaks with the voice and wit of Alec Baldwin, and stars in the animated comedy, DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby. The Boss Baby is a hilariously universal story about how a new baby’s arrival impacts a family. ...

The picture arrives next March.

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American Box Office

... has one animated feature in the Top Ten.


1). Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PAR), 3,780 theaters / $9.08M Fri. (includes $1.325M previews)/3-day cume: $24.6M /Wk 1

2). Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween (LG), 2,260 theaters / $9.15M Fri. (includes $855K previews)/3-day cume: $23.7M / Wk 1

3). The Accountant (WB), 3,332 theaters (0) / $4.5M Fri. (-50%)/3-day cume: $15M (-39%)/Total: $48.9M/ Wk 2

4). Ouija: Origin of Evil (UNI), 3,167 theaters / $5.3M Fri. (includes $722K previews)/3-day cume: $12.6M / Wk 1

5). The Girl on the Train (UNI/DW), 3,091 theaters (-150) / $2.4M Fri. (-38%)/ 3-day cume: $7.7M (-37%)/Total: $59.3M/ Wk 3

6). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (FOX), 3,133 theaters (-702) / $1.6M Fri. (-31%) 3-day cume: $6.4M (-28%)/Total: $74.8M/Wk 4

7). Keeping Up With the Joneses (FOX), 3,022 theaters / $$2.1M Fri. (includes $300K previews)/3-day cume: $6M / Wk 1

8). Storks (WB), 2,145 theaters (-921) / $1.1M Fri. (-22%)/3-day cume: $4.4M(-22%) /Total: $65M/ Wk 5

9). Deepwater Horizon (LG), 2,828 theaters (-575) / $1.1M Fri. (-39%)/ 3-day cume: $4M (-38%)/Total: $55.6M/ Wk 4

10). Kevin Hart: What Now? (UNI), 2,568 theaters / $1.3M Fri. (-72%)/3-day cume: $3.9M (-67%)/Total: $18.7M/ Wk 2

Three other animated features remain in theaters, but only barely. The Secret Life of Pets clings to a couple of hundred screens and now has $365,883,130 in domestic grosses; Finding Dory is in 150 theaters (give or take) and has earned $485,264,402. And Kubo and the Two Strings remains in 120 theaters with a total gross of $47,378,116.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Kevin Meaney, RIP

Comedian Kevin Meaney, standup and voice actor, departs.

... Kevin Meaney has died. The veteran stand up comic, whose acting credits include numerous animated television series and the Tom Hanks film Big among others, and who also made dozens of appearances on late night television, was 60. ...

[Meaney] was a prolific comedic voice actor who appeared on several classic animated series, among them Dr. Katz, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Garfield and Friends, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Duckman. ...

There was a time when I thought sixty was pretty old, but that time is long past. He was far too young to check out, but we all get the life spans the Almighty gives us.

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Merger Mania

Now with Add On.

A big fat phone company will marry a big fat cartoon and movie studio.

AT&T Inc has reached an agreement in principle to buy Time Warner Inc for about $85 billion, sources said on Friday, paving the way for what would be the biggest deal in the world this year, giving the telecom company control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets.

The deal, which has been agreed on most terms and could be announced as early as Sunday, would be one of the largest in recent years in the sector as telecommunications companies look to combine content and distribution to capture customers replacing traditional pay-TV packages with more streamlined offerings and online delivery. ...

AT&T will pay $110 per Time Warner share in cash and stock, or about $85 billion overall, sources told Reuters. It will need to line up financing to pay for the deal, since it only has $7.2 billion in cash on hand. This could put pressure on its credit rating as it already has $120 billion in net debt as of June 30, according to Moody's. ...

Owning more content gives cable and telecom companies bargaining leverage with other content companies as customers demand smaller, hand-picked cable offerings or switch to watching online. And new mobile technology including next-generation 5G networks could make a content tie-up especially attractive for wireless providers. ...

Long ago, movie studios were just movie studios. This gave entertainment unions (of which TAG is one) a semi-level playing field when they negotiated collective bargaining agreements with the "content providers". If SAG or the WGA went on strike, the studios' cash flow would be squeezed and so there was motivation to reach a deal.

The "level playing field", which in truth was never ALL that level, is now more of a sheer vertical drop than ever. Studios are small cogs in huge corporate machines and the leverage of entertainment guilds and unions have been reduced accordingly. The merger will probably be blessed by the Federal government (they generally are), and are most excellent corporatist state will become a bit more corporatist.

It's difficult to know if this merger will increase the health of the entertainment industry or damage it. There's always the possibility that bigger won't necessarily lead to better or more profitable, and AT&T-Time-Warner might at some point flow apart. But for the moment, it looks as though corporate power in Tinsel Town will be more mammoth and more concentrated.

Add On: A brief history of Time, Warner Bros. and AT & T.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Residuals and Leverage

Now with Add On!

SAG-AFTRA and Video Game producers aren't fighting over money. The battle centers around language.

Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the video game companies broke off late Wednesday night after the union rejected the companies’ final offer for a new contract. ...

The union has demanded that performers receive an additional full-scale payment for each 500,000 units sold, up to a maximum of four secondary payments if the game sells 2 million units.

The companies have steadfastly refused to include residuals as part of any compensation package, saying it would upend the industry’s business model. So in lieu of residuals, the companies have offered “additional compensation” on top of a performer’s regular pay depending on how many sessions were worked on each game. ...

The union countered with a nearly identical proposal that also maxed out at $950 in additional pay after eight session, but instead of calling it “additional compensation,” it called it a “residuals buyout.” ...

The companies, however, refused to call it that, saying it would be unfair to offer a buyout of something that isn’t offered to the hundreds of animators and programmers who develop the games. ...

This seems like a small thing, but the video game companies don't want the fleshy snout of "residuals" to shove its way under the tent. Once it's inside the rest of the animal will (eventually) follow. That, at least, is the companies' expressed fear.

This argument goes back to the forties, when the word "residuals" began to be bandied about inside the House of Labor. It took years for residuals to make their way into the contracts of entertainment unions, but today they're an accepted cost of doing business.

Could this ultimately hold true for video games? Sure it could, if SAG-AFTRA has sufficient leverage. Because leverage is what this negotiation is really about, not "fairness".

Add On: SAG-AFTRA announces:

SAG-AFTRA is striking the following video game employers: Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. The strike covers all games made by these companies that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015.

SAG-AFTRA members will picket Electronic Arts in Playa Vista, CA at 10:30 a.m. PT, Monday, Oct. 24. ...

And we'll soon see where this goes.

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Alternate Cartoon Awards

A continent on the far side of the Atlantic wants to start its own tradition.

... Rome’s biggest industry market MIA kicked off Thursday, in parallel with the Rome Film Fest, with a special focus on animation. ...

One of the main discussions centered around the recently announced European Animation Awards, which will officially have its first event in 2017. ... While the European Film Awards, as well as the BAFTA and the Cesar Awards all have animation prizes, these ceremonies typically honor only the producers of the films. The EAAs aims to honor the entire teams behind the films, including animators, background designers and composers, with 20 categories overall set for the inaugural event next year.

“The main target of this award is to celebrate each year European professionals of the animation industry, acknowledging all the talents of animation from the bottom to the top, from assistant animators and character designers to directors and lead animators." ...

Organizers reinforce that the event is not meant to be a parallel to the Annie Awards, America’s top animation awards, but to stand on its own legs. “The European Animation Emile Awards were not created to compete with the American awards, but rather they aim to put a larger focus on what is happening in Europe.” ...

Any awards festival that throws a spotlight on animation is a positive step for the cartoon business. Just today I talked to a leading animation creator who remarked:

Even when we make a movie that out-grosses most of a studio's live-action features, we're still considered second-class citizens. If you make animated features, you get very little respect. ...

Which is, sadly, a long-established tradition in Hollywood and elsewhere. Maybe the European Animation Awards will help to hoist cartoons out of the entertainment ghetto they have long occupied.

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The Organizing Game

This has been percolating along for awhile, but the media and internet are now getting wind of it.

An effort to organize the artists at Burbank, California-based Stoopid Buddy Stoodios with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union has gained momentum in recent weeks, according to a source inside the studio. ...

[A] union organizer within the studio [says] that the low wages for lower-level staff causes significant turnover, with fed-up staffers often leaving the studio. The studio frequently replaces departing staff with younger, inexperienced artists fresh out of art school, who subsequently require hours of training to get up to speed. The inexperienced hires, who are often just happy to have a job at the studio, frequently have little idea of their true value to the studio and have little negotiating experience. As a result, wages are lowered, and the work schedule suffers. ...

Studio management ... has not taken kindly to organizing efforts. They recently circulated to staff an eight-page letter purporting to answer union arguments about the benefits of unionizing. The letter, which begins by referring to “our Stoopid Family” and proceeds to present arguments against unionization, may have done more to harm to the studio’s position than to help, and many employees saw it as a clumsy effort by studio management to forestall the unionizing effort. ...

The scenario now unfolding is as old as unions, labor contracts, and aggrieved employees walking up and down sidewalks with picket signs.

How it starts is, a company pays its people below industry norms and offers sub-par health insurance. Then the employees get ticked off and begin to sign union representation cards, talk among themselves. and go to (gasp!) union organizing meetings.

At which point the company catches wise to the mutiny down in the ranks. And starts to assert that they're "a family" with a special atmosphere that they don't want to muck up by having some guild or union sticking its nose in. Meetings are held about what a really lousy idea it would be to "go union" (even though some of the owners are in unions themselves).

We are now in the phase where the company is working to tamp down the fires of discontent and talk employees out of better wages and health insurance. We'll see where this goes.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Changing Teams

A couple of high-profile DreamWorks Animation features are (surprise!) switching distributors.

... How to Train Your Dragon 3 and Larrikins originally scheduled to go out via the studio’s 20th Century Fox distribution deal, will now be handled by Uni.

Fox announced Larrikins for a February 16, 2018 release and Dragon 3 for May 18, 2018. Those dates will remain intact on Uni’s schedule. DWA’s distribution agreement with Fox expires at the end of 2017. Fox has DWA’s Trolls opening on November 4 and it’s expected to rake in a healthy gross of $30M against Disney/Marvel’s monolith Doctor Strange. ...

Universal-Comcast laid out thick wads of cash for DreamWorks Animation, and they (understandably) want to start cashing in as soon as possible.

Totally understandable.

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Who Works Where

... gender-wise.

The Animation Guild now has 3,794 artists, writers and technicians working under its jurisdiction at studios in and around Los Angeles. Of these, slightly more than 23% are women.

The female/male breakdowns at the Animation Guild's larger signator studios are as follows: ...


Cartoon Network -- 94 -- (289)

DreamWorks Animation -- 78 -- (547)

DreamWorks Animation TV -- 113 -- (327)

Fox Animation -- 49 -- (252)

Nickelodeon -- 76 -- (282)

Paramount Animation -- 16 -- (62)

Robin Red Breast -- 26 -- (123)

Sony Pictures Animation -- 12 -- (84)

Walt Disney Animation Studios -- 98 -- (493)

Walt Disney TV Animation -- 132 -- (408)

Warner Bros. Animation -- 62 -- (222)

Wild Canary -- 12 -- (51)

There has been a slow but steady increase in the number of women employed in Guild jobs. Eighteen months ago, 20.63% of all employees were female. That percentage has climbed to 23.22%.


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A Diz Co. Live-Action/Animated Hybrid

Feeding various franchises that are loaded with animation keeps lots of people who sit in dark rooms in front of flat-screens employed.

This is a good thing.

The Empire of the Mouse leverages its tent-poles, as any good Empire would.

... Here are a few of the reasons Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel's best movie in years: Chris Pratt, stunning visual effects, a throwback soundtrack, Chris Pratt, and the ability to not take itself too seriously. The movie set the bar for subsequent superhero films like Deadpool that were fun again, that were original, that weren't the typical gritty cerebral events popularized by Christopher Nolan's brilliant, though frequently and poorly copied, Batman movies. In other words, Guardians was refreshing. ...

Chris P. is a busy actor. He seems to have a movie come out every two months.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Animation Continues to Bust Out

... all over. In different formats and directions.

Redwood City-based Baobab Studios closed a $25 million Series B round of funding, bringing the total raised to date by the startup to $31 million and placing the studio among the most highly-funded content startups to emerge with a focus on VR animation.

The startup made Invasion!, a short story about a cute bunny attacked by hapless aliens. The property is already becoming a full-length traditional film to be produced by Roth Kirschenbaum Films. Baobab also announced a second episode in the series called Asteroids!, due out next year.

The funding round is being led by Horizons Ventures with 20th Century Fox, Evolution Media Partners (backed by TPG and CAA), China’s Shanghai Media Group, Youku Global Media Fund and LDV Partners. They join the original investors, Comcast Ventures, HTC and Samsung. ...

The money will be used to develop more animated movies and add to the 20 people currently working at the company. ...

Many fine entertainment conglomerates consider Virtual Reality "the next BIG thing," and why not? Lots of company's are getting into it. (Third Floor, Inc., for one. Until recently, Third Floor was known as a pre-viz house, but now it's branching out to other endeavors).

As a business magazine named Fortune notes:

... Hollywood movie studios, animators, and screenwriters are also looking to create virtual reality films in which users can interact with their environments and even alter the story based on their decisions. ...

“We are on the cusp of a storytelling revolution with this medium, and VR gives filmmakers the opportunity to develop immersive experiences and take audiences into the story like never before,” Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said. ...

Of course, VR could end up being 3-D: more a flash in the pan than anything else. Let's meet here again in five years, see how it went.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Anti-Poaching Suit's Latest Wrinkle

Deadline informs interested parties:

Disney Last ‘Toon Giant Standing As DreamWorks Animation Offers $50M Settlement In Anti-Poaching Suit

With DreamWorks Animation reaching a multi-million deal today , it is now really just Disney who haven’t settled with animation workers in the long running class action suit over over wage-fixing and anti-poaching allegations. On Monday, the now NBCUniversal owned home of the How To Train Your Dragon franchise filed paperwork to start ending its part in the over two-year long action with a proposed $50 million settlement – up to 30% of which could end up going to lawyers.

“The settlement here was reached after arm’s length negotiations, drawing on the expertise of informed, experienced counsel who have been deeply involved in this litigation since its inception, and it reflects the risks associated with both parties continuing to litigate this case,” said the motion for preliminary approval put forth in federal court in San Jose Monday (read it here). “In particular, counsel have been informed and guided by the rulings and settlement valuations deemed fair and reasonable in both this action and the High-Tech litigation,” the 16-page document from lawyers for original plaintiffs Robert Nitsch Jr., David Wentworth and Georgia Cano added.”

A January 19, 2017 hearing has been penciled in for Judge Lucy Koh’s courtroom on the motion, which essentially covers animation workers who were at the ‘toon studios from around 2004 to 2010. ...

We assume here that Universal-Comcast reached a settlement because they want to make this wage-suppression lawsuit history. And we guess that Disney continues to foot-drag because some Diz Co. execs are fully in favor of foot-dragging.

This suits has been percolating for a while. The studios' earlier strategy appeared to be an argument of untimeliness ("The plaintiffs knew about this early-on your honor ... and sorry, but they've hit the statute of limitations" ...)

The Animation Guild was only marginally involved in this suit, referring possible plaintiffs to the involved law firms and hosting a lawyer to explain what the class action was about at a General Membership meeting in July 2014.

And one more wage suppression post here.

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The Mouse's Box Office

Diz Co. is having a banner year.

On the heels of such hits as Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory, the Walt Disney Studios has clocked its best year ever at the international box office — and there are still another two and a half months to go in 2016. Through October 16, the offshore total on all Disney releases is $3.5664 billion. That tops the studio’s previous record of $3.5652B which was for the whole of 2015. ...

And of course Moana rolls out in late November. And the movie will likely have solid opening numbers ... which will boost its box office total close (or maybe past) Universal's record of 4.44 billion in 2015.

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SAG-AFTRA Hitting the Bricks

Deadline informs us:

SAG-AFTRA’s National Board of Directors has voted unanimously on a strike date against major video game employers, and if negotiations are unsuccessful, will walk go on strike Friday, October 21 at 12:01 a.m.

The union will be striking a litany of video game industry giants, including Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. If no deal is reached, all games which went into production after February 17, 2015 will be struck. ...

The decision comes amid an increasingly bitter battle between the guild and the video games industry over the treatment and compensation of voice actors. For years, the video game industry has made heavy use of non union labor or has used union labor for non union work, with more strict adherence to some guild standards observed in Los Angeles and New York where SAG AFTRA has a much heavier presence. In 2015, SAG AFTRA resolved to negotiate better deals for union members for their work within one of the largest entertainment industries in the world.

In many ways, the dispute comes down to the stark differences between the tech sector and the entertainment industry, a problem exacerbated by the way the video game industry straddles both worlds. ...

This comes down to, as it often does, to a matter of leverage.

If SAG can make the video game business take some sort of financial hit over the lack of SAG-AFTRA members, and a significant portion of the business thinks negotiating a better deal for actors can allow it to avoid hurt of its own, the guild could get somewhere. Otherwise, probably not.

Judging from the game consortium's response, it appears it might fall in the "probably not" column, (but maybe the gamesters are blowing a wee bit of smoke).

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Now At #2

If you're keeping count:

The Simpsons joins a very exclusive club of U.S. scripted primetime shows when its 600th episode, “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” airs. How rare is this club? The only other scripted primetime show to reach 600 episodes is Gunsmoke ...

The Western still holds the lead in total episodes with 635. But the Yellow Family should surpass that mark before the end of its run.


1) Gunsmoke (CBS): 635 episodes; 20 seasons
2) The Simpsons (FOX): 600 episodes; 28 seasons
3) Lassie (CBS and Syndication): 591 episodes; 19 seasons.
4) Law & Order (NBC): 456 episodes; 20 seasons.
5) The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (ABC): 435 episodes; 14 seasons.

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Worldwide Box Office

What films are doing well around the wide globe? A number of them are animated:


Inferno -- $50,000,000 -- ($50,000,000)

Miss Peregrine's Home -- $23,500,000 -- ($196,700,000)

Operation Mekong -- $21,000,000 -- ($138,500,000)

Storks -- $10,600,000 -- ($130,744,046)

Bridget Jones Baby -- $10,400,000 -- ( )

The Girl On The Train -- $7,800,000 -- ($74,300,000)

Finding Dory -- $6,400,000 -- ($1,011,500,000)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $5,700,000 -- ($858,000,000)

The Accountant -- $2,800,000 -- ($27,500,000)

Sausage Party -- $2,200,000 -- ($133,246,673)

Kubo and the Two Strings -- $1,000,000 -- ($64,742,649)

A fine entertainment journal informs us:

... Warner Bros’ animated family film Storks put another $10.6M in the nest from approximately 7,300 screens in 58 international markets. The full egg to date is $71.6M. The UK opened to $2.7M in 5th. Including sneaks, that tops the starts of Hotel Transylvania (+27%) and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 1 & 2. ...

Finding Dory has lapped up another $6.4M to take the offshore total to $526.3M and the global tankful to $1,011.5M. The forgetful blue tang swam past the $1B mark worldwide last frame and is the No. 5 animated movie of all time globally. ...

The Secret Life of Pets continues to wag the box office with a bigger than expected $5.7M this weekend in 56 territories. The international total is $492.2M to date since opening overseas in June. Worldwide, Pets has taken $858M. ...

It doesn't appear that Kubo and the Two Strings, despite stellar reviews, is going to make much in the way of profits. With a $60 million budget, it's now grossed $65 million. On the hopeful side the picture has only launched in 25 overseas markets, so it's got some running room.

Then there is Sausage Party. To date it's grossed $133 million against a $20 million production budget, and however many millions they've spent on advertising and general promotion. It's likely in the black, or certainly will be when all the theatrical and secondary markets are played out.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Morphing Story Ideas

It's certainly true that animated features often start out as one animal and end up as another, often going in and out of development over the course of years, it's also true of TV cartoons.

While most classic animated juggernauts were produced in the studio system — emerging from places like Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Warner Bros. — the late ‘80s and early ‘90s saw a wave of young animators striking out on their own to develop series and bring in a wave of fresh energy to the industry. Here’s a look at some of the most iconic of that vital generation of creators, and the shows they brought to the world from their dorm rooms. ...

The thing about creators, when they get an idea that grabs them, they often keep massagning that idea until it arrives at full fruition and some studio exec says "Oh yah, we could do that."

And once in a while, a hit ensues. And everyone is happy.

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The Pixar Exhibit

The California Science Center [in Los Angeles] has a new exhibit.

“The Science Behind Pixar,” a multimedia exhibit that opens Saturday at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, shows that for the artists at Pixar, like their counterparts at the Walt Disney Studio in the ’30s, scientific research is a key element in the creation of quality animated films. ...

“Making one of our films is incredibly challenging," says John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. "We’re constantly solving very complex scientific problems to achieve what we want to do,” he says. “In the early days of Pixar, we coined the phrase, ‘Art challenges technology; technology inspires art,’ and you can replace ‘technology’ with ‘science’: From the combination of art and science, you get ideas you would have never thought of otherwise.” ...

The Hollywood Reporter says:

... With 40 interactive elements inspired by Pixar films from Toy Story to Inside Out, the exhibition is broken into eight sections, each focusing on a step of the filmmaking process - modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets & camera, animation, simulation, lighting and rendering. Sets & cameras demonstrates how a bug's-eye view was achieved for A Bug's Life, using camera angles and large-set design within the computer. The modeling section shows how Toy Story's digital sculptures are created based on sketches from artists, while the lighting area examines challenges similar to those Pixar artists faced in creating animated water with virtual light in Finding Nemo.

Developed by the Museum of Science, Boston in collaboration with Pixar, the exhibit is part of the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative, of which the California Science Center is a member. ...

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Your American Box Office

The current box office contains one animated feature that's doing okay but hasn't set the fruited plain on fire.


1). The Accountant (WB), 3,332 theaters / $9M Fri. (includes $1.35M previews)/ 3-day cume: $24.6M / Wk 1

2). The Girl on the Train (UNI/DW), 3,241 theaters (+97) / $3.9M Fri. (-57%) / 3-day cume: $12.9M (-47%)/Total: $47.5M/ Wk 2

3). Kevin Hart: What Now? (UNI), 2,568 theaters / $4.5M Fri. (includes $739K)/3-day cume: $11.67M / Wk 1

4). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (FOX), 3,835 theaters (+130) / $2.25M Fri. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $8.4M (-44%)/Total: $65.3M/Wk 3

5). Deepwater Horizon (LG), 3,403 theaters (+144) / $1.9M Fri. (-43%) / / 3-day cume: $6.3M (-45%)/Total: $49.3M/ Wk 3

6). Storks (WB), 3,066 theaters (-542) / $1.4M Fri. (-30%)/3-day cume: $5.75M(-31%) /Total: $59.3M/ Wk 4

7.) Magnificent Seven (SONY), 3,210 theaters (-486) / $1.5M Fri (-42%)/ 3-day cume: $5.1M (-43%)/Total cume: $84.7M/ Wk 4

8). Middle School (CBS/LG), 2,822 theaters (0)/ $1.1M Fri. (-43%) / 3-day cume: $4.2M (-39%)/Total: $13.7M/ Wk 2

9). Sully (WB), 2,211 theaters (-847)/ $979K Fri. (-32%) / 3-day cume: $3.3M(-34%)/Total: $118.7M / Wk 6

10). Birth of a Nation (FSL), 2,105 theaters / $943K (-64%)/ 3-day cume: $3.1M (-55%)/ Total: $12.7M/Wk 2 ...

Storks will climb past $60 million early next week. Compared to recent animated releases it's under-performing, but in its fourth week the picture is holding better than any other movie in the Top Ten.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

TAG Ballots

Thousands of Animation Guild ballots were mailed from the American Arbitration Association on Tuesday. Most are now in the mail boxes or on the dining room tables of Guild members across Los Angeles County.

There are a record number of candidates running this year. You can find the statements of each here. ...

On Tuesday, October 18th, the Guild's Candidate Forum will be held in TAG's meeting hall (1105 N. Hollywood Way) at 7 p.m.

This will be members' opportunity to hear candidates' positions on the future direction of the Guild, and what plans they have for the 2018 contract negotiations.

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Titmouse, the studios for which are located in Hollywood and New York, has a few projects percolating.

... Titmouse is gearing up for the release of their first full-length movie, a new season of Venture Bros. is underway, and they’re New York animators just finished moving into a brand new studio. ...

Nerdland is the first feature that is fully theirs. Titmouse has done work for hire on a number of animated features in the past, but this is the first time they’ve made a full movie all the way through.

“We learned a lot,” [studio topkick Chris] Prynoski said. “I directed this one, and I think I’ll do a much better job on my next one because you learn… Also, because it’s low budget, we had to do it in between other jobs, so it’s not like I was full time only directing that movie and nothing else. It was kind of like having a part-time job, but it’s a really important part-time job.” ...

The Titmouse facility in tinsel town is located on Lexington Street, a tidy brick building with a spiffy front door and a long, modern lobby beyond it. There are administrative and executive offices past the lobby, but I've never seen much of them.

The building I know is around the corner and across a parking lot, and a whole lot dumpier than its brick cousin. The place looks as though it was once a factory structure sometime around Franklin Roosevelt's first term; now it houses animators, board artists, designers and writers. The place has a nice sandalwood aroma which a production manager told me comes from strategically placed deodorizers designed to cover up the smell of mildew.

I've never heard animation artists complain about the smell. (Mildew and sandalwood must go well together).

Titmouse, under the corporate name "Robin Red Breast", produces Disney TVA half-hours using a Guild contract. TAG no longer negotiates deals that cover part of a studio, but Titmouse (aka Robin Red Breast) has been a fairly active union employer. Disney outsourcers a lot of animation work to small sub-contracting studios and Titmouse has long gotten a generous portion of the work. But TM/RRB is a prolific cartoon factory, and the company is branching out far beyond the projects it does for the House of Mouse.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fifty Years Back

... There was a short story session for a (now) iconic half hour.

... When it came to outlining the entire concept, ... It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, ... was all hashed out by lunchtime, save a few scenes that were added after Schulz, director-producer Bill Melendez (also the voice of Snoopy) and executive producer Lee Mendelson finished their sandwiches.

“The reason we were able to do it in one day is that the main theme of the show had been in the comic strips for years,” Mendelson said. ... “As we were developing the script, Mr. Schulz lamented almost as an aside, ‘Too bad we can’t have Snoopy fly. Melendez, pretending to be offended, said, ‘Hey, I’m an animator. I can do anything, including a dog flying a doghouse.’ We all laughed and that’s how Melendez and [animator] Bill LittleJohn created that scene.” ...

The Bill Melendez Studio was housed in three small residential bungalows on Larchmont Street, a few blocks from Paramount Studios.

The setup was simple: Bill Melendez directed and animated, Phil Roman (during the time he was there) directed and animated, some animation was freelanced off premises, layout and story was on premises along with other departments (animation check, final check, ink-and-paint, (etc.) scattered among the three bungalows.

It was an efficient, straight-foward business model, and it went on for decades. Innumerable Peanuts half hours, Cathy specials, the initial Garfield special. Bill Melendez kept the studio small and manageable, and over the years Bill M. and Company turned out a lot of superior work. To keep a studio steaming along for half a century takes a kind of genius, and Mr. Melendez had the Magic Touch in spades.

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3D Animation on the Big Screen (Vs. the Little Screen)

A video game technical designer answers the question: How far ahead are movies compared to video games in terms of graphics?.

... Nearly every graphics innovation that has been developed for games was first developed in support of filmmaking many years prior. The reason for this is, well, film doesn’t have to render in real-time and video games do. You can spend an entire day rendering out just a shot for a film, and then when it’s rendered and composited it’s done and you never need to render it again. Therefore, film can pull out as many stops as it likes...

If you’re looking for an exact number of years that film is ahead of games by, it’s very hard to say, because somewhere behind closed doors there’s film technology that you and I don’t know about. But to give you an idea, the technologies I list ... were definitely available at least ten years ago and have yet to be reliably or commonly integrated into games.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Disney’s fur rendering system for Zootopia is probably going to be out of reach for game developers for a very, very long time. ...

On the other hand, the sophistication of lighting, surfacing and animation in standard-issue video games continues to get better and better. So there is a trickle down effect.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Alvin Pickup

Season 3 and 4 around the corner.

Nickelodeon has teamed up with broadcasters in France, Germany and Brazil to commission two more seasons of Alvinn!!! and the Chipmunks.

M6 in France, Super RTL in Germany and Gloob TV in Brazil have all committed to seasons three and four of the CGI- animated series, which will begin production this fall in France.

It will be coproduced between Bagdasarian Productions and Technicolor Animation Productions, which will share all writing, producing and directing responsibilities. ...

Since this is a non-Guild show, I don't know if pre-production (writing and storyboards) are being done stateside or not. I do know that various board artists allege that Bagdasarian has a habit of stiffing artists on payments for completed work.

No doubt these allegations are scurrilous and without foundation, but we get them nevertheless. And we pass them on to show people how some studios get smeared by ungrateful employees. Awful, just awful.

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I had occasion to stroll through DreamWorks Animation campus this afternoon. Trolls awaits release, and Boxx Baby is pushing to completion. Two animators said there was four weeks (give or take) of animation remaining on the picture, after which there's surfacing, lighting, and then the inevitable tweaking and tightening. ...

As a trade paper reported several weeks ago:

Boss Baby takes a step back from the computer-generated realism of recent features to explore the more impressionistic side of the medium, finding inspiration in the work of animation pioneers like Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Maurice Noble.

Indeed, from the footage previewed, [the feature] plays like a throwback to classic cartoons where shapes and figures were often distorted for effect and animators could let their imaginations could run wild. ...

The picture rolls out in March.

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Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan

It covers more than 140,000 participants and dependents. It's been going strong for sixty-plus years. Every year it sends out a statement detailing how many contribution hours participants earned in the previous year, and what amount of monthly annuity individual participants are now receiving, also too how many dollars are in each participant's Individual Account Plan. ...

Of late, The Animation Guild has gotten inquires about when the latest statement would be coming out. ...

We've received reports that the 2015 Motion Picture Industry Pension Statement is now up on-line and available to registered participants. Mailed paper statements should be following shortly.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Japan brings forth a new animated short:

... "Moom as a project was an unusual challenge in that it is a Japanese CG animation that involves Tsutsumi, a Japanese director who left Japan to work at Pixar and a Japanese-American director, with me as the writer of the source material and a producer, and was made in the space between the Far East and Hollywood," says prodducer Genki Kawamura.

"The origins of the story are in Japanese animism, the concept that there are gods present in every object, something I’ve always been really captivated by," says Kawamura. ...

"Moom ... came about completely organically: I met the directors, gave them my book and they were interested in the project. I think it could only have been created as international project," says Kawamura.

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Michiyo Yasuda, RIP

A well-loved veteran of animation departs:

Michiyo Yasuda, a longtime animator and color designer for Studio Ghibli, has passed away at age 77. Her credits at the vaunted animation studio span decades, from its very first release in 1986 (“Castle in the Sky”) to Hayao Miyazaki’s final film (“The Wind Rises”) three years ago; it would be easier to list the revered projects made by both Ghibli and Miyazaki that she did not contribute to. ...

... Yasuda, who was born in Tokyo on April 29, 1939, began her career in Toei’s ink-and-paint department when she was 20. In 1997 she was the subject of Yasuko Shibaguchi’s book “The Color Artisan of Animation,” which has yet to be published in English; she retired once, in 2008, before returning to work on “The Wind Rises.”

“What I like best is when I am building up the colors in my head, thinking of how to get the tone worked out,” Yasuda said of her process in her interview with the L.A. Times. “Color has a meaning, and it makes the film more easily understood. Colors and pictures can enhance what the situation is on screen.”

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Monday, October 10, 2016

On-Coming Super Heroes

The last announcements of what the spandex crowd will be doing in the animated realms:

Wonder Woman

Warner Bros. Animation supervising producer James Tucker confirms that Warners are looking into another “Wonder Woman” film for the DC animated universe: “We discussed with Warner video, and they have Wonder Woman on their radar in some form or fashion.” ...

Avengers: Secret Wars

Hayley Atwell will reprise her role of Peggy Carter, at least in voice anyway, four the upcoming fourth season of the “Avengers” cartoon on Disney XD. Dubbed ‘Secret Wars’ for its new season, Atwell appears in an episode that will see Carter teamining up with Captain America and Iron Man to stop Kang the Conqueror. ...

Also, too:

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders features Adam West and Burt Ward back as the voices of Batman and Robin, not to mention Julie Newmar as their adversary Catwoman. Since the original stars who played The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin have since passed away, other voice talent has taken up those roles, but a big name has been cast to take on a different villain in the sequel.

William Shatner has been cast as the voice Harvey “Two-Face” Dent in the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders sequel, expected to arrive sometime in 2017. ...

Super heroes are busting out all over. On the live-action side there are new theatricals, new TV shows ... and Supergirl meeting up with Wonder Woman (okay, Lynda Carter as not Wonder Woman).

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Mining the Vault -- Part Whatever

From the intertoobs:

... In Disney’s quest to turn every single one of its properties into an ouroboros of cartoon-sequel-live action remake-live action sequel-cartoon again, Aladdin is going to join Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella as a live-action movie. And they’ve somehow landed on Guy Ritchie as the director. ...

John August, entertainment journals report, has written the screenplay.

In my long-ago youth (we're talking the 1980s), people used to complain to me that Disney wasn't Disney anymore, and wasn't that a shame, wasn't that dispiriting (etc.) I used to think they were on to something, these people, grousing about how the company of Walt had become impure, and just wasn't, you know Disney anymore.

Now I think the complaints are poppycock. Walt went to his reward a half century ago. "Walt's dead and you missed it!*" Sweet little Walt Disney Productions is now the gargantuan Walt Disney Company, the Berkshire-Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, and it makes product to

1) increase profit margins and cash flow

2) strengthen the bottom line

3) expand and reinforce the brand.

Nobody can bring back the studio that existed in the era of Snow White ... or when Disneyland was built ... or the period when young Jeffrey Katzenberg breathed fresh life into feature animation a quarter century ago.

All that's over.

What's there now is a large, busy company that's out to maximize the potential of its Intellectual Property. Diz Co. has long-since stumbled onto the fact that remakes of its animated library make mountains of money, so quess what? The company is going to order up remakes of even marginal hits from its past.

If purists don't like that, they can go watch a Blu-Ray of So Dear To My Heart, and pine for the way things used to be.

* Ward Kimball gleefully telling art students that they weren't around for the glory days of the studio, and too fcking bad.

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Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Weekend Foreign Box Office

The numbers and totals that keep our fine entertainment conglomerates making the cartoons.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Miss Peregrine's Home -- $42,500,000 -- ($145,100,000)

Operation Mekong -- $26,500,000 -- ($97,500,000)

The Girl On The Train -- $16,500,000 -- ($41,200,000)

Bridget Jones's Baby -- $11,300,000 -- ($120,600,000)

Deepwater Horizon -- $10,600,000 -- ($66,300,000)

Storks -- $9,700,000 -- ($106,100,000)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $9,100,000 -- ($848,200,000)

Finding Dory -- $8,900,000 -- (1,001,500,000)

Sausage Party -- $4,100,000 -- ($129,209,151)

Kubo and the Two Strings -- $1,300,000 -- ($63,108,048)

Sausage Party, though not a huge grosser by international box office standards, has taken in over sixt times its production costs. For the rest:

Finding Dory is now No. 3 globally for 2016 and the No. 5 animated pic of all time. German-speaking Europe maintained No. 1 in week 2. ...

Storks delivered $9.7M from approximately 8,300 screens in 55 international markets. The cume is now $56M. In Spain, the drop was 20% for a $2.8M cume. China leads overseas with $11.3M after 15 days and amid a crowded roster of local titles. ...

Here in October, five of the top 11 highest-grossing features are animated. And most of the rest are super hero flicks with loads of animated effects.

SO, we could say that 2016 is the Year of Animation, yes?

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Saturday, October 08, 2016


A fine entertainment journal tells us:

Disney XD is debuting a new original animated series Marvel’s Spider-Man, which is set to premiere next year, said Cort Lane, senior vice president at Marvel Animation and Family Entertainment, at New York Comic Con. Produced by Marvel Television, the series follows the teenage years of Spider-Man, as an unsure but courageous Peter Parker has to figure out how to be a superhero from the very beginning. Alan Fine, Dan Buckley, Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb from the Marvel Animation team are executive producing.

The basic cable channel’s other web-slinger animated series Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man is in its fourth season which will end with a two-part finale in January 2017. ...

If you're keeping track of these things at home, Ultimate Spider-Man was produced* by Film Roman (on Hollywood Way in Burbank) for multiple years, while Spider-Man is being done at Marvel Animation's Glendale Studios.

One can never have too much Spider-Man.

* Produced means the pre-production. Production (animation, color, etc.) was done out of the U.S. of A.

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Troll Hunters

From one of the usual suspects:

Guillermo del Toro’s animated Dreamwork’s Trollhunters series will launch on December 23 it was announced today at New York Comic-Con. At the Theater at Madison Square Garden panel for the series, a new trailer for the Anton Yelchin, Kelsey Grammer, Ron Perlman, Steven Yeun and Charlie Saxton voiced show was shown too- as you can see above. ...

As happens in the Modern Era, there's a whole lot of cartoonin' in evidence around the world.

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Our American Box Office

The Weekend List for the big movie grossers has one animated feature in it.

Domestic Weekend Box Office

1). The Girl on the Train (UNI/DW), 3,144 theaters / $9.4M Fri. (includes $1.23m previews)/ 3-day cume: $26.7M / Wk 1

2). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (FOX), 3,705 theaters (+182) / $4M Fri. (-57%)/ 3-day cume: $14.7M (-49%)/Total: $50.9M/Wk 2

3). Deepwater Horizon (LG), 3,259 theaters (0) / $3.3M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $11.6M (-43%)/Total: $38.4M/ Wk 2

4.) Magnificent Seven (SONY), 3,696 theaters (+22) / $2.6M Fri. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $8.9M (-43%)/Total cume: $75.7M/ Wk 3

5). Storks (WB), 3,608 theaters (-314) / $2.1M Fri. (-33%) /3-day cume: $8.5M(-37%) /Total: $50.2M/ Wk 3

6). Birth of a Nation (FSL), 3,042 theaters / $2.6M Fri. (includes $350k-$400k previews)/ 3-day cume: $7.8M / Wk 1

7). Middle School (CBS/LG), 2,822 theaters / $1.99M Fri./ 3-day cume: $6.6M / Wk 1

8). Sully (WB), 3,058 theaters (-659)/ $1.4M Fri. (-42%)/ 3-day cume: $4.9M(-41%)/Total: $113.1M / Wk 5

9). Masterminds (REL), 3,042 theaters / $1.1M Fri. (-52%) / 3-day cume: $3.9M (-40%)/Total: $12.6M/ Wk 2

10). Queen of Katwe (DIS), 1,259 theaters (+17) / $447K Fri. (-37%)/ 3-day cume: $1.6M (-36%) / Total cume: $5.4M / Wk 3 ...

Storks has crossed the $50 million threshold. Anybody's guess if/when it cracks $60 million. Or $70 million.

There have been a plethora of animated features released in 2016, with several major theatrical unveilings still to come. Trolls (DWA) breaks on November 4th, Moana (from Disney) happens at Thanksgiving, and Sing (Illumination Entertainment) arrives on December 21st.

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Friday, October 07, 2016

Tom Tomorrow

An entertainment journal tells us:

Animation house Film Roman announced today that it has optioned This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow, the long-running and acclaimed weekly comic strip written and drawn by Dan Perkins, with plans for an episodic series to be co-executive produced by company founder and legendary animator Phil Roman. ...

One of the seminal works of underground political cartooning of the the last 30 years, This Modern World has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Economist, as well as a host of independent weeklies since its launch in 1988. ...

The planned animated series will retain the political and social bent of the original strip and in the words of executive producer Jeff Segal, who is developing the series for Film Roman, will be aiming at “essentially the same demographic as The Simpsons“. ...

Film Roman left its Burbank location months ago, after The Simpsons departed for Fox Animation and the company founded by Phil Roman had no work in either development or production. FR has now settled in the West Valley with a small staff and its founder.

Phil Roman's company has come a long way from its start with Garfield and Friends in the 1980s. After Garfiled there was Bobby's World, Mother Goose and Grimm, Mighty Max, Richie Rich and Bruno the Kid. There was King of the Hill and The Simpsons. For a time in the '80s and '90s, the studio was the independent animation facility in Southern California, making many of the coolest kid shows. Along the way, Phil R. left the company as corporate finances suffered, then suffered some more, but now there's the prospect of a new beginning with Tom Tomorrow, and we wish the organization well.

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Continuing That Upward Trajectory

... which is a theme we've recently been on, yes?

FX Networks has upped television executive Kate Lambert to the post of senior vice president of series development and animation, Variety has learned.

Lambert’s promotion comes as FX is emphasizing an expansion in animated programming, highlighted by FX boss John Landgraf‘s announcement this summer at the Television Critics Association that FXX will be moving “really aggressively” into more animated series and short-form series in the adult animation format.

In the new role, Lambert — who developed and oversees the critically-acclaimed and Emmy winning animated comedy “Archer” — will head development of animated original series and short-form animated programs for FX and FXX. She will also continue to develop live-action series for both networks. ...

More and more animation is, apparently, getting pushed into various production pipelines. This explains why I hear supervisors complaining about the difficulty in finding experienced board artists, experienced timing directors, experienced revisionists, etc.

Ms. Lambert and her promotion at FX is merely the latest indicator.

The bigger story here is that cartoons continue their run as a high-profit sector of story-telling, a sweet combination of lower production costs and higher margins.

The cable networks, Amazon, Netflix, theater chains and the wider internet are not in showbiz for the charitable side of it. The moolah is the important part, and they want to make a good college try as raking in as much as they can. Hence, animation.

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Ever Voracious Netflix

From an entertainment journal:

Fox Broadcasting is teaming with the Google Spotlight Stories to create a special virtual reality experience for The Simpsons couch gag to commemorate its milestone 600th episode. Titled “Planet of the Couches,” the gag will open the “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” episode on October 16 and will be available via Google Spotlight Stories and Google Cardboard app for the full VR experience.

“Planet of the Couches” takes viewers on a completely immersive VR experience as the world of The Simpsons is extended to 360 degrees. The audience is able to enter and explore the universe of the long-running animated series, with multiple viewings yielding different results. ...

Decades after I'm moldering in the grave, The Simpsons will be creating new episodes and providing work for board artists, writers and animators yet unborn.

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Saban Still Makes the Cartoons

In the go-go nineties, Haim Saban's studio was a prolific cartoon producer. Saban partnered with Marvel and Dic, distributed (and redubbed) dozens and dozens of Japanese anime cartoons. They produced live-action television shows (Power Rangers) and theatrical features (Casper the Ghost 2). The company partnered with Fox and both corporations profited hugely by selling out to Disney.

But Mr. Saban's corporate namesake is still in the game:

... Saban Brands also received two series orders from Netflix: Kibaoh Klashers, to debut next year, and Treehouse Detectives, co-produced by Saban Brands and Sunwoo Animation, and set for a 2018 launch. ...

Of course it's not just Netflix animation and kid shows) being made with Saban. There's also this ...

[Netflix] ordered eight episodes of Lego Elves, The Lego Group, to debut in 2017 with hero character Emily Jones returning to Elvendale with her little sister, Sophie. Netflix already has Lego Bionicle: The Journey to One and Lego Friends: The Power of Friendship in its kids' lineup.

The streamer is also reteaming with Arad's 41 Entertainment shingle on Super Monsters, about six preschoolers with superpowers. Netflix earlier partnered with Arad on Kong: King of the Apes and the upcoming Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and Jane. ...

Also headed to Netflix is Slap Happy Cartoons' The Hollow, an animated-action series about three teens in a maze of bizarre towns and odd time portals, to debut in 2018; and ITV Studio's Robozuna, to launch worldwide in early 2018, and then afterward in the U.K. on CiTV. ...

The point is that animation, driven by a voracious market, continues to grow because large corporate entities continue to find it highly profitable. Which brings employment opportunities to artists, writers and technicians, both in California and other parts of the globe.

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