Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Meditations: An Exhibit opens next week!

Opens Friday, October 10th
6:00 pm to 9:00 pm

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Cartoon Network's Anti-Bullying Outreach

The Washington Post details anti-bullying campaigns in kids' television:

It used to be that when a television show wanted to get serious, it would take a break from its everyday proceedings for a Very Special Episode, devoted to the consequences of unusual intrusions into what was presumed to be everyday life, including drunken driving, racism, or violence against children. ...

But for Cartoon Network, which is on track to collect a million viewer-made videos in an ongoing bullying prevention campaign, raising awareness has become less about trying to push the children who are its target audience into new ways of thinking and more about meeting them where they are. ...

Rather than commissioning bullying-specific storylines, Alice Cahn [Vice President for Social Responsibilty at Cartoon Network] met with animators to give them the information. “A guy raised his hand in the back and said, you don’t need to share this with us, in junior high, we were the kids getting our heads stepped on in the toilet bowl,” she recalled. Now, the network produces anti-bullying posters featuring characters from Cartoon Network shows and quotes they have already spoken in episodes — Cartoon Network does not have to put new words in their mouths to get a message across. ...

In the sixties, when I was growing up, most kids got bullied at one time or another. In those far-off days, there weren't many counseling programs to deal with it, or cartoons on Saturday morning to raise collective awareness of the problem. You just suffered through the torture, and muddled through.

We look at school bullies as a modern phenomenon, but they've been around forever. And things like school massacres? A totally new occurrence, something that never occurred before in the Land of the Free. (Except not).

At least now, we're dealing with the problems in a slightly more sophisticated, systematic way.

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Premiere Ratings

Fox Broadcasting had a good Sunday night.

The season premiere of The Simpsons scored a 3.9 adults 18-49 rating, up 34 percent from a 2.9 for the previous season premiere and up 144 percent from a 1.6 for the previous season finale.

It was the show's highest rated premiere in three years. ... The season premiere of Family Guy, which was an hour-long crossover with The Simpsons, notched a 4.5 adults 18-49 rating, up 73 percent from a 2.6 for the previous season premiere and up a 125 percent from a 2.0 for the previous season finale.

It ranked as Family Guy’s highest rated premiere since 2010. ...

There was a time when other networks programmed animation in prime time, but putting on cartoons in the evening on various networks has disappeared ... except at Fox.

A few months ago, I asked an executive who works in the upper reaches of Disney's ABC network if the Mouse was ever going to challenge Fox in prime-time network land, maybe sign an agreement with the Writers Guild of America, the better to compete with Rupert's minions.

He looked at me as if I'd just climbed out of an over-flowing septic tank and said, "Never."

So I guess the only broadcast entity serious about animated half-hours between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. is the one owned by News Corp.

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Wrestling with a Conglomerate

The Editors Guild, Local 700, IATSE, is punching back:

IATSE accuses cable channel of retaliating against workers wanting to unionize

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union representing striking editors on Bravo's “Shahs of Sunset,” has filed charges against the cable network with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union alleges that Bravo is retaliating against workers requesting union representation. Last week, Ryan Seacrest Productions handed over the production of “Shahs” to Bravo amid a work stoppage by the show's editors. Individuals with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap that the cable network will most likely hire non-union editors to finish “Shahs'” fourth season.

“If Bravo or Ryan Seacrest thinks that their problems go away because they announce that our editors have been fired, they're sorely mistaken,” said Alan Heim, ACE, President of the Motion Picture Editors Guild (IATSE Local 700), in a statement on Monday. ...

At the moment, NBC-Universal is playing hardball with the striking crew. The editors have a hill to climb, but continue to picket on Wilshire Blvd. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Broadening Their Reach

Internet distribution giants go after overseas cartoons.

With networks increasingly tightening their purse strings, digital platforms like Amazon and Netflix are opening up a whole range of opportunities for European animation producers and sales agents.

“Netflix and Amazon are the first players in broadcast history that are global and do not own a kids library and production unit so they are willing to invest. It’s a big change,” said Philippe Soutter, co-founder of Paris-based PGS Entertainment, which handles “Monchhichi” and “The Jungle Report.”

Netflix, which launched last week in France (along with Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg), has been on a buying spree, picking up five shows, including “Pok et Mok,” “Alfred,” “Franklin” and “La Petite Geante,” from Gaumont Animation. ...

Amazon, which attended Cartoon Forum for the first time, is having a more cherry-picking approach than Netflix, but still ensures series great visibility across multiple markets, said Malene Iversen, head of sales at Copenhagen Bombay, pitcher of “Me and Sonny” at Cartoon Forum. ...

Like more and more platforms, Amazon aims to board series at an early stage to participate in the creative process and is looking for diverse shows from different nationalities. ...

The question will ultimately be: Which cartoon series will have the broadest worldwide popularity? And if Amazon and Netflix can pick winners, then over time they'll want to own franchises outright.

Cartoons, after all, are ever green products that generate significant cash flow for decades. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna may have gone to their rewards, but the animated half-hours they've left behind still make other people money.

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Your Worldwide Box Office

As detailed for us by the beloved Rentrak.


The Boxtrolls -- $5,100,000 -- ($34,950,000)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $4,000,000 -- ($644,292,000)

Teenage Mutant Turtles -- $3,900,000 -- ($342,082,132)

Dawn of Planet Apes -- $3,300,000 -- ($695,789,537)

And then there are the old animation titles with little in the way of box office grosses left in them, but hang in at various multiplexes anyway.

Almost Gone Features -- World Cumes

How to Train Your Dragon 2 -- $611,076,665

Planes: Fire & Rescue -- $138,772,624

Maleficent -- $756,489,220

Add On: Deadline gives a breakdown of what title is doing what, where.

... Universal release The Boxtrolls added an estimated $5.1M this frame at 1,806 dates in 16 territories for an early total of $17.7M. The Laika Entertainment pic opened in Russia at No. 5 with $1.1M at 80 dates. That was 72% above Coraline and 28% above Paranorman, both of which also hailed from Laika. In New Zealand, it opened on par with those films with $76K at 50 dates. Kiwi kids are off on school holidays from tomorrow. The Philippines bowed to an estimated $27K at 51 dates. ...

Disney/Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy added $4M from 33 overseas territories this frame as it preps a landing in China on Oct 10. The offshore cume to date is now $325.1M with a worldwide take of $644.29M.

Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still strutting at the overseas box office with an added $3.9M at 2,156 locations in 40 holdover territories. The international total to date is $154.9M. ...

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is closing in on the $500M international mark with $3.26M more this frame for a current haul of $488.2M. As the Fox movie wraps its run in China, it has cumed $107.3M there. Japan is still performing with a $7.85M cume after this 2nd frame. ...

And just so nobody thinks it's only about American movies ...

German 3D animated pic The 7th Dwarf opened in Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland to gross a total estimated $830K at 641 dates. Directed by Boris Aljinovic and Harald Siepermann, it’s the story of clumsy Bobo who triggers a major crisis at Fantabularasa Castle that puts the entire kingdom into a deep sleep

Bobo? Bobo?! Whatever happened to Doc, Sleepy, Bashful, etc. etc.??

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Via President Emeritus Tom Sito:

ANIMATION BREAKDOWN: The Hubleys - A Centennial Celebration (trailer) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.


Today's the last day of the Hubleys' show on Fairfax. ...

As Jerry Beck relates:

The Cinefamily presents a major retrospective and art exhibition at The Silent Movie Theatre this weekend, 9/26-9/28: The Hubleys, A Centennial Celebration. Screenings include newly restored and 35mm prints, an art exhibition of original Hubley family artwork, and live appearances.

John Hubley had been a Disney animator and a pioneer at UPA (he created Mr. Magoo), but during the McCarthy days he refused to name names and was blacklisted. This led to him forming his own fiercely independent animation studio with his wife, which became one the most influential animation teams of the 20th Century -- they won Oscars and created the whole mid-century cartoon aesthetic. ...

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sale Pending?

Now with Add Ons!

The trades tell us ...

Word spread late today that Japanese conglomerate SoftBank was in talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation. When reached by Deadline, a DreamWorks Animation spokesperson said, “We do not comment on rumors and speculations; we do not know where this news is coming from.” A source with knowledge of the matter told Deadline, “talks are at a preliminary stage, but no paper has been signed.” ...

I've thought for a long time that Jeffrey was angling to sell DreamWorks Animation even as he denied he had any interest in selling. Back a few years ago, an animation exec (and entrepreneur) told me over breakfast that Mr. Katzenberg had been trying to sell DWA before the bottom dropped out of the economy in '08.

Six-plus years further on, DreamWorks Animation now owns some some valuable content, not only its library of films, but its internet properties, and its library of acquired cartoon characters. So at the right price, the company would be well worth purchasing. My crystal ball tells me if a sales happens, Jeffrey will stay involved with the company under a long-term employment contract.

I guess we'll find out how much change comes to DreamWorks Animation in relatively short order. If Softbank buys the the company, it will likely do it sooner instead of later. (Maybe even by Monday!)

Add On: The L.A. Times take; the New York Times take says this:

... One reason that acquisition talks have never gone anywhere is that Mr. Katzenberg — who controls an outsize portion of the voting power — has demanded a hefty price. Mr. Katzenberg has publicly said in the past that he believes DreamWorks Animation is worth as much as its rival, Pixar Animation Studios. The Walt Disney Company paid $7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006. ...

This is pretty much what I've heard over the years. Mr. Katzenberg wants a Pixar-sized deal, but the Mouse's purchase of the Emeryville studio was a non-recurring phenomenon: Diz Co. believed it needed Steve Jobs' company a lot, and paid accordingly.

But there haven't been other conglomerates who felt the same way about DreamWorks Animation. So nobody is going to cough up $7,000,000,000. Maybe Jeffrey is coming to terms with this reality.

Add On: Bloomberg discusses Softbank's move to acquire DreamWorks Animation:

SoftBank controls the third-largest U.S. mobile operator, Sprint Corp. (S), and has been looking for more U.S. media and technology investments. The company ended talks to buy the fourth-largest mobile carrier, T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS), in August because of regulatory opposition.

SoftBank can afford DreamWorks Animation and a successful deal would make it the second Japanese company to currently own a Hollywood film studio. The company’s stake of more than 30 percent of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), the Chinese e-commerce company that went public this month, has a market value of more than $70 billion. Sony Corp. (6758) owns a film and TV studio in Culver City, California.

Just weeks after abandoning the T-Mobile takeover, SoftBank sold almost $4 billion in bonds. Alibaba’s initial public offering on Sept. 19, which led SoftBank to forecast a gain of about 500 billion yen ($4.6 billion), is a step toward global expansion, Son said at the time on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.”

Most Acquisitive

“The acquisition would benefit SoftBank in revenue, and also by offering content to its mobile carrier, it would benefit Sprint,” said Tomoaki Kawasaki, a Tokyo-based analyst with Iwai Cosmo Securities Co Ltd.

Son (CEO of Softbank) laid out a 300-year plan in 2010 that included investing in 5,000 companies by 2040. Even as he forecast that 99.98 percent of companies would cease to exist in their current form over the next 30 years, he vowed that SoftBank would survive. Last year, he attempted to buy Universal Music Group from France’s Vivendi. ...

“Most investors believe Katzenberg wants a deal with a bigger media company where he has a path to the CEO seat,” said Paul Sweeney, director of North American research at Bloomberg Intelligence. “This does not appear to be such a deal.” ...

Add On Too: The Wall Street Journal says (behind a fire wall):

SoftBank Corp.'s discussions to acquire DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. have cooled, according to people familiar with the matter, less than two days after word first emerged of the talks.

It wasn't immediately clear what had happened between Saturday, when the talks were under way, and Monday. It remained possible that negotiations could restart, two of the people said. The two sides could ultimately strike a deal other than an outright takeover ...

Add On III: Like an energetic shark, Softbank has, if reports are true, turned its attention away from DWA.

The same day that talks SoftBank and DreamWorks Animation cooled off, the Japanese telco/Internet company has turned its attention to Legendary Pictures. Sources tell Deadline that Softbank is looking to take an equity stake in Thomas Tull’s studio, which aligned with NBCUniversal last year. Legendary reps could not be reached for comment. ...

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Leverage ... and Hard-To-Move Objects

A brief back-story: A couple weeks back, the editors on the reality show Shahs of Sunset went on strike. Apparently they wanted better pay, saner hours, and health and pension benefits. Socialistic things like that.

Since the walk-out, there's been a picket line on Wilshire, with which the Animation Guild has been proud to help out. A week ago, NBC-Universal moved the shows launch date back, and now there is this:

Bravo has taken over production on its reality series “Shahs of Sunset” from Ryan Seacrest Prods. to end the standoff with 16 editors who are seeking IATSE representation.

Bravo and Ryan Seacrest Prods. confirmed the shift in production responsibility on Friday afternoon. The show had been in post-production on its fourth season when 14 editors and two assistant editors went out on strike earlier this month, demanding an IATSE contract.

IATSE condemned Bravo’s move to fire the editors as a violation of the employees’ legal right to organize. ...

The story here is pretty simple: union yanks crew. Company decides to be hard-fanny.

But the company would, we think, take a different tack if Shahs of Sunset was a major hit, pulling in big bucks for NBC-Universal, and advertisers were screaming.

But that's not the case.

The ratings for Shahs are far from stellar, ranking down below any number of animated half-hours and the 4,522nd re-running for Friends on the magical Nielsen list, so NBC-Universal (the owner of Bravo, on which the show airs) is not feeling too vulnerable.

The situation would be different if SoS was a more valuable commodity, but it rates what it rates, and the boys and girls at the network aren't about to let some uppity labor organization waltz in and grab better wages and benefits for its members without a fight. Especially when the show is marginal and the corporation doesn't stand to lose much.

So NBC-U will try to get current episodes completed with some other crew, the Editors Guild will work to get a contract, and the strike will go on.

And it's safe to say that union leverage has, because corporate stakes are low, met a hard-to-move object.

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Box Office Across the Fruited Plain

The weekend totals.

1). The Equalizer (SONY), 3,236 theaters / $12.5-13M Fri. (includes $1.45M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $33-37M / Wk 1

2). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3,638 theaters (9%) / $5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16-17M (-44%) / Total cume: $58M / Wk 2).

3). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3,464 theaters / $4.8M Fri. (includes $1.45M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $16.5M / Wk 1

4). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2,868 theaters/ $2.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7 M (-50%) / Total cume: $22.5M / Wk 2

5). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 3,376 theaters (-8%) / $M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5M (-43%)/ Total cume: $33M / Wk 3

6). No Good Deed (SONY), 2,130 theaters (-2%) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.6M / Total cume: $46M / Wk 3

7). A Walk Among the Tombstones (UNI), 2,714 theaters (-1%) / $1.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.4M / Total cume: $21M / Wk 2

8). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 2,451 theaters (-16%) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.7M / Total cume: $319M / Wk 9

9). Let’s Be Cops (FOX), 1,534 theaters (-33%) / $400K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.4M / Total cume: $79M / Wk 7

10). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PAR), 1,585 theaters (-32%) / $340K Friday / 3-day cume: $1.4M / Total cume: $187M / Wk 8

Meantime, a few older animation titles continue to hang around.

The Old Timers -- Domestic Totals

24) Dawn of Planet Apes -- $207,367,837

25) Maleficent -- $240,147,220

28) How To Train Dragon 2 -- $175,655,104

34) Transformers: Extinction -- $245,288,377

37) Planes: Fire and Rescue -- $58,590,624

No doubt Diz Co. will keep Planes in circulation until it breaches that magical $58 million.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Just Crazy

But hey. It's an art form.

'The Boxtrolls' And Why It's Crazy To Do Stop-Motion Animation

“It’s the worst way to make a movie,” said [producer Travis] Knight. “It makes no sense. You’re cutting your hands and contorting your body. But it’s an incredible art form that is so rare and so beautiful.” ...

“Stop-motion combines all the worst aspects of live and stop-motion,” said director Anthony Stacchi at Comic-Con. “It’s very much a performance. We might do one rough pass of moving the puppets and a rehearsal but then we really have to do the whole scene in one go.” ...

Tell us something we don't know.

The reason that more studios don't do more stop motion isn't because it's difficult. Or time consuming.

It's that the big studios have made lots more money with CGI animated features than the other versions of animation. If our fine entertainment conglomerates made bigger grosses from stop motion and/or hand-drawn animation, then the multiplexes would be full of them.

But CGI animated features are the coins of the realm, so that's what Disney, Fox-News Corp, Sony and Viacom tend to mint. There are, of course, the occasional stop-motion/hand-drawn feature from Europe (and elsewhere), but these are small-budget releases that mostly earn small grosses. Niche, boutique features, if you will. (We'll leave off the specialty items derived from tv shows like The Simpsons or Sponge Bob Square Pants).

Until the market changes, CGI features will be what most companies focus on.

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Work for FREE!

And, at the same time, pay for some college course or other where you can earn course credit so that this scam is legal.

Our friends at Blur Studio in Culver City have this gem up on social media:

Blur Studio is seeking unpaid Animation Interns to work on a Blur sponsored project here at our Culver City studio. Applicants must be in a program through which they can earn course credit for their work. Ideal candidates will have a positive attitude, the ability to take direction and work independently, experience animating in 3dsMax, Maya, or XXSI and a desire to grow as an artist. Please send reels and resume to ... (etc.)

No minimum wage. In fact, no wage at all. Such a deal.

Of course, you can earn course credit by going to a college or university and listening to the prof. And that would probably be more restful than being bent over a computer monitor animating for Blur Studio for ten or twelve hours at a stretch.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Animation de France

From Variety:

France Televisions injects 29 million Euros ($37 million) per year into animated programs. Why do you invest so much in animation?

Kids programming is one of the editorial mandates of France Televisions. Children watch a lot of TV and we see them as future citizens, not just as future consumers. Our ambition is to strengthen our role as prime purveyor of qualitative animated programs for young audiences — one which parents can trust.

As public broadcaster, [we] have a responsibility: develop a qualitative offer which helps young people become citizens, promotes values of civism, equality, integration, which contributes to the battle against discrimination and stereotypes.

This is why we program more than 5000 hours of animation on our channels each year — France 3, France 5 et since March also on France 4 from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. These channels attract considerable audiences. ...

France has long been a center for animation (even though a lot of the country's output i unknown to American audiences.)

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered a veteran of Paris's MacGuff Studios, who reported that long hours and not great pay are not limited to cartoon factories in the States. He said that under-reported work hours happened in the City of Light, too. Who could have guessed?

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Honorees at World Animation and VFX Summit

An eclectic mix of artists.

Film Roman founder Phil Roman, DreamWorks producer Bonnie Arnold (How to Train Your Dragon 2), director David Silverman (The Simpsons, The Longest Daycare), veteran voice actor Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh), Gotham Group founder Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, and RGH (Rubicon Group Holding) Studio will be honored at The World Animation & VFX Summit on November 2nd, at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey. This year’s six honorees selected for their contributions to the art, technology and business of animation and visual effects. ...

Acclaimed former Disney animator Glen Keane (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Tangled), Production Designer Max Keane and Technical Project Lead Rachid E Guerrab discuss the making of Google’s beautiful new 2D animated short Duet. ...

To spotlight one of the honorees: Phil Roman began his career in the Disney animation department and had a long tenure at Bill Melendez Productions was a director. Founding his own studio where he produced Garfields specials and episodics, then a myriad of other television shows including Bobby's World and The Simpsons, Phil's studio was one of the most successful independent operations in a time when small animation studios were more than just job shops creating product wholly owned by monster entertainment conglomerates the way they are today.

Film Roman was among the last of the independents that created and owned their own shows. Hardly possible now, but very possible in that happy time before federal laws and regulations allowed the giants to vertically integrate everything. Now, if Disney, Viacom, Fox or Time Warner doesn't own the cartoon, then the cartoon never gets on broadcast and/or cable. (That's changed a wee bit with the growing reach of the worldwide web, but we'll see how much it changes. And for how long.)

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Trailer Thumping

Lift-off is only weeks away, so on to the next trailer.

And nobody's singing Broadway show tunes, and there is no snow in sight. So I have no idea what its world grosses are gonna be, except it should make money for Diz Co. Click here to read entire post

Mouse in the Sub-Continent

Diz Co., despite a big investment, appears to be struggling inside the Indian market.

India Remains A Dream For Disney: Not A Reality

Disney is going back to its brand in an attempt to connect with the tough Indian market. The only demographic being reached by Disney in India is the educated, elite class, it must go beyond them to grow. Executives abandoning UTV after Disney acquired it suggest there is still a cultural disconnect that has to be solved. ...

The major hurdle is the very localized tastes of the people of India, which results in many films being accepted in some areas, while in other areas comparatively doing almost nothing. Indian filmmakers know this, which is why it produces many more films each year. They must produce according to local and regional tastes, which requires many more productions. ...

Disney's strategy in India was the acquisition of UTV. At that time of the closing of the deal the company reached over 100 million Indian viewers on a weekly basis.

UTV is comprised of five foundational brands - Disney; Marvel; Bindass (which targets Indian youth); Hungama TV, a children's channel; and UTV.

Initially the deal did well for Disney, as a number of decent performances from its film releases showed promise. Again, the problem is how it can successfully reach beyond the elite, educated consumer to a much larger market. ...

Branding is one of its biggest, if not the biggest challenges, because many people have no emotional connection with Disney, if they've heard of them at all. I also know from people that have worked in India in other areas of life, that it is just as hard to make inroads among the various ethnic groups as it is anywhere in the world. It appears Disney faces the same challenge in the film and TV business there. ...

Disney's India business is going to weigh on the company for a long time. It's going to have to go incrementally across numerous ethnic groups and geographic regions, probably having to figure out how each one can be penetrated and won over. ...

Disney spent close to half a billion to acquire UTV Motion Pictures; by all accounts, the investment isn't anywhere close to paying off. And now that UTV's top staffers have gone elsewhere, Ciz Co. is faced with starting over and rebuilding from the sub-basement up.

Apparently not every corporate acquisition Disney makes pays off like a rigged slot machine. Odd.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

At Warner Bros. Animation

Warner Bros. Animation is house in (count 'em) four different buildings on the Warner ranch in Burbank. Last week I got to the main animation building; today I traipsed through the two multi-story structures at the south end of the lot. ....

The studio has more more work in progress than it did a year ago. Wabbit, the latest incarnation of Bugs and Co., is deep into boarding and design. I talked to one of the people working on it who said:

"We're getting back to the original takes on the characters. The company knows it's gotten away from the Bugs and Daffy that made Looney Tunes popular back in the day. So we're going for the approach that made the characters work, the sight gags, the craziness. The new Mickey Mouse cartoons are, what? Three minutes long? These new Wabbit cartoons are going to be five minutes, which is a couple of minutes shorter than the old theatrical shorts.

The trick is, we can't do all of the same kinds of gags. We can't do a gun going on in Daffy's face, can't do all the shooting with guns. So we have to do work arounds, find jokes that work for the characters but avoid the modern prohibitions." ...

I told the artist I get why the Powers-That-Be don't want all the fire-arm humor from the old days, except it's actually kind of a dumb prohibition since all the old cartoons are out there and I seriously doubt that six-year-olds are going to differentiate between the original crop of LT shorts and the new cartoons without all the bang-bang, shoot-shoot.

The originals from the thirties and forties will still be on the internet and cable networks, correct? And they will have the off-limit violence in abundance, won't they? Like for instance ...

Elsewhere in the building, artists and designers are working on a new Lego TV series, which makes a great deal of sense, what with the Lego theatrical feature that cleaned up at the box office. (Synergy! That's where it's at! Monetize product on all the distribution platforms!)

Since this is a television project, animation is being done in China rather than Australia. Now if the Chinese will only wise up and kick in some tax incentives ...

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Ever Expanding Animation Markets

Everybody wants a slice of the global marketplace.

Estonian arthouse animation seeks bigger auds

Produced by Estonia’s Nukufilm, stop-motion dialogue-free “Carrot” will be pitched on Friday at Toulouse’s 25th Cartoon Forum.

Tallin-based Nukufilm (“Lost and Found”) was founded in 1957 and according to studio sources, produces “90 minutes of pure animation per year,” being the biggest puppet animation studio in Northern Europe.

“Nukufilm'”s is one out of the six projects coming from Eastern Europe –Poland has two and Croatia, Latvia and Bulgaria one a piece. ...

“Estonian animation industry is approaching more and more mainstream areas. And this series project is also a sign of this trend.” ...

It mostly flies under the radar, but non-U.S. animated features do credible business in various foreign venues.

The Hayao Miyazaki features, for example.

And this:

[Spanish] local toon biz’s flagship is Enrique Gato’s Indiana Jones parody “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” the third Spanish film in a row to open Cartoon Movie. Studiocanal-sold, “Tad” snagged $40 million worldwide through Feb. 17, becoming Spain’s highest-grossing Spanish toon ever ($24.6 million), distribbed by Paramount.

“Spain’s film sector now accepts animation as part of its industry,” says “Tad” writer-producer Jordi Gasull at El Toro. ...

You don't have to rake in half a billion in worldwide grosses if you can make features that cost five or ten million dollars. A fifty million dollar gross will make you a very tidy profit.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Starz, the media company (and long-time owner of Film Roman), is putting itself through some changes.

Starz Puts Itself Up For Acquisition, Meets With Fox for Potential Bid

The premium cable company's market value is currently $3.2 billion, Discovery is said to be interested

Starz is shopping itself for possible acquisition, taking a meeting on Tuesday with 21st Century Fox, according to individuals with knowledge of the encounter.

Starz could be a valuable asset to the right media company. The premium cable company could be valued at more than $3.2 billion based on its share price of $29.58 on Tuesday.

One individual close to the discussions said Discovery Communications was an interested bidder. The Walt Disney Co., which does not have a premium cable channel and whose CEO Bob Iger has acquired numerous assets in recent years, could be another potential buyer ...

The one constant in 20th century America is ... the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is a quaint relic from the 19th century, and we're done with it.

Starz has talked about spinning off Film Roman for some time. (They acquired it eight years back.)

But I wonder how a corporate acquisition by an outside party would impact the crew of the Yellow Family? (I mean, Diz Co. owning yet another animation studio? That produces The Simpsons? At least if Fox picked up Starz, the prime time cartoon would be coming full circle.)

We'll just have to wait and see who buys the corporation, and then make wise-ass comments.

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The Constant Lure of Free Money

A California visual effects shop opens an outpost in Canada. (What a surprise).

VFX studio Atomic Fiction — formed four years ago in the Bay Area with projects including Robert Zemeckis’ Flight — has settled into its second base, Montreal.

Both the Oakland, Calif., and Montreal bases of the company are currently working on Zemeckis’ next film, The Walk, which tells the story of Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Filming of The Walk recently began in Montreal, where Atomic Fiction operated out of a temporary space while its new 15,000-square-foot space was being readied.

The company now has roughly 50 artists in the Bay Area and roughly 40 in Montreal. ... Atomic Fiction signed a six-year lease for its Montreal space and aims to expand the base to 100 artists. Co-founder Kevin Baillie told The Hollywood Reporter that the company had been looking to expand into Canada, and it chose Montreal due to the fact that The Walk was shooting there and, of course, healthy tax incentives that are "some of the best out there." ...

The great thing for Atomic Fiction is, the subsidies will flow in both California and Canada, what with the Golden state's new tax incentives and all. But the pile of free money will be higher in Canada, so naturally enough, more employees will be in Montreal.

Free enterprise and rugged individualism is truly grand, wouldn't you say?

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Early Cartoons

Mr. Beck brings this to our attention.

Turner Classic Movies is going Back To The Drawing Board on Monday night October 6th. For only the second time in two years, the network will devote over six hours of prime-time programming to classic, historically-rare animated shorts and feature films. ...

Ten Winsor McCay shorts will be shown including Little Nemo (1911), Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), How A Mosquito Operates (1912), The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), The Flying House (1921) and Gertie On Tour (1921). ...

From 12:15am (EST)/9:15pm (PST) animated feature films - Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1927), Max Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels (1939), Toei Animation's Magic Boy (1959) and Chuck Jones The Phantom Tollbooth (1969) - fill out the schedule. ...

Since AMC movie classic changed its mission, Turner Classic Movies is where you need to go for serious movie watching. And every once in a while they run a slate of cartoons.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Randall William Cook Speaks

He won three little gold men for his work on three Peter Jackson epics, and has this to say about CG effects animation.

... To the average person who is not in the film business, what is the most misunderstood part of your profession?

I suppose it's the notion that everything that goes through the computer is untouched by human hands.

If a studio is rushing to complete a Christmas release, they'll hire all the animators they can get a hold of, so they'll all fly to wherever, work on the project then they'll fly to another hemisphere to work on the summer releases. The studios can't really publicize their personnel, so they have to publicize their technology.

As a result, this emphasis on technology is generally the thing that's talked about the most, to the devaluation of the artist, because the artist is just a temporary hire.

If you're painting a house, it doesn't matter if you have Picasso or Diego Rivera or some schmuck from down the street. You're going to have a painted house. And a lot of the big movies are painted houses - some of them well-painted houses, but still - if you're doing a heartfelt character there has to be not only guidance from a good director and animation director or supervisor, or whatever the DGA will let us call ourselves these days, but also guidance from top notch animators. So it's a collaborative work. This all of course builds on top of a performance that may have come from an actor, and it may not have. ...

I've known Mr. Cook a long time (like even before he worked at Disney Feature Animation) and would love to get him to do a TAG podcast. Until then, this interview -- and you should read the whole thing -- will have to do.

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And the Newest Lawsuit

The second in September.

Former animator Georgia Cano’s class-action suit filed Tuesday is the second in two weeks over alleged anti-poaching policies at major animation houses.

It targets many of the same defendants as former VFX worker Robert Nitsch Jr.’s lawsuit—including Sony, Dreamworks and Disney’s Pixar and Lucasfilm divisions—claiming they forged non-competitive hiring agreements that “metastasized over the years into an industry-wide wage-fixing cartel.” The difference is, while Nitsch’s proposed class covers animators employed by the studios since 2004, Cano wants to represent those like herself who’d been hired before 2004.

Her lawsuit is one of several cases to spring from a 2010 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Pixar, Lucasfilm and technology companies including Google, Apple and Adobe. That litigation ended when the companies agreed not to enforce anti-poaching agreements for five years. ...

People ask me, "You think there was price-fixing wage-fixing? You think there's fie under this smoke?"

I always answer in the affirmative, mostly because the usual suspects have admitted it. The question is, what are the remedies? The game was rigged (I think), and people were wronged. How much money people might get in a settlement is anybody's guess. but nobody will end up wealthy. They might be awarded enough for a nice downpayment on a new car.

Nobody's world, however, will be transformed. Especially not the offending corporations.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Foreign Box Office

Animation's performance around the globe:

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Guardians of Galaxy -- $5,200,000 -- ($632,269,000)

Teenage Ninja Turtles -- $7,300,000 -- ($333,317,989)

Dawn of Planet Apes -- $8,150,000 -- ($683,661,593)

The Boxtrolls -- $4,000,000 -- ($11,000,000)

As the trades tell us:

... 20th Century Fox’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picked up $8.1 million after opening to $3.7 million in Japan. That marks the last international market for the simian sequel, which has nabbed $681.5 million globally, easily trumping its predecessor 20th Century Fox’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picked up $8.1 million after opening to $3.7 million in Japan. That marks the last international market for the simian sequel, which has nabbed $681.5 million globally, easily trumping its predecessor. ...

Paramount Pictures’ “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” grabbed $7.3 million from 50 markets, driving its worldwide haul to $333.3 million. ...

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Sixty-nine Years Ago Today ...

... Disney released Hockey Homicide.

Milt Kahl and John Sibley were two of four animators; Bill Berg was one of the story artists.

Bill was a good friend of my father's, and was up at the house all the time. He and my dad collaborated on a live-action piece for the Mickey Mouse Club, "How to Draw Donald Duck" which feature Bill and a lot of small kids trying to draw the duck. (One of the small kids was moi).

In the fifties, Bill had a thick thatch of blonde hair, thick bushy eyebrows, and furry forearms. But all the hair went away when he contracted a virus in the late sixties that turned him into a twin brother of Mr. Clean/Yul Brynner. (No hair on arms, head or above the eyes). Bill drew the "Scamp" strip for many years. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 84.

Hockey Homicide's background artist was Art Riley, who had a reputation for living frugally (he lived with his mother for many years), investing in the stock market way before it was fashionable, and driving an ancient Cadillac that he babied along. Vance Gerry told me that Art didn't get out much. Vance once gave him a lift home from the studio (the Cadillac must have been in the shop) and stopped at a supermarket on the way. Art accompanied Vance into the market and stared at the rows of food, polished floors and fluorescent lights and said:

"Wow, this is something. What do you call this kind of store?"

Art left the studio after thirty years employment. He died in Monterey California, still living on his stock holdings, in the late 1990s. He was 87.

H/t Tom Sito.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Your Domestic Box Office

Per Deadline's early numbers.

U.S./Canadian Box Office

1). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3,064 theaters / $11.3M Fri. (includes $1.1M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $30M to $32M / Wk 1

2). A Walk Among the Tombstones (UNI), 2,712 theaters / $4.75M Fri. (includes $428K in late nights) / 3-day cume: $14M+ / Wk 1

3). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2,868 theaters / $3.85M Fri. (includes est. $100K in late nights) / 3-day cume: $11.7M to $11.9M / Wk 1

4). No Good Deed (SONY), 2,175 theaters (0) / $2.95M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.6M to $10M+ (-60%) / Total cume: $39M to $40M / Wk 2

5). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 3,656 theaters (0) / $2.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.7M (-48%) / Total cume: $26.3M / Wk 2

6). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 2,846 theaters (-258) / $1.37M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M / Total cume: $313.7M / Wk 8

7/8). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PAR), 2,348 theaters (-609) / $627K Friday / 3-day cume: $2.55M / Total cume: $185M / Wk 7

Let’s Be Cops (FOX), 2,312 theaters (-443) / $760K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.5M / Total cume: $77.1M / Wk 6

9). The Drop (FSL), 1,192 theaters (+383) / $645K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2M (-49%) / Per screen average: $1,677 / Total cume: $7.7M / Wk 2

10). If I Stay (WB), 2,371 theaters (-669) / $538K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M / Total cume: $47.6M / Wk 5

And then there are the animated and semi-animated titles still in the marketplace, the ones that are almost gone but not quite.

Animated/Semi-Animated Features -- Total Cumes

24) How To Train Dragon 2 -- $175,338,647

26) Maleficent -- $239,799,600

27) Tranformers: Extinction -- $245,151,963

36) Planes: Fire and Rescue: -- $58,474,387

Click here to read entire post

Another Production House

... dives into the animation pool.

“Shrek” producer John H. Williams and Henry Skelsey, managing partner of Fulton Capital Management LLC, have formed 3QU Media as a specialist in CG-animated feature films for the international marketplace.

3QU Media has completed funding from a group of investors for its initial slate of four films with budgets under $20 million, starting with animated comedy “Charming.”

Ross Venokur will direct from his script, which re-imagines the tales of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty after they discover they are all engaged to the same Prince Charming.

“Our purpose is to produce mainstream and commercially successful CG-animated family films with elements of comedy, adventure, romance and personal inspiration for the global market,” Williams said.

3QU Media is producing in association with WV Enterprises. Williams is producing and SC Films International is handling foreign sales.

Production has started at Cinesite’s new animation studio in Montreal. ...

Mr. Williams has a record of producing successful animated features, but also features that didn't set the box office afire. Happily N'Ever After cost close to $50,000,000 and didn't earn back its production cost in theatrical grosses. Critics were not kind.

If 3QU Media can make credible animated features at the $20 million price point (an iffy proposition) then it can likely generate profits.

But if wit and production values are low, then creating blockbuster movies will be a steep mountain to climb. With the budgets 3QU Media will be working with, they're not going to have a lot of room for do-overs, so the story and production crews are going to have to get it right the first time.

Good luck with that.

Add On: And of course there is a new Texas production house which the Brew details here.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, September 19, 2014


What Mark Kennedy said.

... Because of the way that the media writes about films, only a very small number of people ever get any credit or acknowledgement of their role in the making of the film. That's totally understandable…the public has little interest in reading too much about any one movie, usually, and we just want one or two faces so that we can say, "oh, that's the author of the movie", and then we move on to the next thing. But don't let that fool you into thinking that one or two people are responsible for making a movie great. In my experience, it takes a great creative team to generate a successful movie, and an atmosphere where everyone can challenge each other is a safe supportive way. It's easy to say and hard to do, but when you can get that kind of environment to work, it seems like you can accomplish anything.

Mark has had a long career in animation, and knows whereof he speaks.

Many people who plus the movies that become blockbusters, who make our fine, entertainment conglomerates and the execs who run them even richer than they already are often go unnoticed, often get laid off from the job when it's completed, and may or may not jump onto another project and continue their careers.

In Cartoonland, it's not just writers and directors who make the features successful. It's board artists. And designers. And animators. And modelers, riggers, surfacers and lighters who make the eighty-seven minutes of bright illusion into a satisfying whole.

Lots of times that gets overlooked; fortunately, creators like Mr. Kennedy know who's responsible for the magic. And are happy to tell us what's what.

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Collector Alert

You'll want to get your wallet out.

Ray Bradbury’s science fiction and animation art collection is going up for auction on Sept. 25.

Bradbury, ... who died in 2012, was a prolific collector. Among the highlights of the collection are a 1946 Charles Addams painting of ghoulish creatures flying at twilight. ...

Bradbury also owned 43 original Disney animation cels and original cels from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The animation art is also being sold.

The auction takes place on Sept. 25 at Sanders' Los Angeles office and online.

I doubt that Ray outstripped the beloved Mega Collector, but taking a peek at what Mr. Bradbury has to offer might not be a bad idea. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coulda Been a Contender

... Instead of, you know, a visual effects house in receivership.

Visual effects veteran Scott Ross reflected on the heated disagreements he had with James Cameron. ... "Second to my mother dying, [making Titanic] was the worst experience of my life,” Ross admitted, saying he was under very public, “unbelievable pressure” when the budget was rising while the need to complete more work for the director nearly bankrupt the company. “I felt like I had no support,” Ross said. "The studio sided with Jim, I could never ask Fox for a change order. We were the fall guys."

“I went head to head with Jim Cameron over and over again,” he recalled, adding that it's more important to win the war than the battle. “I could have handled my relationship with Jim in a much better way ... more strategically. ... Digital Domain I think would be a very different company today had Jim and I got along. … I think Digital Domain would be as successful as Pixar,”

Yeah, hm hm.

I'm always skeptical of "If it hadn't been for X, everything would have turned out Y instead of Z." Because there is only what happened, not what would have happened if reality had been different. (As in, "If there wasn't any Christmas, we'd all be Buddhist." Oh really?)

And Mr. Ross weighs in about the wage suppression thingie:

“To me, Ed Catmull was always a shining light. ... When I found out [about the alleged anti-poaching agreements], my initial reaction was to defend him. But I knew people around him are very smart. … and no matter how you look at it, it’s illegal." ...

I doubt that Dr. Catmull (and others) were thinking about possible illegalities. I think they were focused on keeping wages under control "for the greater good of the business".

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Genndy's Popeye

The sailor man in CGI.

This arrived in the mailbox hours ago, so we put it up a wee bit late ...

And we notice that it's up in a lot of places now. (Deservedly so.)

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Gov. Brown Signs AB-1839

In the foyer of the TCL Chinese Theater this morning, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 1839 effectively amending the tax code to increase California's entertainment tax incentive starting next year.

“California is on the move and Hollywood is a very important part of that,” said Gov. Jerry Brown just before signing the legislation into law today outside of Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre — and behind a sign that read “Keep Cameras Rolling In California.”

“It’s not only a golden state but home of the silver screen,”added the governor, promising thousands of new jobs would emerge from the new law, the widely supported and multi-sponsored Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act.

[T]he signing ceremony today was a who’s who of state and local politicians as well as industry execs and Hollywood heavyweights. State Assembly members Mike Gatto and Raul Bocanegra, who introduced the bill without a price tag in late February were in attendance, as was big tax industry incentives advocate LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and incoming state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon. “You can’t assign a value on having a strong middle class,” Gatto told a cheering crowd of industry workers about the goal to preserve jobs in the state and gain back ones lost. “Today, with the stroke of s pen, California is doing something.” Added De Leon: “Come back home where you belong,”

I was lucky enough to be asked my Steve Hulett to attend today's event as a representative for The Animation Guild. Mr. Patton was not exaggerating when he describes the attendees as a 'whos who of state and local politicians'. Most of the State legislature was in attendance as well as representatives from most of the local entertainment labor unions, the California Labor Federation, the California Film Commission among others. Everyone who had the opportunity to speak mentioned the return of middle-class entertainment jobs to the applause and cheers from the attendees.

It would be nice to see the incentive bring some feature and lots of TV production back to town. It would also be nice if the visual effects language the bill includes sees local vfx shops flourish with the effects work on those films and TV shows. We'll all be watching next year to see how much of an impact this will have. Methinks it will be .. a lot.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Around the Hat

I was on Riverside Drive at the Hat Building today. Big Hero 6 is in its last week or work. (At least that's what staff told me.) Animation is done, surfacing and lighting are all but complete.

Just some retakes and repairs are all that's left. There's a few minor rewordings for foreign releases. Outside of that, we're done. ...

The picture launches in weeks, and the Mouse is starting the rollout.

I’ve just left The Soho Hotel in London where Disney were showing clips of Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated movie. ...

It begins with a night shot of San Fransokyo. Immediately the topography is recognisable as San Francisco, from the lights on the bridge in the bay, a clanging tram running down the steep hills, but everywhere is alive in moving flashing neon, Tokyo advertising, branding and building styles mapped out across the architecture. It is impressive, but it will become more so.

We are shown shots from the real-life Carnegie Mellon school of robotics, where Chris Atkinson has been working on soft robotics that inspired the look, and indeed the very nature, of Baymax in the film, robotics intended not to hurt people who come into contact with them in a medical context. This is real, folks. ...

Staffers seem upbeat about BH6's box office prospects. I told a couple of guys in layout that I thought the picture would do robust business, but probably not quite as robust as Frozen.

But what do I know? Maybe the world is waiting for a kid and his robot. Maybe Big Hero 6 smashes records everywhere.

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Mining the Faults

Fred Flintstone has been done and redone, so why not the less successful prime time series?

Mexican animation shingle Anima Estudios is taking the “Top Cat” franchise back to the bigscreen with “Top Cat Begins.” In 2011, Anima produced “Top Cat: The Movie,” which became the highest grossing Mexican film that year, clocking 2.5 million admissions and its $3.2 million on its opening weekend broke box office records. Toon was theatrically released in more than 25 countries. Warner Bros will distribute “Top Cat Begins” in Mexico.

“ ‘Top Cat Begins’ is the most ambitious project in our studio’s history and the one with the most international potential,” said Fernando De Fuentes, chairman of Anima Estudios.

“It’s not a sequel but rather a companion piece to the first ‘Top Cat,’ and will be in CGI, not 2D like the original,” ...

Top Cat, launched with fanfare in '61, landed with a dull ker-splat and was broadcast history by the end of the television season. It was always a poor relation to The Flintstones, but it's nice that it's a gargantuan box office hit south of the border.

It's nice that T.C. is a hit anywhere.

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