Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Jobs and Networking

At last night's General Membership meeting, there was lengthy discussion about ways to find jobs in the animation business. Some bullet points:

* Have a portfolio on-line in various formats: quick time, single frame, etc. Show a variety of styles, and most recent work up top.

* The Animation Guild offers "Member Profile" pages (which can indicate members' availability) on its website. Profiles can also provide links to other sites.

* Build a web of contacts, both on-line and in-person.

* Use social networks to stay in touch: Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter, etc. When you're between jobs, let your network know you're available.

* When artists are on one projects a long time, contacts and referrals can get stale. Stay in touch and keep them fresh. (When a co-worker or former boss gets a new show, congratulate her/him. It's a good and professional thing to do, also reminds the person that you're still out in the professional workforce. ...

Things that occurred to me during the discussions, but remained unspoken:

When you get in the business, join professional organizations: The TV academy. The Motion Picture academy. Art groups. Writers groups. Come to union parties, and union meetings. (This practice caused Hulett to end up a guild officer ... which led to Hulett getting a job.)

Try and do some free-lance work, even if you have a regular job. Many artists do this; it's a way to keep your name and talents out in the wider market-place.

Socialize with co-workers. Because friends often hire friends.

Some individuals voiced frustration about their inability to find work, even though there are jobs out there. Some of the working artists said if your previous assignment ends shortly after a studio project has finished staffing up, the lack of employment might be caused simply by bad timing.

Others complained about long tests. Some employed artists testified that people they worked with got jobs through tests they had only partially completed. ("If you hold onto the test longer so you can polish it, maybe the person who did less work but was 'good enough for the job' landed the gig because they got their half-done test in ahead of you.")

Food for thought on a Wednesday afternoon.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wartime Escapism

World War II versions.

... When you look back at the films that were incredibly popular during war years, an entirely different kind of movie experience regularly tops the bill. Some of the strongest pieces of sheer cinematic escapism were made during World War II. Strange, distant lands; the arms of an impossibly beautiful lover; songs and dances and the first bursts of bright, onscreen colour: here’s a look at some of the films that transported people to better places during the war. ...

There was Dumbo, there was The Black Swan, and there was this German offering ...

Der Fuehrer's answer to Disney, Weather-Beaten Melody:

I'd never heard of this flick before. It's almost hypnotically three-dimensional, yet at the same time, strangely crude. And why it shows up on a Den of Geek list of "Eight Great Escapist Fantasies," I have no idea.

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What a Difference

... a weekend makes.

The financial press reports nice things about DreamWorks Animation:

• "Home" outperformed estimates and provides a short-term boost to Dreamworks Animation as the only 2015 release.

• Television revenue set to hit $200 to $250 million in 2015 led by new shows on Netflix.

• Dreamworks Animation signs new deal with Verizon for 200 hours of original content, strengthening television segment and diversifying importance of Netflix.

• Consumer products and increasing storyline to watch with new television launches on Netflix in 2015 and new "Kung Fu Panda" and "Trolls" movies in 2016. ...

You get yourself a hit, the press gets nicer. It was only a couple of eyeblinks ago that there was this:

Massive writedowns. Failed sales. Deep staffing cuts. ...

The company’s suffering won’t be alleviated when “Home,” its upcoming alien invasion film, lands on Friday. The picture is on track to open to between $30 million and $35 million, a respectable result but for the fact that it also carries a $130 million pricetag. ...

Also this.

“The last eight months have been the worst in the company’s 20-year history,” Katzenberg told Wall Street analysts on Feb. 24, as he licked his wounds and reflected on a period of painful cost-cutting that resulted in layoffs, the closure of DWA’s Northern California studio, and a serious re-examination of its creative choices. Analysts and stockholders don’t care about the past, however. They want to know whether Katzenberg has a plan for the future.

That future is dependent on hit movies, something DWA has been sorely lacking. ...

DreamWorks is still on wobbly under-pinnings, but having a non-sequel make some cash helps the company a lot, because next year there are two features released, one of them a sequel out of a hit franchise. But let's not kid ourselves, Jeffrey Katzenberg is still performing a high-wire act. His company is a stand-alone, and too many missteps will send it plummeting.

For the moment, however, the skies over Lake Katzenberg in Glendale look brighter.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Buh Bye, Sportsmen's Lodge

In the heart of the San Fernando Valley, a monument will change.

... A new development approved on Wednesday calls for demolishing the western half of the [Sportsmen's Lodge] complex, including the events center, River Rock restaurant, the waterfall, ponds, and water features and replacing them with a nearly 100,000-square-foot shopping center including a large gym and five restaurants. The hotel was renovated in a mid-century style in 2013 and will remain in operation. ...

The Los Angeles Conservancy meanwhile has not taken a position on the issue, and some citizen groups have felt left out of the planning process. “The neighbors never objected to this project,” says the group Our Studio City, “because they were not aware of it.” The city and developer agreed to add “two man-made lakes, connected by a stream” and a “plaque, monument, or display case commemorating the history of the Sportsmen’s Lodge.” ...

The Lodge, surprisingly enough, figures in The Animation Guild's sixty-three-year history.

The meeting and strike vote for the Guild's 1979 job action happened here. And as Prez Emeritus Tom Sito says:

In 1990, we held Grim Natwick's 100th Birthday there. 500 people attended, making it the last great reunion of the Golden Age of Animation. All the surviving Disney's Nine Old Men, Chuck Jones, Walter Lantz, Friz Freleng, Fleischer artists, UPA artists. It was a magical night. The early Annie Awards were held there, when they honored Max and Dave Fleischer, Tex Avery and Ub Iwerks. If those walls could talk.

Also, too, contract negotiations went on at the Lodge.

So it's a bit sad, heart-wrenching even, to see the old place get dismantled.

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A New Cartoon Honcho in Burbank

A trade paper relates:

... Nickelodeon has appointed Jennifer Dodge to the newly created position of SVP West Coast Development and Production for Nickelodeon Preschool. The move comes almost two weeks after the kids cable network began layoffs as part of broader reductions at parent Viacom. Among those pink-slipped were Emmy winner Teri Weiss, Nickelodeon’s EVP Preschool Programming, and Kay Wilson Stallings, SVP Production & Development atNickelodeon Preschool, Nick Jr. and NickMom. ...

In her new role, she will spearhead West Coast-based development of all original content for Nickelodeon Preschool’s programming block and the Nick Jr. channel, as well as additional preschool platforms such as the Nick Jr. app. She also will take pitches and develop creative assignments for preschool projects and be tasked with developing in-house talent, and discovering and nurturing new artists and writers in the West Coast creative community. ...

We haven't the foggiest how Ms. Dodge will do in her new position, but we wish her well.

There have been a lot of changes at Nick over the last few years. We understand that happens to corporate divisions when they fall off their high perches. There are executive removals, then new executive installations.

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Still More Remakes

Well, it ain't Bambi but nevertheless ...

... [Diz Co. is eyeing another live-action retelling: Mulan.

Disney bought a script by writing team Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek that centers on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, the female warrior who was the main character in Disney's 1998 animated film. ...

I was s-o-o-o disappointed that the Mouse didn't clasp my "Ben and Me" remake pitch to its heart, but I will somehow struggle on.

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The TAG Interview -- Carl H. Greenblatt

Carl Greenblatt came to animation after an education at the University of Texas (Austin) and a short, productive career in New York advertising.

TAG Interview with CH Greenblatt

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

He began his sojourn in animation as a story artist on Spongebob Squarepants and has been a creative force in television animation ever since. The creator of the Cartoon Network hit Chowder, he is now set to launch Harvey Beaks at Nickelodeon. He spoke of his beginnings in animation ... and some of the creative high points since then ... on March 23rd.

"Beaks" in the throes of creation. ...

About his first series, Carl G. related this:

... When I first pitched the show [Chowder], the network was afraid that every episode would be about cooking a different recipe each week. I had to convince them that is was a show about people who cook, not cooking itself. Sort of like how ER is about the people who work in a hospital, not the ins and outs of being a doctor. The pilot was The Froggy Apple Crumple Thumpkin. After that, I wrote Mahjongg Nite. It involves Chowder’s quest for mevilled eggs but it’s about him not being allowed in the kitchen. Then I wrote The Heavy Sleeper to show more of the city. These were all done before the show was even greenlit. ...

So now a new Greenblatt show is being launched, and Carl conducted a number of interviews last week in front of the rollout. We were lucky enough to be last in the cycle, and got to spend a generous amount of time with Harvey Beaks' proud father.

Hope you enjoy the result.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jeffrey's Shifting Strategies

Dow Jones Business News weighs in:

... "I would read [Jeffrey Katzenberg's] blog and get exhausted," says a former DreamWorks production coordinator who left recently. She noticed a pattern: The busier Mr. Katzenberg was, the more off-track the studio's film division--famous for hits like " Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda"--seemed to her and fellow production managers. ...

His peripatetic itinerary reflected a desire to branch into multiple platforms and industries--from television to publishing, theme parks to YouTube, mall attractions to children's toys--to reduce DreamWorks' reliance on the unpredictable returns of two or three films a year. But the company began making creative decisions that left audiences wanting and gave new ancillary businesses little good material to work with. ...

[Katzenberg] has vowed to focus on films--a strategy that got a major boost this weekend with the successful opening of the studio's release, "Home."

Directors and producers who have worked with Mr. Katzenberg say it will be good if his focus holds. Many say he is among the few executives who can cut through development chaos and see broad issues with a feature's plot or characters. ...

I've been through the Glendale campus for a lot of years, and it's not simply Mr. Katzenberg's "lack of focus." Staffers have told me that managers too often kick production cans down the road rather than rendering a crisp decision. And that ends up costing money.

The studio needs to figure out how to make films with a lower production cost. Illumination Entertainment makes its animated features for $79 million. DreamWorks Animation produced the first Shrek, after much stopping and starting (which included the death of actor Chris Farley and director changes) for $60 million. Everything now -- if Box Office Mojo is believed -- costs $130 million and up.

Even Disney managed to make 101 Dalmations for a fraction of the cost of Sleeping Beauty. As a DWA supervisor said to me several months back:

"Production managers don't like to cut through problems. They dither around and money keeps getting spent. ..."

Maybe if Jeffrey's attention is centered on the theatrical features, a lot of the dithering will end.

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International Box Office Goes Home

DreamWorks Animation takes the top slot.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Home -- $24,000,000 -- ($102,200,000)

Cinderella -- $38,700,000 -- ($336,222,529)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $5,400,000 -- ($287,908,117)

Big Hero 6 -- $3,100,000 -- ($873,824,139)

The trades inform us:

... [Cinderella] topped overseas charts, earning $38.7 million after debuting in Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, France and Australia. The rags-to-riches story of a woman who captures a prince’s heart while losing her shoe is also the studio’s second highest-grossing live-action release in China, having made $65.1 million. ...

[Home] had to settle for fourth place on foreign charts. The animated film made $24 million in 64 territories to bring its global total to $102.2 million. ...

I encountered a bit of hadwringing at DWA Glendale before Home got released. ("Who's going to go see it?" ... "Is it exciting enough? Funny enough?")

It's always difficult to preidict how this or that movie will perform; n this case, a lot of analysts -- inside and outside the company -- were off.

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The Deerest Feature

Robert Iger, are you listening? The next big, Diz Co. sequel.

Now that Disney is in the business of shooting dark, gritty, live-action remakes of its classic animated films (hello, Cinderella), Saturday Night Live presented Disney’s next film, starring Dwayne Johnson as Bambi.

And all of Johnson’s action movie colleagues are here too: Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, and Michelle Rodriguez costar as his murderous furry animal friends, all here to kill hunters and make them pay “deerly.” (There’s a lot of intense deer puns.) ...

Of course, the Walt Disney Company has already put Vin Diesel into Guardians of the Galaxy as an animated character, so this is the next logical step.

I mean, if you're going to mine the catalogue, really get in there and deep drill, baby. It's only right.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tyrus Wong

He's now a hundred and four years old and still active.

... In 1938, The Walt Disney Studio hired [Tyrus Wong' as an "inbetweener" to draw the frames between the main drawings of the animators. Wong soon learned that the studio was trying to turn Felix Salten's novel Bambi into an animated film. After reading the story, he saw an opportunity to break out of his humdrum job.

"I said, 'Gee, this is all outdoor scenery,' " Wong recalls in a video featured in the museum exhibit. "I said, 'Gee, I'm a landscape painter. This will be great!' "

Inspired by Chinese landscape paintings, he used watercolor and pastels to make sample sketches that evoked forest scenes with simple strokes of color and special attention to light and shadow.

"He visualized the forest as being ethereal," Labrie says. "The sketches were more of an impression of the forest." ...

National Public Radio is profiling Mr. Wong because his exhibition of art (which began at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco) has now moved east to New York.

One facet of Tyrus Wong's vast array of work that is sometimes overlooked: Christmas cards.

I think that's one reason my father and Tyrus W. stayed connected after the Bambi designer departed Disney's. They both created holiday scenes that were sold in boxes of twenty-five. Tyrus moved on to live-action projects at Warner Bros. while Ralph Hulett stayed with animation, but they were both landscape artists who did lots of other things and they remained friends.

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Silver Linings Box Office

Now with Add On.

The animation buinsess has always been a roller-coaster, and DreamWorks Animation, after a rough few years now comes roaring back on the upside.


1). Home (FOX/DW), 3,708 theaters / $15M* Fri. / 3-Day: $52.7M / Wk 1

2). Get Hard (WB), 3,175 theaters / $12M* Fri. / 3-Day: $33M / Wk 1

3). Insurgent (LG), 3,875 theaters (0) / $7.19M Fri. (-66%) / 3-Day: $23.29M (-55%) /Total Cume: $88.1M / Wk 2

4). Cinderella (DIS), 3,815 theaters (-33) / $4.69M Fri. (-50%) / 3-Day: $17.8M (-49%)/Total Cume: $150.2M/Wk 3

5). It Follows (RAD), 1,218 theaters (+1,186) / $1.3M Fri. (+1,199%) /3-Day: $3.59M (+943%)/Total cume: $4.2M/Wk 3

6). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 1,785 theaters (-438) / $869K Fri. (-32%)/ 3-Day: $3.19M (-31%)/ Total Cume: $119.39M/ Wk 7

7). Do You Believe? (PF), 1,356 theaters (+36) / $703K Fri. (-42%)/ 3-Day: $2.5M (-30%)/Total Cume: $7.4M / Wk 2

8). The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (FSL), 1,498 theaters (-518)/ $634K Fri. (-34%)/ 3-Day: $2.3M (-34%)/Total Cume: $28.25M/Wk 4

9). Run All Night (WB), 2,377 theaters (-794) / $647K Fri. (-54%)/ 3-Day: $2.3M (-54%)/Total Cume: $23.9M/Wk 3

10). The Gunman (OR), 2,816 theaters (0) / $655K Fri. (-63%)/ 3-Day: $2.27M (-55%) /Total Cume: $9M /Wk 2

Per Deadline:

... This weekend is looking a little brighter for DWA as its sole 2015 feature toon Home, via 20th Century Fox, is leading the charge at the box office with an estimated $15M Friday and a $52.7M weekend. As of this morning at 8:30AM, there’s even better news: Fox is reporting $15.6M for Home with the revised industry weekend estimate being $55.5M. ...

Home was animated/created at DWA's Glendale campus; TAG President emeritus Nathan Loofbourrow was one of the supervisors on the show, so congrats to Nathan and the entire DreamWorks team for a job well done!

Add On: As the weekend rolls on, the estimates for Home keep going up. We're now up to $59 million.

Sunday morning Add On: From the Reporter ...

Animated family film Home easily topped the North American box office with $54 million from 3,708 theaters in a much-needed win for Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation.

Overseas, the music-infused title has earned $48.2 million for an early worldwide total of $102.2 million, including an okay $24 million for the weekend from 64 markets. The bigger winner offshore was Cinderella, grossing $38.7 million from 52 markets to trump Insurgent as well and top the foreign chart. ...

Home marks the best opening for a DWA film since Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted ($60.3 million) in summer 2012, and the third-best showing ever for an original DWA title after Kung Fu Panda ($60.2 million) and Monsters vs. Aliens ($59.3 million), not accounting for inflation. ...

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Nightmare Time

Let’s share a Nightmare. In this dark dream, you are not a talented, creative artist. Instead you are an accountant. You work at the very same studio, in a very similar cube but probably with fewer action figures.

Your boss comes into your cube, compliments the color coding on your last spreadsheet, and assigns you to do the budgeting for that hot new animated show they just picked up, “Uncle Bunny and Zombie Pig.” He tells you to base it on the budget you did last season for “Tree Princess Zablimba” but he wants you to cut it down by ten percent.

As your boss walks away, a tiny part of you wants to scream at him. “Ten percent! Are you insane? How can we maintain quality?” But you don’t because, well, you’re an accountant and you live for this kind of thing. So you put in some long hours – sometimes staying as late as 6 PM. And finally you figure it out. If you cut back the storyboard schedule from four weeks to three weeks, you can save that ten percent.

So you send out the new budget and you wait to see what happens. A year later the show is on the air. It’s good. Or so you’re told. You don’t really watch cartoons. You do watch the budget numbers and since there aren’t any overages and the shows all delivered on time, you conclude that your shorter schedule worked.

Over in the next cube you see your boss asking the new guy to budget “Megavengers Action Powerbot Team Six.” And look whose budget he wants it based on - yours! You are pretty proud. Everyone is going to be using your new shorter schedule soon. You have no idea that it caused a lot of artists to work fifty and sixty hour weeks to keep up. How could you? None of them asked for overtime. If they had, you’d have seen it. And if it had been significant enough you might even have considered going back to the longer, less expensive schedule.

Sometime later that week, as you reward yourself with that extra dessert at Cheesecake Factory, a thought will occur to you: what about a two-week storyboard schedule?

Stop the nightmare. Working unpaid overtime gives the studios false feedback on how much can reasonably be done in a standard work week. When the amount of work you are given can’t be completed by your deadline without overtime, ask to be paid for it or ask for your deadline to be extended.

40 means 40.

Jack Thomas
President, The Animation Guild

The above, sadly, is pretty much the way things work in TV land.

Schedules are seldom expanded.

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44 Million Greenbacks

... for Home? So says one of our fine trade papers, which would generate a sigh of relief at DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus.

DreamWorks/Fox’s animated comedy “Home” is heading for a better-than-forecasted $44 million opening weekend while the Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart buddy comedy “Get Hard” is looking at $38 million.

Early projections showed “Home” notching a $12 million opening day on Friday, including $650,000 at Thursday night shows — a promising start with 15% of K-12 schools out for spring break. It looks likely to finish above Fox-Blue Sky’s “Rio 2,″ which opened last April when 9% of K-12 schools were out. ...

Home has done solid business overseas, so perhaps that was a harbinger for a strong U.S. opening.

I know there was some trepidation at DWA regarding how it would roll out, but this weekend looks as though it will settle some nerves.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eighteen Years Ago Today

... this animated film was released.

Cats Don't Dance

Directed by Mark Dindall for Turner Feature Animation (before it merged with Warner Bros.) Art directed by Brian McEntee, who did the same for Beauty and the Beast. Amy Pascal, who went on to a long reign at Sony, was one of the Turner execs.

Cats was the last film on which dancer Gene Kelly worked. (He served as a consultant.) It was also the first ... and last ... animated feature from Turner, which merged with Warner Bros. near the end of production. The movie under-performed at the box office, which wasn't unusual for Warner animated releases at the time. (Warners' Iron Giant, following soon after, also failed at the box office.)

The sour, semi-sick joke among industry animators in the late nineties? "Want to end AIDS? Let Warner Bros. distribute it."

(H/t -- Tom Sito)
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Simplified Retirement Investing

The Animation Guild is in the middle of 401(k) enrollment meetings, and we'll be out over the next several weeks with booklets, information, and our sunny smiles.

I was telling a sizable group at Fox Animation this afternoon how 92% of TAG 401() Plan's 2450 participants are in Vanguard Target Date Funds, and that for most of them this is a solid option because ...

... You don’t need a lot of funds to be diversified. You could achieve diversification by investing in just three mutual funds that cover virtually the entire stock market. For example, a diversified portfolio might include investing equal amounts in just three broad exchange-traded funds, including total market U.S. equities, total market international equities and total bond market. ...

If you want to further simplify your investments, you can use a target-date fund. This would allow you to go from three funds to just one. Target-date funds are sometimes referred to as a fund of funds, because it is a single fund that holds positions in several funds. For example, Vanguard’s Target Retirement 2030 fund holds five mutual funds including four stock funds and one bond fund. Just as is the case with the three fund portfolio, diversification is achieved through a small number of broad-based funds. But all you need to do is invest in a single all-encompassing fund and you’re done.

The longer I do this, the more I subscribe to "Don't let the quest for the perfect plan stand in the way of a good plan."

There is always something better than what you're holding. The problem is you don't know what it is until after the fact, and it's pointless to chase returns ("skating to where the puck is") because those great results are yesterday's news. Far better to cobble together a workable plan, execute it and then stick to it. For most people, this means finding a plan that is simple and easy to do.

Which means a single fund that holds the whole market, or a few broad-based funds that encompass everything (see above).

But to build wealth and/or retirement savings, you've got to start the process and then keep at it.

Contribute to investment accounts.

Tuck part of your wages into a 401(k).

Lastly, put money away into a Roth IRA. The wife and I have been doing these things for thirty-plus years, even when we could barely scrape two nickels together.

We urge you, beg you to get started on this project. Begin by checking here. Twenty-eight years from now, you'll thank us.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It's Not Just Disney ...

... making live-action from animated properties.

1980s sci-fi anime series Robotech is being fast-tracked for the big screen by Sony.

The studio acquired rights to the toon with an eye on developing it as a worldwide franchise. Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton are producing from Michael Gordon’s script. Doug Belgrad, Michael De Luca and Matthew Milam are overseeing. ...

I guess it's better than doing big screen, live-action remakes of Circus Boy and Sky King, but can't these heirs to Sam Goldwyn, Darryl Zanuck and Harry Cohn come up with original properties once in a while?

No, I guess not.

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The Smaller Blue People

Sony announces their release.

Sony Pictures Animation has set for March 31, 2017 global release an untitled animated Smurfs film, which means it will bow during the Easter holiday. This will be a new fully animated on the blue crew that propelled the live action Smurfs franchise.

The first Smurfs movie, released in July 2011, ended up making $563.7M worldwide. The second in Columbia’s franchise, released in 2013, grossed $347.5M worldwide. ...

Board artists have been working on the latest iteration of Smurfdom for awhile now. There have been multiple changes and tweaks as they've gone along.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

President Foster recommends ..

I received word from retired Guild President Bob Foster today asking to share this tidbit with you. So, from the land of blissful retirement:

A Recommendation From Bob Foster -

Attention writers, storytellers, artists and people who like to laugh -

Over a year ago I discovered Instaplay at The Fanatic Salon in Culver City and haven't missed a performance since. Instaplay is an improvised musical created by a group of writers and performers who are brilliant. Even though I'm now living in Oregon, I was going to fly down for their next show. That's how great I think they are. Unfortunately something has come up and I won't be able to make it this time. But you can go in my place. In fact, I wish you would.

Instaplay is a brilliant example of improvised humor, story and music created by some of the best in the business. Bill Steinkellner, Jonathan Stark, George McGrath, Deanna Oliver, Navaris Darson, Cheri Steinkellner, Mari Falcone and John Boswell have been doing this for many years and they're extremely good at it. Check out their credentials on Google or IMDb.

The way it works is this: They take about ten title suggestions from the audience, the audience votes for the one they like best and the winning title is the basis for an improvised musical created right then and there. They'll create a storyline with a beginning, middle and end, amazing music and songs, wonderful characters, and so much laughter your cheeks will ache and you'll have a hard time seeing the show because your eyes will be filled with tears from laughing so much.

If you go, plan on finding a place to eat in the neighborhood, go early, get to the 53-seat theater by 7:30 pm, doors open at 7:40 pm, show starts at 8:00 pm. Here's what you need to know to get tickets:

Let me know how it was.

- Bob Foster

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The Wise Old Cartoon Producer

I had lunch today with my friend the wise old cartoon producer (now retired). He related this.

Years ago I was supervising an animated feature. We were about a quarter of the way through it, and I realized that there were too many characters and too much movie for the budgets we had, that we'd be over budget if we didn't trim both.

And I made a mistake. Upper management said they wanted to know if there were problems, so I thought, "Okay, I should be transparent about what's going on here, tell them about the problems. So I wrote a detailed memo about what the issues were, how we'd go over budget if we didn't do some cuts, what the ideas were to deal with it. And upper management flipped out. They brought in trouble shooters, brought in another production accountant, spent a bunch of money on the new personnel.

But the new hires didn't have much to do. The director and crew made cuts, and the production trouble shooter and the money counter had nothing to do for a month except sit around. By the time we finished the picture, we were under-budget and the picture was a money-maker.

And I got let go. The lesson I learned was: Upper management says they want to know about problems that come up, to help solve any difficulties, but they really don't. What they want is for you to fix whatever's wrong and tell them as little as possible. ...

I've been around the track a few times, but I'd never heard that particular story from the WOCP. Even so, it rang memory bells. When I got back to the office after lunch I remembered which bells jangled:

... Quite recently I had an artist come into my office and tell me the sad story of being in a meeting where "suggestions and input" to make the project better was "encouraged."

So he came up with suggestions, and was told his ideas were interesting and "worth thinking about." And two weeks later his producer informed him that his last day would be January 4th. ("Right after the holidays. Because, you know, we don't want to lay you off right at Christmas ...")

S.R. Hulett (2011)

Which inevitably triggers this:

"I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us."

"I won't punish you," Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.

"He says he won't punish me," said Clevinger.

"He'll castrate you," said Yossarian. ...

-- Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (1961)

To be even-handed here, there are show runners and show creators who want to solve problems and are happy when members of the crew pitch in to help. But it's always good to be sure of your supervisor's receptiveness to new solutions or constructive criticism before offering any.

As my old comrade-in-cartoonss Pete Young said long ago:

"You can't give them a new idea until they're ready to hear it." ...

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Hans Bacher posted this tidbit on his blog.

beauty+beast london 1989 A from hans bacher on Vimeo.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc.

As Mr. Bacher says:

... I chose a 6 1/2 min short compilation from my 5 hour video documentary during the DISNEY BEAUTY AND THE BEAST storyreel development time in london and the research trip to the loire in france. it happened during august 1989 in the PURDUM animation studio in london. you might recognize in the order of appearance – myself, MEL SHAW, JEAN GILMORE, DEREK GOGOL, TOM SITO, GLEN+LINDA+CLAIRE KEANE. at the party – DON HAHN, ANDREAS DEJA, DICK+JILL PURDUM, MEL SHAW and wife FLORENCE. I included a short clip of the finished story-reel in color. ...

In case you're unfamiliar with "Beauty and the Beast's" production development, it moved along the way animated features often do: The picture started with one director -- in this case English animation director Richard Purdum -- and one story, then ended up with other directors and a considerably altered storyline.

Pay attention to the end of the video. The story reel fragment is way different from the finished movie.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Oncoming Home


... DreamWorks Animation and Fox predict a weekend opening in the mid-$30 million range [for Home] in the U.S, according to a Fox spokesman. The film could also benefit from the extended Easter weekend in early April. forecasts $26 million for the opening weekend in the U.S. “Home” has already collected $20.1 million internationally, according to Fox.

And yet, Deadline:

... Fox/DreamWorks’ animated fantasy film Home also ended the weekend with a better than anticipated gross, $20.1M, up $1M from its previous estimate. ...

While Rotten Tomatoes:

Fresh = 9; Rotten = 13; (41% unFresh ... but this will change.) ...

And Cartoon Brew notes:

... Home’s strongest market was the Cinderella-less United Kingdom where it opened in first place with $9.3 million. While that figure lags behind the UK wide-release of DreamWorks’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, which netted $13.3M in a weekend, it’s significantly better than Penguins of Madagascar, which had a soft $2.5M bow in the market last December. ...

It would be a good and useful thing if the picture opens above expectation in the U.S. and Canada. There was a time not long ago when almost every DWA feature opened north of $50 million in the States, and went rocketing on from there. (Domestic takes of less than $150 million were considered problems.)

Sadly, huge three-day openings are no longer a DreamWorks Animation birthright. If Home nudges up against $40 million (or higher) on Friday-Saturday-Sunday, it will undoubtedly be considered a triumph.

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Out of the Woods

Case dismissed.

The creators of a web series about a foul-mouthed teddy bear who likes booze, cigarettes and paying for sex have ended their copyright infringement suit against Seth MacFarlane, Universal Pictures and the producers of the 2012 blockbuster Ted. “The parties hereby stipulate and agree … that this action, and Plaintiff’s Complaint for Copyright Infringement, shall be dismissed in its entirety with prejudice, each side to bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees.” ...

Studios get hit with lawsuits of this type on a regular basis. Seldom do the suits get much (or any) traction. It's difficult to corral and copyright ideas, particularly ones centered around a talking teddy bear.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

100,000,000 Big Ones

For Europe, this is a big budget.

The upcoming animated feature Angry Birds is an enormous investment for the game and entertainment studio Rovio.

The budget for the film has been estimated at 80 million United States dollars, equivalent to over 75 million euros. In addition, Rovio and its partner, Sony Entertainment, will splash roughly 100 million euros in the marketing and distribution of the film.

Rovio has declined to disclose its exact share of the marketing and distribution costs but will nevertheless invest a total of over 100 million euros in the animated feature. ...

Rovio has yet to successfully expand its brand catalogue beyond the rabid birds, although a number of ideas are in early development, according to Rantala. “Entertainment companies naturally seek to have a solid brand portfolio rather than a single brand,” he acknowledges.

Will the bird characters be able to maintain their appeal without a background story?

This is precisely the question the animated feature will seek to answer, says Rantala. He believes the brand will be less reliant on the success of the game series after the animation has been released. ...

I hope Rovio has itself a winner in Angry Birds. It's going to NEED to be a winner if it wants to recoup its investment. Most European features about which I've read cost a fraction of AB's cash outlay.

But I guess Rovio (and Sony) have decided to dare greatly. Best of luck to them.

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The Foreign Turnstiles

Lots of animated movies in theaters beyond U.S. shores.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Cinderella -- $41,100,000 -- ($253,141,134)

Home -- $19,200,000 -- ($19,200,000)

Chappie -- $5,100,000 -- ($71,604,439)

Big Hero 6 -- $6,600,000 -- ($644,772,305)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $3,200,000 -- ($279,993,851)

Night At The Museum -- $2,900,000 -- ($351,172,282)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $1,500,000 -- ($367,583,574)

The new DreamWorks Animation feature, not yet out in the U.S. of A.,received good news:

... 3D buddy comedy Home landed a fantastic $19.16M in nine markets to kick off its global rollout. This comes ahead of a big 55-territory expansion (including in North America) next weekend. ... The Penguins Of Madagascar are still strongly perched in Venezuela with a further $590K for an $11.5M cume after six weeks; the gang’s offshore total is now $287M.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water added $3.2M from 3,720 locations in 48 territories this frame. ...

[Big Hero 6] embraced another $6.6M ($5.6M from China) to lift the international cume to $422.8M and the global take to $644.77M. ...

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cable Cartoons

Ratings stay remarkably consistent week to week, month to month in the land of cable animation:

The Turner portfolio delivered strong performances for the week of Feb. 23, with TBS and Adult Swim ranking among basic cable's Top 5 networks in Live + 7 delivery of adults 18-49 and adults 18-34 in primetime. And Adult Swim continued its reign as basic cable's #1 network among adults 18-34 and adults 18-49 in total day. ...

Cartoon Network once again ranked as basic cable's #1 network for total day and early prime delivery of targeted boy demos. ... Teen Titans Go! (Thursday 6p) ranked as the #1 telecast of the week among kids 2-11 and all key boys, and #1 for the day among all targeted demos. All Thursday night premieres – Amazing World of Gumball (5p), Uncle Grandpa (5:30p), Teen Titans Go! (6p), Steven Universe (6:30p), Adventure Time (7p) and Regular Show (7:15p) – ranked #1 in their respective time periods among all targeted kids & boys. ...

There's been a steady growth in TV animation work over the past few years.

The studio's have caught wise to the reality that animation is profitable, and animation is the corporate product that keeps on giving. Little wonder then that most of the L.A.-based studios (and some outside Los Angeles) are busily creating cartoons for broadcast, cartoons for cable, and cartoons for the internet.

And it isn't just the cartoons themselves. It's the merchandise that cartoons generate. The games, books, video games, mobile-device apps, action figures and dollies that spin off from top shows make much profit for our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

Synergy! Think Synergy!

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Balanced Box Office

Inside the Top Ten, we've got the live-action version of an animated feature at #2, and an animated feature (both hand-drawn and CG) at #9.


1). Insurgent (LG), 3,875 theaters / $21M* Fri. / 3-Day: $49.6M / Wk 1

2). Cinderella (DIS), 3,848 theaters (+3) / $9.69M Fri. (-58%) / 3-Day: $35.78M (-47%)/Total Cume: $123.8M/Wk 2

3). The Gunman (OR), 2,816 theaters / $1.8M* Fri./ 3-Day: $5.45M /Wk 1

4). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 2,233 theaters (-402) / $1.28M Fri. (-23%)/ 3-Day: $4.68M (-25%)/ Total Cume: $114.6M/ Wk 6

5). Run All Night (WB), 3,171 theaters / $1.38M Fri. (-64%)/ 3-Day: $4.65M (-58%)/Total Cume: $19.4M/Wk 2

6). Do You Believe? (PF), 1,320 theaters / $1.15M Fri. / 3-Day: $3.7M / Wk 1

7). The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (FSL), 2,016 theaters (-6)/ $936K Fri. (-43%)/ 3-Day: $3.28M (-42%)/Total Cume: $24M/Wk 3

8). Focus (WB), 2,055 theaters (-800) / $900K Fri. (-47%)/ 3-Day: $3.1M (-46%)/Total Cume: $49.1M /Wk 4

9). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 1,980 theaters (-679) / $612K Fri. (-35%)/ 3-Day: $2.69M (-33%)/Total Cume: $159.1M/ Wk 7

10). Chappie (Sony), 2,429 theaters (-772) / $685K Fri. (-56%)/ 3-Day: $2.54M (-55%)/ Total Cume: $28.1M /Wk 3

Cindy will make $35 million this weekend weekend, while Spongebob will earn $2.7 million on its way to $160 million next week. The Disney movie drops by half weekend to weekend, while the Nickelodeon feature declines 35%.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Profitability Rankings

The latest pecking order of our fine, entertainment conglomerates is hardly a surprise.

Frozen fever and Marvel moolah helped deliver $1.7 billion in 2014 as Disney topples Warner Bros., Paramount increases box office and Sony stumbles on Spider-Man in the annual breakdown of money at the major studios. ...

Robert Iger's acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm has paid off in spades.

Michael Eisner and Frank Wells spent ten years growing Walt Disney Productions from the inside out, then Capital Cities/ABC was purchased, then more outside properties like California Angels and Fox Family Worldwide (where Haim Saban made a killing).

But Iger turned the purchase of other entertainment brands into a highly successful art form, and now Diz Co. is a money making behemoth, with numerous interlocking parts that seem to work together to make larger and larger amounts of money.

And then there are all the other big entertainment companies, many of them doing well, but none as high-flying as Diz Co. in 2014-2015.

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The Big C

Apparently the Disney CEO was told about it before many others:

Robert Iger: He [Steve Jobs] said, "I've made myself a promise that I'm going to be alive for Reed's graduation from high school." [Reed is Jobs's eldest son.]

So I say, of course, "How old is Reed?"

He tells me that Reed is fourteen, and will be graduating in four years. He says, "Frankly, they tell me I've got a fifty-fifty chance of living five years."

"Are you telling me this for any other reason than wanting to get it off your chest?" I asked.

He says, "I'm telling you because I'm giving you a chance to back out of the deal."

So I look at my watch, and we've got thirty minutes. In thirty minutes we're going to make this announcement [that Disney is buying Pixar]. We've got television crews, we've got the board votes, we've got investment bankers. The wheels are turning. And I'm thinking, We're in this post Sarbanes-Oxley world, and Enron, and fiduciary responsibility, and he is going to be our largest shareholder, and I'm now being asked to bury a secret. He told me, "My kids don't know. Not even the Apple board knows. Nobody knows, and you can't tell anybody."

Basically, thanks. ...

Selflessness, and dickishness. Wrapped up in one package.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Like Noses, Mouths, Eyes

I don't really think much about this. However ...

Every Female Character in Every Disney/Pixar Animated Movie From the Past Decade Basically Has the Same Face

... Disney’s bizarre tendency to animate female characters with minor variations of the same doe-eyed, button nosed template extends far beyond Frozen. This week, Tumblr user Every Flavored Bean took to the site to air her grievances about a troubling new discovery. After seeing a few stills from the upcoming film Inside Out:

The three female characters ... have what is basically the exact same facial structure: big eyes + button nose + chubby cheeks. ...

What Every Flavored Bean not be down with is, every feature cartoon company has its own house style.

Disney hand-drawn features had their own distinct look. Nobody would mistake them for Fleischer features (not that Fleischer made that many). Even later Disney animated features looked demonstrably "Disney."

The same holds true for CG features. Every studio has its own look and approach. Illumination Entertainment is distinct from Blue Sky Studios, which is different than DreamWorks Animation.

You would think that Jeffrey Katzenberg, coming from Disney Feature Animation, would imitate his alma mater, but no. The DWA hand-drawn features moved briskly away from the Disney style, and the CG features (to a somewhat lesser degree) have also carved their own paths.

But the latest Disney features (and their women) have a pretty strong lineage ... all the way back to the Fred Moore female centaurs in Fantasia.

Round cheeks? Button noses? Check. Big doe eyes? Maybe less so. Except for ...


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A Russian WIn

No, not in the Ukraine, but for a cartoon.

The popular children's television show "Masha i Medved" (Masha and the Bear) has become the first Russian cartoon to pick up a gong at the equivalent of the Oscars for animation films.

The prestigious 2015 Kidscreen Award for best animation in the Creative Talent category was handed over last month at a ceremony in Miami, Florida, the animators said on their website. ...

Masha and the Bear is a tale that goes back into Russian antiquity, and also into old Russian/Soviet film-making.

Congratulations to the winners.

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