Thursday, March 05, 2015

Gordon Kent, RIP

One of the really hard workers in animation ... and really good guys ... passed away early this morning.

Gordon Kent with his sister Victoria Kent Young.

Gordon Kent succumbed in the fight for his life at 2:00 A.M., after a long, heroic struggle. He was surrounded by his loving wife and soulmate, Donna, his sister Vickie, and her husband Jim. ...

Gordon jumped into animation soon after college, and took to it immediately. But it's better if he himself describes those early years:

... I was pretty lucky to get into animation almost right out of college. However, while I was in college I spent one summer working in an auto body repair shop as a “lot boy” – the worst part of the job being cleaning the toilet – those guys were not as careful in the bathroom as they were when repairing or painting cars. I also did scrimshaw for about a year – pendants, earrings, belt buckles… lions, tigers and bears mostly (oh, my!)

I’ve been doing this [animation] since 1977… I worked on a show called CBS Storybreak for two seasons. I was associate producer – but my job entailed hiring character and background designers, storyboard artists and story editing (and some writing). I also was the voice director for most of them and worked with the composers and sound effects people as well as working with the engineers on the final mix. I got to learn and do a lot. That was for Buzz Potamkin at Southern Star.

I also worked for Buzz years later at both Disney TV and Hanna-Barbera. At HB I got to be Supervising Producer on a couple of movies for TV – Titles change in animation all the time – today that would be supervising director. The Flintstones’ Christmas Carol was my favorite project there. I’ve been an animation timing director since then and have been lucky enough to work on Kim Possible, Teamo Supremo, Billy and Mandy and Bob’s Burgers among dozens of other shows. ...

Beyond Gordon's staggeringly long list of credits, he was a devoted man of labor, serving on the Animation Guild's executive board for multiple terms. His voice was always loud and passionate in meetings, and he always fought for the underdog. Case in point:

Director Terry Lennon, Steve Hulett, Gordon Kent, and Jeff Massie at a labor march in Downtown L.A.

You will be missed, Gordon. For you touched the lives of many.

A memorial service celebrating Mr. Kent's life will be held in the future. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to City of Hope in his name.

Add On: Mark Evanier has written a terrific remembrance of Gordon right here.


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The League

What I know about multi-player on-line video games is minimal, but a family member likes them a lot, and pointed this Cinematic out to me. ...



It publicizes the latest iteration of a wildly popular CG game in old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation.

And the Cinematic is getting buzz. I particularly enjoyed this exchange on reddit about the video above:

Anyone know what Bard was actually trying to do?

He's being a dick. He's just fucking around playing Call of Duty, ignoring a whole village being slaughtered, until something worthy of his attention pops up.

This is probably accurate. If Bard intervenes it's to influence something in another dimension 10000 years ago. Bard's not healing you to save you - hes healing you because your great great great grandchild will lead a revolution in the distant future. ...

And so on.

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Yet Another Remake

It ain't just Disney doing the redo thing.

MGM has acquired the rights to Robert C. O'Brien's children's novel "Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of Nimh" for a live action/CGI animation hybrid adaptation. Michael Berg (Ice Age 5) has been hired to write the screenplay, which will focus on an origin story involving an "imperiled mouse protagonist" who befriends a group of lab rats as they become "hyper-intelligent." ...

The novel, which was first published in 1971 and won the Newberry Medal a year later, was adapted into the 1982 animated feature The Secret of NIMH, with a voice cast that included Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise, Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton. The animated adaptation spawned the 1998 sequel The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue. MGM hopes to start a franchise with this new live action/CGI hybrid adaptation. Paramount previously tried to relaunch the franchise, but it never came to fruition. ...

Everybody is going back to musty library shelves to find themselves a (hoped-for) tent pole.

It almost feels like desperation time, reaching down to properties that didn't set the box office on fire thirty-plus years ago, but hey! Maybe this time it will be different!

If M-G-M still held the rights to Gone With The WInd, maybe they could rethink the movie as an animated property: Rhett Butler as a wolf, Scarlett as a fox, and Mammy as a tubby, hectoring badger. Get Robert Lopez and Kristen-Anderson Lopez to write a batch of songs, and you'll be all set.

h/t Chris Sobieniak.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Son of Robin

Strange ideas about Disney's Spring '16 release.

Disney's Zootopia Could Bring Back Your Furry Robin Hood Fantasies


... [Zootopia is] all about anthropomorphized animals and the wacky world they live in (where one of the main characters happens to be a fox, cough cough). ...

Comparing an upcoming Disney CG animated feature to a post-Walt animated feature of so-so quality* wouldn't be the first thing that leapt to my mind, but what do I know? If the production team was using Phil Harris and Andy Devine sound-alikes, maybe the comparison would be apt. However, I don't think that's what they're doing.

* Although the early '70s Robin Hood may not be your cup of tea, it was Ollie Johnston's very most favorite animated feature. I know this because I asked him, and that's what he told me. My face fell atop the floor.

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Latest ReDo

A title character is cast.

Dan Stevens, the breakout actor of Downton Abbey and last year's cult action movie The Guest, is in negotiations to play the Beast/Prince in Disney's live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast. ...

Stevens will join Emma Watson, who is playing Belle, the "Beauty" in the title, while Luke Evans is in talks to play the vain villain Gaston.

Bill Condon is directing what is turning out so far to be an all-British cast production while David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman are producing. ...

When Diz Co. mines the library, they drill down to everything. The remakes of Walt-era animated features has temporarily ended as they chisel gold from the Katzenberg-era features.

I'm waiting for the company to tackle Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Of course, a couple of other movie companies have already beaten them to it.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Robust TV Animation

Television cartoons are doing well these days. The last week, I walked through Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney TV Animation; newer shows are staffing up and older shows are coming back (Duck Tales, Fairly Odd Parents, Spongebob ... you get the idea.) Cartoon Network continues to enjoy big numbers. ...

... Through the third week of February, Cartoon Network was the #1 network on all of television in total day delivery among all targeted boys. Total day delivery grew year over year among kids 2-11 by +6%, kids 6-11 by +13% and kids 9-14 by +3%. Prime was also up by +4% among kids 6-11 and +5% among kids 9-14.

Cartoon Network was the #1 destination vs. all TV with all key kids and boys on Thursday Night, with delivery growing between +78% and +97% across all targeted demos.

Saturday morning saw year-to-year gains across all key kids & boys, ranging from +20% to +52%.

Adult Swim took top honors as basic cable's #1 network in Live + 7 delivery of adults 18-34 and adults 18-49 for the week. And Cartoon Network ranked as television's #1 network in total day and early prime among all targeted boys. ...

Supervisors have reported to me that it's hard to find quality, experienced artists in the current labor market. And just about every experienced animation writer has assignments.

Feature animation has had serious downdrafts, but its small screen cousin is going strong.

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Majority Report

The WGA has released employment findings:

The number of jobs for women, minority and older TV writers took a nose dive last year, according to a new study by the Writers Guild of America, West. “Women and minorities have actually lost ground as compared to their white male counterparts,” the study found, “both in terms of overall staff positions and in higher-level executive producer ranks.”

Minority writers saw a nearly 7% decline in employment last season, falling screenwriting from 15.6% of the workforce in 2011-12 to 13.7% in 2013-14, while employment of female writers fell 5%, from 30.5% to 29%. ...

“Although writers over 40 continued to claim a majority of all staff writer positions,” the report found, “data from the most recent TV season show that their employment prospects drop dramatically after age 50. Such stark statistics continue to illustrate that the entertainment industry remains a glaringly unlevel playing field.”...

Funny thing. Employment of women writers went up in 2011-2012. I guess it's like a roller coaster, up and down. Because eight years back, it was much the same thing.

In point of fact, the WGA has a higher representation of women than TAG does. For years and years, the membership for women in the Guild has hovered in the 17%-20% range.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Animation Stats in the Middle Kingdom

China's animation industry appears to be a bit choppy.

... China’s animation industry output value continued to grow and exceeded RMB90 billion in 2013, showing a year-on-year increase of around 21.0%. Despite the overall sustained growth, each link of the industrial chain is developing to varying degrees.

From the production and broadcast market, China’s animation production suffered three consecutive years of decline (2011-2013). In 2013 China produced 358 domestic TV cartoons, a total of 204,732 minutes long, respectively down 9.37% and 8.17% year on year. ...

In 2013, there were a total of 33 animation films released in Chinese mainland theatres, including 24 homemade and 9 imported, generating total box office of about RMB1.64 billion, up 13.34% year on year. ...

Reading between the lines, China' animation biz of late has been

1) Up and down.

2) Better on the theatrical side than the TV side.

3) Not as robust and fully developed as the Chinese government would like people to think.

So where the hell is the data for 2014?

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Viacom Sues

The company files against an internet interloper.

... On Friday, [Viacom], the parent company of Nickelodeon, filed a lawsuit against the anonymous operators of Nick.Reboot.com for allegedly violating copyrights "willfully, maliciously and with wanton disregard" and for violating trademarks "by creating the false and misleading impression that Defendants’ pirated Viacom Works are produced, distributed, endorsed, sponsored, approved, or licensed."

NickReboot offers free 24/7 streaming plus a premium on-demand service with a tab of $35.99 for a year. ... In its lawsuit, Viacom not only wants damages. It is also demanding that ISPs, cloud storage providers, advertising service providers and anyone else offering material support to NickReboot be added to an injunction. ...

Right on, Viacom. You can't stand idly by and let internet pirates steal your stuff.

Now. Enjoy a copyrighted cartoon from Diz Co.



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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Our Robot Friends

Making like Rosengrantz and Guildenstern before death.

Disney XD has picked up Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales, an animated take on the six Star Wars movies. The limited series consists of five 22-minute episodes that will air later this year.

Force Awakens opens galaxywide Dec. 18.

But this is not an ordinary Star Wars in 22 minutes. The conceit is that the movies are being retold through the eyes of robots C-3PO and R2-D2 in a brand new story. ...

This could be good ... or something less.

We've all learned that Legos can mean Big Bucks. And the Mouse is nothing if not synergystic -- allowing one part of the Disney empire to buttress another.

I smell a new stream of cash flowing the company's way.


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Tales of Yesteryear

As I (once again) toot my own horn.

The Trials of "Oliver And Company"

It was a strange time, those last months at Disney. Everybody was on pins and needles, wondering how long the feature animation division was going to remain intact. And I could feel myself circling the drain.

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The Foreign B.O.

This week, animation and viz effx are present, but far from dominant.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

SpongeBob Squarepants -- $14,200,000 -- ($236,622,050)

Big Hero 6 -- $21,600,000 -- ($572,179,741)

Jupiter Ascending -- $3,500,000 -- ($124,211,063)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $562,000 -- ($485,004,754)

Night at the Museum -- $2,200,000 -- ($342,811,000)

Penguins of Madgascar -- $2,500,000 -- ($362,893,867) ...

The trades provide texture and detail:

... Disney’s Big Hero 6 lived up to its name, posting the biggest opening weekend ever for a Disney or Pixar animated release in China. The $14.8M haul in the Middle Kingdom was 68.5% of the full $21.6M frame for Hiro and Baymax in 25 overseas markets. The bow bested Frozen‘s start last year which was $14M over five days in a crowded 2014 Lunar New Year field. ...

Elsewhere, Big Hero 6 this frame held on to the No. 1 slot amongst animated films in Japan for the 9th consecutive frame; and is still the No. 2 Western release. The international cume is now $351.3M and the global total is $572.18M. ...

The Penguins of Madagascar continued cajoling Venezuelans with another $1M for a local cume of $7.7M. The total weekend take on the Fox/DreamWorks Animation pic was $2.5M elevating the overseas cume to $281.6M.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water splish-splashed to another strong $14.2M for Paramount in 46 territories at 6,947 locations. The international cume is swimming close to $100M with $96.3M to date. ...

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb exhibited a weekend take of $2.2M lifting the Fox cume to $232.6M. ...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles served up a further $562K in Japan at 332 sites. The cume after four weekends in the final territory takes the movie to an $8.6M cume there and brings the international total to $293.8M. ...

A lot of the big vfx features (Turtles, Museum) are near the end of their respective box office trails.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

American Box Office

One animated feature (some of it hand-drawn! Overseas!) remains in the Top Ten.

Weekend Box Office

1). Focus (WB), 3,323 theaters / $6.76M Fri.*/ 3-Day: $20.2M/Wk 1

2). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 3,282 theaters (+16) / $3M Fri. (-43%)/ 3-Day: $10.8M (-41%)/ Total Cume: $85M/ Wk 3

3). Fifty Shades Of Grey (UNI/Focus), 3,383 theaters (-272) / $3.4M Fri. (-57%)/ 3-Day: $10.24M (-54%)/Total Cume: $146.9M/ Wk 3

3). The Lazarus Effect (REL), 2,666 theaters / $3.9M Fri.*/ 3-Day: $10.22M/Wk 1

5). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 3,467 theaters (-213) / $2M Fri. (-49%)/ 3-Day: $8.7M (-47%)/Total Cume: $137.6M/ Wk 4

6). American Sniper (WB), 2,914 theaters (-321)/ $1.9M Fri. (-28%) /3-Day: $7.3M (-27%)/ Total cume: $330.4M/ Wk 10

7). McFarland USA (DIS), 2,765 theaters (+10)/ $2M Fri. (-44%) / 3-Day: $7M (-36%)/Total Cume: $21.4M/ Wk 2

8). The Duff (CBS/LGF), 2,622 theaters (+47)/ $2.1M Fri. (-51%)/ 3-Day: $6.3M (-41%)/Total Cume: $19.1M/ Wk 2

9). Still Alice (SPC), 1,318 theaters (+553) / $755K Fri. (+10%) / 3-Day: $2.6M (+24%) /Total cume: $11.9M /Wk 7

10). Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (PAR), 2,901 theaters (+21)/ $690K Fri. (-70%)/ 3-Day: $2.1M (-65%)/ Total Cume: $9.9M/ Wk 2

Paddington, which has fallen off the list,now nudges up against $70 million domestic, with a world gross of $228,749,921.

SpongeBob proves that hand-drawn animation can have legs ... if it's SpongeBob.

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Real Estate Sale

When you need to raise money, you liquidate stuff.

In a regulatory filing on Thursday, DreamWorks Animation disclosed that SunTrust Equity Funding had signed an agreement earlier this week to purchase the DreamWorks campus for $185 million.

The sale includes 10 buildings on about 15 acres of land, which was developed two decades ago and is dotted with olive trees, oaks and a koi pond. ...

I've walked around the campus numerous times. You feel like you're in the middle of an Italian Renaissance village, maybe a corner of Florence.

I think of the koi pond (which is large) as "Lake Katzenberg." Snowy egrets have been known to swoop in and feast on the fish swimming in its clear, placid waters.

Add On: Prez Emeritus Sito recalls:

Soon after the campus was completed, I was showing Frank & Ollie around when they came to visit. I remember Frank saying " This place is sure nice. And just think, if things don't work out, it would make a swell outdoor shopping mall..."

I don't think Frank's speculation will come to pass. Jeffrey is tenacious.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Tweet This

A factoid for Twitter fans:

"Networked Insights" says the average box-office value of a tweet is $560, but animated films are higher than that

If you want to have a significant effect on the box-office take of a movie, tweet about how you want to see an animated family film five weeks prior to its release.

That tweet will be worth an extra $1,390 at the box office, according to a study released on Friday by "Networked Insights".

A tweet about a comedy made the week of release, on the other hand, will only give the movie an extra $90. ...

DreamWorks Animation needs to get on the stick with this, and start Tweeting about Home. Click here to read entire post

Big Screen Time

... for the series Nick let slip through its fingers.

Adventure Time, one of the most popular shows on Cartoon Network, is being developed at Warner Bros. for the big screen as an animated feature. Created by Pendleton Ward at Cartoon Networks Studios, Adventure Time follows the escapades of 12-year-old boy Finn and best friend dog Jake. .... The project will be produced by the winning combo of Chris McKay and Roy Lee.

McKay (one of the exec producers of The Lego Movie) was recently hired to direct The Lego Batman Movie at Warner Bros. and also was the genius behind Robot Chicken. Lee is producing The Lego Batman Movie and also produced Warner Bros.’ groundbreaking animated The Lego Movie along with Dan Lin. ...

Deadline has it the teensiest bit wrong.

Adventure Time was launched as a short at Nickelodeon under producer Fred Seibert's deal with the Viacom company, not at Cartoon Network.

Nick had the project in its corporate hands, but elected not to expand the short into a series. (And even though at least one Nick exec pushed to turn it into a full-blown half-hour, thicker heads prevailed.)

Nickelodeon then put the short into turn-around, and Seibert took it to Cartoon Network, where it was polished to a high gleam and became a ratings winner. The rest, as they say in Hollywood, is cartoon history.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hand Drawn Animation

... receding in the rear view mirror.

I keep reading articles saying how hand-drawn cartoons are on the cusp of a comeback. Maybe in Europe, where hand-drawn features continue to be produced, but not in Southern California. A Disney animation veteran recently clued me in as to why: ...

I've worked on CG features and I've worked on hand-drawn features. And hand-drawn features are harder to make. Hand-drawn cartoons take a year to produce. Once you've produced sequences, it's hard to change the work. You have to go back and do everything over.

But with CG, you can animate the movie in three or four months, change things close to the release date. You can't do that in hand-drawn animation. If you find out the story doesn't work when you're two-thirds done, you're stuck. With CG, we change the story and rework sequences until late in the process.

It's close to live-action in that way. You can rework until late in the production. With hand-drawn animation, the plot, action and dialogue has to be locked down way earlier, or the picture won't get done in time for its release.

From a production standpoint, hand-drawn animated features are clunkier and take more production time. But from the executive suite, the superiority of CG animation over hand-drawn is glaringly obvious.

It makes a hell of a more money than traditional animation. The faster production time for CG long-forms is simply icing on the cake. Hand-drawn features have small-company disciples in Europe and elsewhere that create them, but the big entertainment conglomerates are done with the old style.

Sad, but the way it is.


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Robert Osher Departs

... from Sony subsidiaries.

Sony Pictures Digital president Bob Osher, who oversaw Sony Animation and Imageworks for the past seven years, has been fired, according to knowledgeable sources.

Thursday’s firing comes amid an ongoing shakeup at the studio. On Tuesday, Tom Rothman was named chairman of its motion picture group in a surprise move that followed the Feb. 5 ouster of Amy Pascal as co-chair of the Culver City-based studio. ...

After Ms. Pascal lost her job, Mr. Osher's exit was pretty much baked into the corporate cake. As a Sony Picture Animation employee told me a year ago:

"Osher's focused on catering to Amy Pascal. He doesn't have any decent creative ideas. He's a survivor more than anything." ...

So now he's "decided to leave the studio to pursue other interests," which, when found in a company e-mail or press release, is often code for "we tossed him over the side. Hope he can swim."

But of course, that's not the case here. We wish Mr. Osher the best, and the very best of luck chasing other interests.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another Studio Chief Bites Dust

First Amy Pascal, now ...

Adam Goodman is preparing to exit as president of the [Paramount Pictures] film group. ... Goodman's recent successes include The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which has reinvigorated the family franchise with box office earnings of $203.8 million to date, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which exceeded expectations last year when grossing $438.8 million globally. ...

Goodman oversaw successful pictures, but displeased his superiors by failing to control production costs.

It's always something to do with money (or the lack thereof) that brings a Big Hollywood Dog down. Even the all-powerful Michael Eisner was put out to pasture when Disney's profits sagged. (And Roy Disney nipping at his heels didn't help either.)

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Netflix Cartoons

Netflix isn't slowing its acquisitions of cartoons.

Netflix is adding five children’s shows [four of them animated] over the next year — including new versions of “Danger Mouse” and “Inspector Gadget." ... [The other animated shows are] “Bottersnikes & Gumbles,” based on the Australian book series of the same name; and “Super 4,” a CGI-animated series inspired by Playmobil toys. ... Kidvids are an important part of the Netflix SVOD puzzle, appealing to parents because there aren’t any ads. ...

From the 1950s through the 1970s, TV animation was a Saturday and Sunday phenomenon, controlled by ABC, NBC, and CBS. Then in the '80s that tightly-knit universe unraveled a bit as syndication became a new vehicle for the distribution of animated product. Filmation pioneered it with He-Man and She-Ra; Disney capitalized on it with DuckTales and the "Disney Afternoon."

A quarter century on, television networks are out of the weekend cartoon business, and broadcast syndication doesn't pay the production bills anymore. Now it's cable networks and on-line distributors that propel small-screen animation down the tracks.

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The Rebooted Series

The press release is out. Everything old is new again.

... Marc Buhaj — Senior Vice President, Programming and General Manager, Disney XD — announced, “DuckTales has a special place in Disney’s TV animation history, it drew its inspiration from Disney Legend Carl Barks’ comic books and through its storytelling and artistic showmanship, set an enduring standard for animated entertainment that connects with both kids and adults. Our new series will bring that same energy and adventurous spirit to a new generation.” ...

The original series, launched back there in the 1980s, had an interesting history.

It was among the first Disney TVA shows developed for syndication, and the company (as Wikipedia notes) spent a LOT of money on it. What isn't noted is that the main lot was ticked off with Disney TVAs sizable budget overruns, and as one veteran of the series told me:

The series was way expensive, like by millions. And rumors were circulating that upper management would do some serious firings of TVA execs if the thing tanked. But when DuckTales premiered, the ratings were higher than projections, the company ended up making a fortune, and Disney TVA managers became heroes. ...

DuckTales went on to be the cornerstone of the nineties syndicated block known to millenials as "The Disney Afternoon", and for a few years syndicated packages on broadcast TV was a major cash generator before fees were cut and it wasn't so lucrative anymore.

Time marches on.

Today, of course, cable and multi-platform viewing is where it's at, and DuckTales, the series that really put Diz TVA on the map, will be dusted off and reconstructed. (They're doing it with old animated feature titles, so why not television?)

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The New Director

The trades tell us:

Director Rob Schrab, who on the TV side has helmed Community, Parks And Recreation and The Mindy Project, will make his feature directorial debut on Warner Bros’ The LEGO Movie Sequel. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who directed the first pic, are writing and will produce the sequel together with Dan Lin and Roy Lee. ....

Hey, animation directors (Frank Tashlin, Brad Bird, Rob Minkoff) swing over to live action. So it's only fair and right that live action directors return the favor in the opposite direction.

(And maybe LEGO Movie II will get an Oscar nomination.)

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... And a Second Director on KFP 3

No solo helmer for the third chapter:

Jennifer Yuh will not be helming the latest installment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise by herself, I’ve learned. DreamWorks Animation has brought in Alessandro Carloni to co-direct Kung Fu Panda 3 with Yuh, the first woman to direct an animated feature solo at a Hollywood studio when she helmed 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2. Sources tell me that Yuh requested Carloni join her as a director on the pic and DWA execs signed off quickly. ...

I think that, times being what they are, DreamWorks Animation doesn't want to take chances of slippage with the release date of major franchise.

The second movie might have under-performed domestically, but it did gangbuster business everywhere else, and took in more money than the first. DreamWorks needs all the hits it can muster, and the fat panda franchise fills the company's screaming need for a high grosser.

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The Bad News

Now with Add On.

DreamWorks Animation is not in a happy, peaceful place.

The studio had already told the Street to expect bad news including a big writedown. It included a $57.1 million impairment charge tied to Penguins Of Madagascar and Mr. Peabody And Sherman. In addition DreamWorks Animation wrote off $54.6 million for layoffs, and $155.5 million from unreleased projects including B.O.O. and Monkeys Of Mumbai.

All together, DWA had a Q4 net loss of $$263.2 million, down from a $17.2 million profit at the end of 2013, on revenues of $234.2 million, +14.7%.Aanalysts expected revenues of $246.2 million. The net loss at $3.08 a share was lower than predictions for a $3.01 loss.

“Although 2014 was a challenging year for our Company, I am confident that our recent announcement to restructure our feature film business will enable us to deliver great films and better box office results, while improving the overall financial performance of our business,” CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says. ...

It has certainly been challenging for Dreamworks in the recent past. However, Jeffrey K. and his studio are following a well-worn path of peaks and troughs that mark the history of the biggest companies in the entertainment business. None of our fine conglomerates has a perfect streak and each has had to endure its own "challenging times".

DreamWorks has addressed their stumbles, girded their loins and now forges ahead with renewed conviction. We look forward to seeing them succeed and grow as their peers did after facing the same tribulations.

Add On>: And the company announces new moves as DWA's stock falls in after-hours trading:

DreamWorks Animation added $10 million to its debt with a new $215 million revolving credit facility. Total debt now comes to $515 million while DWA’s cash balance fell 30% to $34.2 million. But execs said they will see a jolt of cash from a $185 million deal to sell and then lease back DWA’s studio in Glendale. ,,,

Jeffrey K.'s high-wire act, thrilling the general public for years now, looks increasingly wobbly.

Add On: At least some stock analysts are positive about DreamWorks Animation's future.

... “They [DWA] needed to get things back on the right path,” B. Riley analyst Eric Wold told TheWrap. “Major layoffs. Switch out of creative staff. The future is still unknown but much brighter than it was a few months ago. We upgraded the stock from neutral to buy the Monday after the restructuring.” ...

Here's hoping the restructuring is a major success.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Color Mickey

On this date, eighty years ago, the first full color Mickey Mouse cartoon was released. Titled The Band Concert, it also featured an early, longer-beaked incarnation of one D. Duck.



Walt Disney started making full-color cartoons in 1932 with the Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees (remade from black-and-white). Starting in '32 and extending to '35, Walt Disney Productions had the exclusive use of Technicolor's three-strip system which provided full-spectrum color.

The first three-color, live-action feature was Pioneer Pictures' Becky Sharp (1935), followed by Trail of the Lonesome Pine, A Star is Born, The Garden of Allah, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, and the eternally popular Gone With the Wind.

Walt Disney Productions, unlike other movie studios, never made a black-and-white cartoon after The Band Concert. (It made some black-and-white live-action features and TV shows during the 1950s, but that was about it for non-color films.)

Since 1935, Disney movies have been mostly rainbows.

H/t Tom (who else?) Sito.

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Globalization

Because it's a small world after all.

Tens of millions of shekels in computer-animation work is heading for Jerusalem after The Operating Room, a Los Angeles-based animation firm part-owned by Israelis, signed a deal to produce a TV series for the children’s entertainment company Nelvana.

About 30% of the $10 million of production work for the first season of the show, which has not yet been named, will be handled by scores of animators working in the capital. If the show moves into a second season, the budget will grow considerably. ...

Los Angeles. Canada. Jerusalem. For once the work isn't going to India, the Philippines and/or China.

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Hasbro's Ups and Downs

Hasbro had a studio in Burbank called "The Hub". But things have changed a bit.

Hasbro makes not just toys but also hugely popular intellectual property, which for decades has been key to its bottom line. But as kids' consumption patterns change radically with the advent of new technologies, the company has struggled to find a balance between its core business and its entertainment properties.

Over the last few years, the company has poured billions of dollars into (and received billions of dollars from) big-budget movies and triple-A video games, plus a joint-venture cable network called The Hub (a costly misstep), which since was rebranded and partially sold back to partner Discovery, [now called Discover Family]. ...

Projects like The Hub and disappointing films like Battleship might not have worked the way Hasbro wanted, but the company is, if anything, even more committed to TV and film today. ... Where are Hasbro's proprietary TV shows now? Well, everywhere.

Old shows from The Hub still run on Discovery Family, and several, including My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, will continue to premiere on the network for another season. Transformers: Robots in Disguise is upcoming on Cartoon [Network], which has turned into one of the last strongholds of boys programming on cable. ...

The toy company's large ambitions for its own kids' cable network didn't really pan out. (Or rather, didn't pan out ... and produce enough gold ... fast enough.) But Hasbro is still in the intellectual property game. And it's still got the Burbank studio, turning out family entertainment.

My bet is it will make new moves in the marketplace. The DreamWorks Animation deal might have fallen through, but you can't keep a good toy company/cartoon studio/content provider down for long.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

On Academy Voting

A long time ago, a veteran screenwriter (who had his flirtation with Oscar at the 1938 banquet) told me:

I was nominated for In Old Chicago, didn't win. The Academy Awards event was smaller in those days, but you were expected to show up for the ceremony, and you were expected to vote for your employer's pictures, because that's what good company employees did. ...

-- Niven Busch

"Because that's what good company employees did."

It's been written that Clark Gable lost the Oscar for Gone With The Wind because Louis B. Mayer instructed M-G-M's minions to vote for Robert Donat, the lead in the company picture Goodbye Mr. Chips. (Gable was on loan to Selznick International for that other one.)

Based on Mr. Busch's observations, and based on some of the movies, writers, directors and actors that have won gold statues over the years, it's pretty clear that "best" doesn't always end up "winner."

Academy members cast their votes for all kinds of reasons. On occasion it's quality, but other times it's because the nominee has been an also-ran five times before and so wouldn't it be great to give him a boost into the winner's circle, quality be damned.

And sometimes it's whim. The three glasses of wine and broiled halibut went down painlessly, and the ballot is sitting there on the dining room table, so the Academy member marks the first name that catches his eye, whether he watched the screeners all the way through or not. (Who's going to know, anyway?)

And sometimes it's willful prejudice. The member didn't like war movies, or comedies, or features with dogs in them, and so voted for something else.

Lastly, votes are cast from, as Cartoon Brew notes, "cluelessness." But is clueless worse than drunkenness, pity, bigotry or the company line?

In the end, every vote is subjective. Giving out Oscars isn't rocket science, or any science. And you're well advised not to take the results of the balloting too seriously because you will be A) ticked off, B) heartbroken, and C) believing the voters have no taste or idea what they're doing*.

And you would be at least partially right. But all these things about the Academy Awards have always been true, right from the beginning. The Oscars aren't a meritocracy, and really can't be. They're a political event, a popularity contest, and a demonstration of corporate muscle. They're also a reflection of the mood of the people who qualify for membership, and that mood is constantly shifting, driven by demographics and the hot topic of the moment. And it's why I look on the Oscar telecast as a pleasant background diversion while cruising the internet on a rainy Sunday evening, and nothing more.

To think of it as anything beyond that will only invite heartache and despair.


* This is doubly true for the Golden Globes, which are handed out based on the exquisite judgements of a few dozen foreign correspondents and stringers. But, year after year, Tinsel Town turns out for the Globes anyway. Go figure.

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And This Year's Little Gold Man Goes To ...

Best Animated Short:

Feast -- (Disney) Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed

Best Animated Feature:

Big Hero 6 -- (Disney) Don Hall, Chris Williams, Roy Conli

And as Mr. Sito says ...

Regardless who wins the Oscar, and all the bellyaching about Lego aside, lets take a minute and salute what a great year this was for animated features! Five really good, really original animated films. Two hand drawn, two CG, and a stop motion. Animated films nominated for best screenplay and best song.

A few years ago we were fighting to even have a features category! Now everyone is talking about it. Give all the people who make animation a big hand for an extraordinary year!

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Your Global Box Office

... with animation doing pretty well throughout.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World-Wide Totals)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $21,900,000 -- ($201,171,834)

Jupiter Ascending -- $8,900,000 -- ($114,516,979)

Big Hero 6 -- $11,000,000 -- ($546,224,880)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $5,200,000 -- ($359,208,569)

Shaun the Sheep -- $4,500,000 -- ($17,500,000)

Paddington -- $1,000,000 -- ($227,660,766)

Paddington, now near the end of its run, has made a tidy profit forStudio Canal and the Weinstein Company. There is now buzz of the (inevitable) sequel.

Viacom's Sponge Out of Water gathered in in another $21 million from 44 markets for a foreign total of $76 million and global box office of $191.2 million.

And the "disappointing" Penguins of Madagascar now bumps against $360 million in world grosses. This compares unfavorably with the very successful (and Academy Award winning) Rango, which took in $245,724,603.

Perceptions and media memes are sometimes at odds with reality. Ten weeks ago, we were hearing

... Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil says he expects DWA to book a $14 million loss for Penguins in Q4. He cut his domestic box office and home-video sales estimates by more than 25% and notes that the film “has limited consumer products expectations.” ...

It's true that Penguins under-performed in the U.S. of A., but grosses beyond our shores have been steady. Probably there won't be a loss taken on a movie that collects more than $360 million.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Disney Family Tree

A veteran artist, formerly of Disney's feature animation department, recently pointed out to me an interesting through line:

Thirty-plus years ago, we were doing a Disney World Show called Cranium Command. And we drew inspiration from an old Disney short, Reason and Emotion ...

Which is, if you don't know, this:



You will note the different visual representations of emotion/reason working on the characters? Look familiar to you at all? The son of this Disney short, per a Disney artist from the early eighties, would be ...

A presentation that was a staple inside EPCOT for decades.





Good old Cranium Command, an entertaining stop inside the "Wonders of Life" pavillion. It was created by Disney artists back in Burbank, one of whom was a talented young guy named Pete Docter.

So now, another thirty-five years along the Great Highway of life, Pete Docter is directing this Pixar feature:



Quite a lot of connecting wires between each of these Disney projects, don't you think?

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The American Box Office

... has a couple of cartoons embedded inside it.

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

1). Fifty Shades Of Grey (UNI/Focus), 3,655 theaters (+9) / $8.4M Fri. (-72%)/ 3-Day: $25.1M (-71%)/Total Cume: $132.5M/ Wk 2

2). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 3,266 theaters (+62) / $5.16M Fri. (-50%)/ 3-Day: $16.1M (-54%)/ Total Cume: $66M/ Wk 2

3). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 3,680 theaters (+26) / $3.85M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-Day: $16.3M (-48%)/Total Cume: $125.2M/ Wk 3

4). The Duff (CBS/LGF), 2,575 theaters / $4.1M Fri.*/ 3-Day: $11.2M/Wk 1

5). McFarland USA (DIS), 2,755 theaters / $3.6M Fri. / 3-Day: $11.1M/ Wk 1

6). American Sniper (WB), 3,235 theaters (-201)/ $2.6M Fri. (-30%) /3-Day: $9M (-45%)/ Total cume: $318.2M/ Wk 9

7). Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (PAR), 2,880 theaters / $2.5M Fri.*/ 3-Day: $7M/Wk 1

8). Jupiter Ascending (WB), 2,503 theaters (-678) / $1.08M Fri. (-46%) / 3-Day: $3.67M (-60%)/Total Cume: $39.5M/ Wk 3

9). Paddington (TWC), 1,837 theaters (-407) / $622K Fri. (-23%) / 3-Day: $2.7M (-32%) /Total cume: $68.1M /Wk 6

10). The Imitation Game (TWC), 1,408 theaters (-143) / $701K Fri. (-13%) / 3-Day: $2.5M (-27%)/ Total cume: $83.8M / Wk 13 ...

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 isn't doing well for Viacom. (Did Hot Tub Uno set the turnstiles afire? Not that I remember.)

SpongeBob, on the other hand, has held better than any older release in the Top Five. It appears it will collect $16+ million in its third weekend, good for more than $125 million when the weekend concludes.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Gaumont Acquires

... rights to a comic duo.

Gaumont Animation, the LA-based animation unit of the French mini-major, has picked up the exclusive worldwide option to develop and produce an animated 2D series based on the iconic comic duo Laurel & Hardy. Rights were acquired from Larry Harmon Pictures Corporation. ...

I never got doing animated versions of live-action comedies. How do you replicate this*?



It's like doing live-action versions of classic animated features.



Oh wait. ...

* Apologies for the colorization.

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Sito Recalls

The President Emeritus sends birthday greetings.

Happy 90th birthday! Feb 20, 1925- Willis O’Brien’s silent movieThe Lost World premiered. Based on Conan-Doyles 1912 novel. The stop motion animation of dinosaurs and exploding volcanoes issued in a new era of special effects films. O'Brien later did King Kong and trained kids like Ray Harryhausen.



Dinosaurs have always enthralled the elementary school set, particularly boys.

The flick directly above was a staple around our house when I was young. Blackhawk Films (now long gone) sold an 8mm print; the Hulett household had an 8mm projector. The result? My younger brother and I sat mesmerized watching the movie over and over again. (This was long before the internet began mesmerizing people.)

The Lost World is really the granddaddy of 3D/CGI features. Everything that came after it, from King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1948) to Jurassic Park, Avatar,, the Ray Harryhausen pictures and the latest incarnations of Planet of the Apes owe something to this movie. Because this is where live-action/3D animation hybrids got their actual, big-time, commercial start.

There was nothing much before. There was lots and lots in the nine decades that followed.

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