Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Latest Earnings for DWA

One more "box office disappointment" (per the financial press) fuels DreamWorks cash accumulation.

DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. reported stronger-than-expected profits in the third quarter, fueled by the box-office success of "How to Train Your Dragon 2.".

The Glendale-based animation studio earned a profit $11.9 million, or 14 cents a share, on revenue of $180.9 million in the third quarter.

That was an improvement over the same quarter a year ago, when the company posted a net income of $10.1 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenue of $154.5 million. ...

Remember the last DWA release How To Train Your Dragon 2 being labelled a "disappointment" after its domestic release? Me, too.

It made $176.6 million in the U.S. and Canada, which is 3.6 times its opening weekend gross, and a bit under what I thought the movie would ultimately earn on the domestic front.

But let's look, as they say, at the BIGGER picture.

The original feature How To Train Your Dragon collected $494.9 million around the globe. And its successor made $615 million. So how in God's nightgown is Dragons 2 considered a disappointment? Because it should have made an extra $35,000,000 in the U.S. and Canada, but didn't?

DreamWorks Animation still has some steep mountains to climb. It's diversifying into TV product and amusement parks, it's expanding its merchandising arm, but it's still heavily dependent on each theatrical release hitting a homerun. I think the company is sure as hell going to strive to do that, but the odds are against Jeffrey and Co. pulling that particular hat-trick off.

I still think DreamWorks Animation gets sold in the next thirty-six months. Particularly if its price-point becomes attractive to some large, ravenous corporate shark.

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Yet One More Into the Pool

There can never, apparently, be too many companies doing animation.

... DreamWorks Animation and Pixar have some new competition on their hands, as a joint venture has been announced between Chris Columbus (director of the first two "Harry Potter" and "Home Alone" films) along with his 1492 Pictures producing partner Michael Barnathan (The Help), Haim Saban (Chairman and CEO of Saban Capital Group and Founder of Saban Brands) and Jeremy Zag (Founder of ZAG Entertainment LLC/Zagtoons), to form ZAG Animation Studios.

This new family-oriented studio will develop, produce and distribute one 3D animated film and one CGI-live action hybrid film per year, starting in 2017. They will operate out of ZAG Entertainment's brand new campus in Glendale, California, with their first full computer animated feature "Melody" to be co-directed by Columbus and Zag. Two other features in development include "Ghostforce", a CGI-live action hybrid, and the fully-CGI "Abominable". ...

The questions I have are:

1) Where will Zag Animation Studios be doing production work? (My guess is out of the state/country, the better to take advantage of Free Money.)

2) Where will Zag Animation Studio be doing development? (I would assume in Glendale, the better to take advantage of Southern California's expansive animation talent pool).

3) Will Zag be paying competitive rates? (I would assume so, since they will need quality work if they plan to compete in the realm of theatrical feature animation).

4) Will Zag be signed to an Animation Guild Collective Bargaining Agreement? (Not so far; and probably only if they a) feel the need, or b) the artistic staff makes it happen.)

But hey, it's always good to have yet another cartoon company swimming around in the deep end of the mill pond. And good luck to them.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Contenders For Little Gold Men

The trades think these three could be Oscar-worthy.

Oregon-based Laika is heading into awards season with the stop-motion “The Boxtrolls.” ...

“Trying to make these things feel like breathing characters is very tricky. We see ourselves as actors, but instead of acting with our bodies and our voices, we’re acting through another object. We still have to hit our marks, and it’s almost like a chess game to figure out where these things need to be at any given time, and keep that in your head over a 300-frame shot. ...

Then there's How To Train Your Dragon and The Lego Movie, both of them well-reviewed features.

And what about The Book of Life?

Then, of course, there are the cartoons still to hit the AMC. Who among us is ready to write off Penguins of Madagascar and Big Hero 6? Aren't they Oscar worthy?

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We'll See You and Raise ...

You'll recall this:

So now this ...

... Marvel Studios has announced its new phase of superhero movies, including new films featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, and the Inhumans during a fan event in Hollywood on Tuesday that easily rivaled many of its Comic-Con presentations in San Diego.

The superhero powerhouse also revealed that the third “Avengers” will be broken up into two films, called “Avengers: Infinity War,” set for May 4, 2018 and wrap up on May 3, 2019.

That double-pic strategy has paid off for other film franchises, including “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” and is being embraced by the final installments of “The Hunger Games.”

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed plans reported first by Variety that the third “Captain America” would launch the Civil War storyline from the comicbooks and pit Chris Evans’ Captain America against Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. ...

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Disneyland Launch

When I'm looking for something pithy, I rely on President Emeritus Sito.

The" Disneyland" television show premiered [on this date]. Up until now the major Hollywood Studios were all boycotting the new upstart medium of television, then mostly done in New York by blacklisted stage actors and writers. Dori Schary of MGM called TV “ the Enemy”.

Walt Disney was the first to break ranks with the major film studios and get into television production. He even filmed the show in Technicolor, figuring television will develop color broadcasting eventually. His using his TV show to promote his theme park and his movies we now call synergy. ...

The show was part of Walt's overall deal with the ABC network. ABC underwrote part of the Disneyland park, and Walt Disney supplied the (relatively new) broadcast network with programming. The hour anthology show launched in 1954, and the daily "Mickey Mouse Club" followed soon after.

Disney's latest gamble helped elevate the struggling animation studio to the next level. Seven decades on, Jeffrey Katzenberg follows in Walt's footsteps, even as Diz Co. CEO turns the former "Walt Disney Productions" into a diversified, multi-national conglomerate.

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Super Hero Studio

WDAS (and Big Hero 6 producer) Roy Conli tells us:

... I love Thor. But we’re [Walt Disney Animation Studios] not going to make Thor, because Thor’s already in that Marvel Universe in live action.

But what Disney animation does is tell stories in a wide variety of worlds in a wide variety of ways. Look, Don Hall came off Winnie the Pooh to then do a superhero tale in San Fransokyo. So we’re always looking for different things, really starting with the world. Taking this into a more Disney animated world rather than the Marvel world gave us the freedom to explore things in a different way. Again, if the directors want to try a Marvel thing that can work, we’re happy to do that. But we’ll never become exclusively a superhero studio, either. ...

Let's be crystalline about this: Disney owns Marvel, and Disney is going to exploit and maximize the content it's bought and paid for.

If Big Hero 6 makes several oil tankers of money, there will likely be a Big Hero 7 and Big Hero 8 in our entertainment futures. In fact, we can probably count on it.

But Mr. Conli's separation of animated super hero movies from live-action super hero movies is increasingly pointless, because the distinctions between "live action" and "animation" have become muddier in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Iron Giant could have been a CG-live action epic; The Mask with Jim Carrey could have been animated. (In fact, chunks of it were animated).

When Gravity -- created almost entirely inside computers -- is labeled a live-action movie, we have burst through the looking glass into a reality where the words "animation" and "live action" are pretty much meaningless.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Your Global Box Office

Our friends at Rentrak provide the numbers:

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Dracula Untold -- $14,700,000 -- ($166,027,870)

The Book of Life -- $7,800,000 -- ($47,913,449)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $10,800,000 -- ($392,000,446)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $10,300,000 -- ($752,640,589)

Big Hero 6 -- $5,000,000 -- ($5,000,000)

The Boxtrolls -- $3,700,000 -- ($89,078,366) ...

As the trade sites tell us:

... Dracula Untold opened in another four markets this weekend and grossed an estimated $14.7M at a total 7,400 dates in 59 territories. ... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles held well across Europe with a total estimated weekend of $10.8M from 2,661 locations in 32 territories. ...

The Fox-released The Book Of Life earned $7.8M bringing its cume to $18M. Mexico kept things alive earning $2.5M taking its cume to $6.9M. The UK opened at No. 4 with $1.5M at 850 locations. ...

Big Hero 6has now been released in Russia, two weeks ahead of the U.S. ... [It] bowed on Saturday and the estimated two day cume is $4.8M ($5M including Ukraine). ...

Guardians Of The Galaxy is still playing in China as other U.S. movies start to seep in. It earned another estimated $6.5M in the Middle Kingdom this weekend to take its estimated cume there now to $84.4M. ...

It's the raccoon that keeps pulling Chinese audiences back in.

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Here Comes #2

I'm willing to bet that Warner Bros. worked hard to sign this duo.

“The Lego Movie 2″ is gaining momentum with Phil Lord and Chris Miller signing on with Warner Bros to write and produce.

The duo wrote and directed “The Lego Movie,” which grossed over $460 million worldwide this year. Dan Lin and Roy Lee are producing with Lord and Miller, and Jill Wilfert, Matt Ashton, Chris McKay and Kara Lord Piersimoni are exec producers.

A director has not yet been selected for “The Lego Movie 2.” ...

Everything that Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller touch turns to box office green.

I met them both when they were working on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, a Sony Picture Animation property (and favorite of Amy Pascal) that many had wrestled with and nobody had conquered.

I understood Lord and Miller to be a couple of tv guys, and had my doubts about how they would fare directing an animated feature. They were lively and funny in their office on the ImageWorks building, but I thought to myself, "Sure, they're funny, but that proves nothing." ...

Except, ultimately, guess what? For them, after some early rough sledding, it proved a lot, and my smart-ass skepticism was proven wrong.

Yet again.

Because, let's face it, Lord/Miller have had an unspoken string of box office successes on both the live-action and animation sides of the movie ledger. So it's hardly a surprise that Warners would want them back.

Maybe Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara has offered them his first-born.

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Important 401(k) News

... for people interested in stashing loot away for retirement.

IRS Announces 2015 Pension Plan Limitations; Taxpayers May Contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans in 2015

The Internal Revenue Service has announced cost‑of‑living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2015. Many of the pension plan limitations will change for 2015 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. However, other limitations will remain unchanged because the increase in the index did not meet the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. Highlights include the following:
The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $17,500 to $18,000.

The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $5,500 to $6,000.

The limit on annual contributions to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) remains unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000. ...

I'm going to be holding TAG 401(k) Enrollment Meetings at various studios over the next month. If you're a TAG member interested in enrolling, you should give us a holler or simply go to the Animation Guild website and download the forms.

And if you're NOT a guild member working at a signator studio, this is still important. Because if you're a wage earner, there's a good chance that your employer offers a 401(k) Plan. And it's important that you participate in it.

Because, guess what? The government will likely not be funding your retirement, nor will very many American corporations I can think of. So if you want to enjoy an existence in your autumnal years that isn't living in a one-room flat with six other people and eating Alpo, then you'd be well advised to tuck something away ... even if it's only 2%-5% of your gross wages ... that can grow over time.

If you're in your twenties, stick it all in a stock index fund. If you're in your thirties, forties, or fifties, put it in a balanced stock/bond fund. But do something.

You can now return to your normal weekend pursuits.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Domestic Box Office

... Starting with the smart money predictions:

Prediction of B.O.

1. Ouija - $22 million
2. Fury - $14.9 million (-37%)
3. Gone Girl - $13 million (-26%)
4. John Wick - $12.5 million
5. The Book of Life - $11.5 million (-32%)
-. St. Vincent - $6 million

The only animated feature in the Top Ten -- The Book of Life -- appears to be holding well. Two weeks hence, Big Hero 6 breaks wide.

Sadly, Hulett has only intermittently been near a computer; this should soon end.

Add On: The Weekend Totals:

1). Ouija (UNI), 2,858 theaters / $8.2M Fri. (includes $911K late nights) / 3-day cume: $20M / Wk 1

2). John Wick (LGF), 2,589 theaters / $5.4M Fri. (includes $870K late nights) / 3-day cume: $15M+ / Wk 1

3). Fury (SONY), 3,173 theaters / $4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.5M (-42%) / Total cume: $46.6M / Wk 2

4). Gone Girl (FOX), 3,106 theaters (-143) / $3.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11M / Total cume: $124M / Wk 4

5). The Book of Life (FOX), 3,133 theaters (+42) / $2.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.9M (-43%) / Total cume: $29.5M to $30M / Wk 2

6). St. Vincent (TWC), 2,282 theaters (+2,214) / $2.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.8M / Total cume: $8.9M / Wk 3

7). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 3,117 theaters (+29) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7M / Total cume: $45.5M / Wk 3

8). The Best of Me (REL), 2,936 theaters (0) / $1.58M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.6M (-53%) / Total cume: $17.6M / Wk 2

9). The Judge (WB), 2,610 theaters (-393) / $1.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.2M / Total cume: $34.3M / Wk 3

10). Dracula Untold (UNI), 2,364 theaters (-536) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.2M / Total cume: $48.2M / Wk 3

You will note that BoL has fallen farther than B.O. Mojo predicted.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Slowdown in China

You wouldn't know it from stateside animation production, but in some other countries the cartoon biz is not as robust.

Animation industry, once basking in high-flying adulation and rapid development, encounters difficulties of "hard landing" at present. Animation industry in the pioneer cities (including Changsha, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Shenyang, etc.) is showing an obvious free falling trend after several years of rapid expansion. Except a few bases, most of the current 24 national animation industry bases have suffered a decline in both production quantity and market share.

As for specific animation companies, there were 656 animation companies obtaining domestic TV animation distribution licenses at the end of 2013, 100 of which had no output for five consecutive years (accounting for 15.2 percent) and 439 had no output this year (accounting for 66.9 percent). Many professional animation producers believe that the deteriorative trend of ecological environment facing the once flourishing animation industry slows down the industrial expansion. ...

Many companies regard government support as the sole profit mode. In order to gain awards from government, many companies produced crappy works while putting strenuous efforts to public relations during broadcasting links instead of investing in quality improvement, thus failing to make a long-term development plan for both works and companies. ...

In 2013, China's animation industry enjoyed a total output value of RMB 87 billion yuan, possessed more than 4,600 enterprises and employed nearly 220,000 people. However, original animation share and added value from animation derivatives (excluding original equipment manufacture) are pitiful.

Zhang Xuan, a teacher from Animation and Multimedia Division of Shenyang Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, believes that currently China's animation industry is confronted with a situation of "highlighting original equipment manufacture while neglecting originality". "Script shortage" leads to scarcity of originality in both themes and artistic images. Due to lack of excellent original works, China's animation market is awash with foreign works...

Some years back, American animation artists reported that China was not robust in the creation of original work. Okay with sub-contracting, but that was pretty much it.

More recently, DreamWorks Animation has been incubating Chinese features at production sites in China. But story development isn't done in the Middle Kingdom. Boards and scripts are created in Glendale, where DWA has staff who can successfully launch a feature.

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A Plethora of Super Heroes

We've hit on this before, but it becomes clearer and clearer that Time-Warner is not going to let Diz Co. have the lion's share of spandex franchises without a fight.

Taking a page from the Marvel Studios playbook, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara unveiled a 10-movie slate of superhero movies Oct. 15. ... "DC will be a key engine for growth across all Warner Bros.," he told analysts. But between Warners' DC-based movies, Disney's Marvel, Fox and Sony (which both hold licenses to key Marvel properties), nearly 30 hero pics are planned through 2020. Is the movie universe big enough for them all? ...

This theme song has been played many times before.

When Westerns were in vogue, companies cranked out Westerns. When it was space operas, or sex comedies, you could make book on each conglomerate contributing its fair share. (In ice hockey, this is known as "skating to where the puck was.") Now, with CG animation all the rage, most everybody's jumped in. And although long-form cartoons enjoy the biggest profit margins, caped crusaders aren't far behind.

Time-Warner started the trend of big-budget super hero movies decades ago (Batman, Superman, but Marvel has lifted them to a high (and highly lucrative) art form. Warners clearly doesn't intend to allow this particular status quo to stand.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wonderful Elephant ...

... Who Could Really Fly.

The 64-minute Disney feature, the shortest and least expensive Walt Disney Productions had produced, was released on this date 73 years ago. Rough animation was complete when Disney staff walked out on strike, and remaining artists ... and crew returning after the strike .. completed the picture. It was out in time for Halloween and other late-in-year holidays.

LIFE Magazine profiled Dumbo and the feature received favorable reviews from most newspapers and magazines. Of the Disney pre-war features, only Dumbo and Snow White turned profits on their initial release.

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Free Work

... still A-ok with our fine, entertainment conglomerates. (But not so much with various others).

... NBCUniversal has agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by unpaid interns at “Saturday Night Live” and other NBC shows alleging violation of wage laws.

The details of the agreement were contained in court papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York by attorneys for the interns. The deal still must be signed off by the judge.

Attorneys Outten & Golden LLP alleged in the federal court lawsuit that NBCUniversal violated federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. The complaint was originally filed on behalf of two former interns, Jesse Moore, who worked on MSNBC, and Monet Eliastam, who worked on “SNL,” but Moore dropped out of the litigation. ...

“This case is similar to others than we've filed in that it highlights the predominance of unpaid work in the media industry,” one of their attorneys, Juno Turner, told TheWrap at the time the lawsuit was filed. ”Our clients, like the plaintiffs in the other cases, worked hard for no pay and we think it's clear that they should have been compensated for that work because they contributed to the success of NBCUniversal's operation.”

Pretty much a symptom of the times. Lots of offers to work for no money. Lots of wage suppression. But very little blowback on corporate chieftans who merrily conspire to stick it to employees. In fact, many are still lauded.

And so it goes in our corporatist state.

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I.A. Film Commission Appointment

The IATSE (our mother international) had another of its own placed on the California Film Commission Board of Directors.

... Thomas Davis, 56, of Sherman Oaks, has been appointed to the California Film Commission. Davis is third international vice president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Executive Board, where he has been a member since 2001. He has been business manager at the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 80 since 1998, where he has held several positions since 1977, including vice president, chief organizer and executive board member. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

Thom is the business representative of Local 80, and was at the forefront of getting AB 1939 (the tax incentive bill for TV and movies) passed into law.

Our congratulations to Mr. Davis on his appointment. It will be good to have another IA Vice President at the table when film work is being vetted for tax subsidies.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cross Pollination

So the trailer gets leaked and (not missing a beat) Diz Co./Marvel releases a high-quality version.

And it's worth posting here because not only does it have the usual amounts of effects and animation, but it features a song that an animated non-human sang in 1940.

When you own multiple franchises, use them all.

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And Still More Cross Pollination

One heavy-weight brand reinforces another.

Amber discovers Sofia's amulet is magical and takes it without permission [on Disney TVA's Sofia the First], inadvertently summoning an evil princess, Ivy, who's set on taking over Enchancia, in "The Curse of Princess Ivy," a primetime special of Disney Junior's Emmy-winning series. ... The high-stakes adventure features a special appearance by Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, who reprises her role from Disney's "Tangled." ...

When you're the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, you want to make sure that awareness of older Disney characters remains embedded in the frontal lobes your target demographic.

And what better way to do it than placing the title character from a five-year-old theatrical feature into the all-time record holder for the top two cable TV telecasts for Kids 2-5? And the #1 series in Girls 2-5 and the #1 preschool series in Total Viewers and Women 18-49?

Rapunzel merchandise won't fly off the shelves if small girls don't know Rapunzel exists. (The Mouse never misses a trick.)

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Blue Ribbon

Another of our fine entertainment conglomerates rolls out a new division involved with animation.

Warner Bros. announced Blue Ribbon Content as the name of its newly created short-form digital division, which will develop and produce live-action and animated series for digital platforms, and revealed a slate of content under the banner including spinoffs from the DC Comics franchise.

Blue Ribbon Content is headed by Sam Register, who assumed oversight of digital development and production of the studio’s efforts after being named president of Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series in April. His team at Blue Ribbon Content includes Andrew Mellett, SVP, distribution and strategy, who manages the new division’s financial operations, oversees business affairs, and handles all distribution and sponsorship deals.

Blue Ribbon Content’s first development slate comprises several original program concepts as well as new shows from Warner Bros. Entertainment’s collection of intellectual property. ...

Warners has found more success with animated product the last several years, so expanding onto other platforms attached to the worldwide web (like Disney, DreamWorks Animation and others are doing) makes total sense.

Companies are learning that they need to compete in every area of distribution -- mobile devices, home computers, cable, theatrical and broadcast -- if they're going to stay even with (or surpass?) their rivals.

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Upcoming Blockbuster Weekend

Big grosses are near.

Interstellar is looking at a debut of more than $50 million based on early tracking and that number could rise as reviews roll in, television commercials become ubiquitous and word-of-mouth increases. An opening in the range of “Gravity’s” $55.8 million seems achievable, even though Disney’s animated “Big Hero 6″ opens the same weekend and is also generating excitement with potential ticket-buyers.

Our prognostication: both Interstellar (the live-action movie with heavy VFX) and Big Hero 6 (the VFX movie with no live action) will open north of $50 million. We're not the only ones.

... The Nov. 7 weekend is shaping up as a box-office blockbuster — and potentially a close race — for the Christopher Nolan space epic and Disney Animation's film inspired by the Marvel comic. ... projections could well rise, but both studios have to be pleased with the early data on what are their most important releases of the season. There's room for both pricey projects to succeed because, at least initially, they target different audiences.

Diz Co. (and Mr. Lasseter) are being smarter about feature animation releases here in the 21st century. During the 1990s, the Mouse released one animated musical after another until the audience said enough already. This time, Disney is mixing up its pitches a bit.

Smart thing to do.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Suing the Gravy Train

Mr. Sivero, it seems wants a piece of the mountain of money.

... Frank Sivero says that The Simpsons ripped off the Frankie Carbone character he played in 1990’s Goodfellas and he wants to be paid for it. In a lawsuit filed today, the actor says he wants to be paid a lot – $250 million and more for the Springfield Mafia’s Louie.

Claiming that the long-long-running animated series has made $12 billion over the decades from TV, the big screen, video simpsons logogames and other revenue streams, Sivero alleges in his very detailed 5-claim complaint (read it here) that Simpsons producer James L. Brooks was “highly aware of who Sivero was, the fact that he created the role of Frankie Carbone, and that The Simpsons character Louie would be based on this character.”

While likeness lawsuits bounce around the courts all the time, this has to be one of the biggest in terms of the cash the plaintiff is seeking and the time he has waited to go after it. One of Fat Tony’s crew, the Louie character first appeared on The Simpsons in Season 4 back in October 1991. And the truth is, as the pic above shows, the character from the Martin Scorsese helmed pic Goodlfellas and the Simpsons character do look a lot alike. Louie has been in over a dozen more Simpsons episodes including one last season. Fox had no comment today on the mega-suit. ...

Somehow I can't see Fox settling this for any kind of significant coin, but maybe there's a smoking gun someplace.

Otherwise, see everybody in court!

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If It's Not Broke ...

An animation chief on out-sourcing:

Pixar boss John Lasseter said that he owes a debt of gratitude to South Korea, but that there are no plans to transfer animation production away from the U.S.

“All production is to remain in-house at this point in time,” said Lasseter, who is chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, at an event in Seoul that marked the first leg of an Asian tour.

“We’re focusing on hand-crafted work in the studios. We recruit people from everywhere around the world but everything happens in house,” he said. ...

In the 1990's, various animated features were outsourced to Asia. They all tanked.

At the same time, Disney was having a hot streak with some Burbank-produced animated features: Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, etc., etc.

Fox, Warner Bros, and Turner took a look at the two different production approaches, and opted for the Disney model. The pictures they ultimately made didn't do well at the box office, but the decision to make them in the east San Fernando Valley made sense: better to spend $40 million and get yourself a blockbuster earning $200 million than spend $10 million and end up with a flop.

From what I've learned, that's some of the reason Pixar closed its Canadian studio. It was more important to keep the mother studio in Emeryville robust and healthy than to lay off staff in Vancouver and keep the outpost in British Columbia limping along. Because in the end, quality trumps low cost, especially when quality pays off like a rigged slot machine and low cost (mostly) buys nothing.

So it isn't surprising at all that John Lasseter plans to keep feature animation work in California.

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Animator Jim Tyer

President Emeritus Tom Sito admires Mr. Tyers' animation style ...

Mr. Sito writes:

My friend Chris Liles found this great tribute montage to Jim Tyer (1904-1976), an animator with one of the strangest personal styles of his generation. He is most well known for his work at Terrytoons. The bizarre rubbery gyrations of his keys are a favorite of many eclectic animation artists. If Milt Kahl was the ultimate in control, Tyer is his antithesis in his wildness.

In terms of wild, loose animator styles, you have Tyer, Rod Scribner and Emery Hawkins. ...

And then there are Jim Tyer comics.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Newer Tech, Different Biz

Aaron Levie in Variety tells us:

... In front of every studio, network, firm, label and agency is an opportunity to embrace innovation and evolve its business model to compete on a scale and in a style commensurate with an industry capable of reaching half the planet in a click.

Early examples are inspiring: U2’s latest distribution deal with Apple, Thom Yorke’s surprise direct album sale, Jared Leto ... and his venture VyRT monetizing an online community around live events and concerts, DreamWorks Animation and Disney both acquiring major YouTube channels and producers, and disruptive new content licensing models led by Netflix. But these are still the exceptions in a sea of business deals done the same way as they were when Lew Wasserman presided over MCA.

The true opportunity is in re-imaging the industry end-to-end ...

Look back at the history of motion pictures, established companies always need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the next turn of the road.

Few of the larger movie studios wanted to embrace sound motion pictures. They had too much investment tied up in silent movies. But the market pushed them.

And almost no moguls embraced television. They tried to freeze the medium out, except that Disney jumped in, then Warner Bros., and then everybody else hopped aboard the thundering freight train.

So here we are again in the 21st century, and the internet has destroyed the record companies comfy old business models of selling records/little silver disks in brick and mortar stores. And the movie conglomerates are bound and determined that it won't happen to them.

Trouble is, technology and markets go where they go. Older companies either adapt of die. There's really no two ways about it. It's been the way of the world for a long time, and there won't be any stopping the new realities now.

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New way to make lots of people

The above video was created with the incredible Autodesk Maya plugin for crowd simulation, AI & behavioral animation, creature physical simulation and rendering called Miarmy (read My Army). It came to market a few years ago to be a competitor to the popular program Massive.

We share it here, for your wonder, amusement and enjoyment on a Monday afternoon.

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Late to the party with this, but anyway ...

[Walt Disney Animation Studios] has added another feature to its pipeline. The Mouse House revealed plans Monday for “Moana,” a CG-animated comedy-adventure about “a spirited teenager on an impossible mission to fulfill her ancestors' quest.”

”Moana” is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, best known for Disney staples like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” The directing duo’s last feature was 2009’s severely under-appreciated ”The Princess and the Frog.” (Parents, are we showing this one to our kids? Get on that!). “Moana” is expected to sail into theaters in late 2016. ...

I've put posts up about Moana before ... and usually gotten terse e-mails from Diz Co. that said (something like):

Hey now. We haven't announced that title yet. Take the title down already. ...

And, wanting to be a good corporate citizen, I did.

Over the last few years I've observed test animation, test visual effects, even the occasional design. And always, like a thought balloon hovering just overhead, was the admonition: Keep you trap shut. It hasn't been announced yet.

But let me tell you, when the title and general knowledge of the feature is out circulating on the internet, it becomes hard to keep the Mouse's admonition in mind. And sometimes I slipped. But now that burden has gone away because of this:

Press Release

Walt Disney Animation Studios revealed plans today for “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated comedy-adventure about a spirited teenager on an impossible mission to fulfill her ancestors' quest. In theaters in late 2016, the film is directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker ("The Little Mermaid," "The Princess and the Frog," "Aladdin”).

“John and I have partnered on so many films—from ‘The Little Mermaid’ to ‘Aladdin’ to ‘The Princess and the Frog,’” said Clements. “Creating ‘Moana’ is one of the great thrills of our career. It’s a big adventure set in this beautiful world of Oceania."

In the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania, Moana, a born navigator, sets sail in search of a fabled island. During her incredible journey, she teams up with her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui, to traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds and ancient folklore.

“Moana is indomitable, passionate and a dreamer with a unique connection to the ocean itself,” Musker said. “She's the kind of character we all root for, and we can't wait to introduce her to audiences.” ...

I'm glad the word is finally out. I'll finally be able to sleep at night.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tax Incentives For VFX

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on California's recently-enactive AB 1839:

... The state recently expanded its tax-incentive program for film and TV productions, offering a larger credit for visual-effects work done in the state and scrapping restrictions that had excluded big-budget movies, which often feature the highest number of whiz-bang effects. Visual-effects artists create special effects and animation and do visual cleanup in “postproduction” work, which can include everything from brightening the lighting of a scene to building whole virtual worlds.

The expanded incentives are a little-noticed part of a larger package designed to lure back productions that have fled California for generous tax programs in other states and countries, which can cover 30% or more of a project’s total cost.

State officials say the visual-effects credit gives an incentive to an industry that can rebuild a highly paid, stable workforce once centered in California but now scattered. Even more ambitiously, they are hoping the subsidy could bring back big-budget, effects-laden feature films that create thousands of jobs not just for camera operators and lighting technicians, but for hairdressers, electricians and others.

The new legislation, which more than triples the state’s current program to an annual $330 million in incentives over five years, was signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown last month and goes into effect in 2015. Part of that annual allotment will go toward tax credits for visual-effects work, now covering 25% of eligible expenditures in the field, up from 20% under the old program. ...

The bill's tax breaks kick in the middle of 2015, and as one International rep said to me recently:

Companies will be ramping up production, hiring people, by April to take advantage of the new money next summer. Right now we've got sitcoms and reality shows in L.A., but not many dramas or big-budget features. The bill will bring back more of the higher end work, and California will have a rainbow of both high and low budget productions." ...

What's being talked about here is principal photography -- people on sets, actors in front of cameras. The Journal takes a jaundiced view of visual effects work returning because the work will have to get done somewhere and because even a small incentive program will move the needle. VFX redevelopment will happen for the same reasons that animation employment has ratcheted up steadily over the past several years:

1) There's a skilled pool of VFX talent that's itching to work.

2) There are colleges, universities and art institutes in and around Los Angeles adding to the pool all the time.

3) California won't match Canadian and British subsidies, won't compete with the wage levels of India and China, but a 25% tax subsidy will be enough. Even now there are boutique studios in the east San Fernando Valley making visual effects for various TV shows; once the incentives kick in, viz effx for larger budget movies will happen.

The state doesn't have to match London or Montreal dollar for dollar. It only has to be in the game.

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Foreign Box Office

The most recent accumulations.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Dracula Untold -- $22,500,000 -- ($136,435,090)

The Book of Likfe -- $8,600,000 -- ($25,600,000)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $23,100,000 -- ($732,636,000

Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtles -- $420,000,000 -- ($374,983,211)

The Boxtrolls -- $3,100,000 -- ($82,155,423)

As the trade papers tell us about the latest Marvel juggernaut:

Guardians Of The Galaxy marked a return to the top of the international box office this weekend, thanks in large part to China — where its local title translates to Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team. ... The Disney/Marvel space hit now has $69M there. ...

Big Hero 6 will be breaking wide in Russia the end of October, around the same time it opens the Tokyo Film Festival (October 23rd).

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Women in VFX

Kind of the same deal as in the closely related land of cartoons.

Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios’ exuberant EVP of visual effects and post production, told a roomful of VFX industry leaders this morning that it needs to invite more women into the industry, and onto the stage. And for entertainment industry newcomers trying to find their way into the business, she had simple advice: “fill the gap.”

VES VIsual Effects Society Eric Roth“I love the fact that you allowed a woman to talk to you this early in the morning,” Alonso told the mostly male audience. “It’s better when the room is 50-50 (male-female). It’s okay to let the ladies enter. They bring a balance.”

Alonso was speaking in a Q&A before more than 150 people at the Visual Effects Society’s VES Summit on Saturday morning. ...

Interesting about filling gaps.

When I first got to Disney, I looked for ways to make myself generally useful (and also not step on toes). This technique worked for a long while, but then I ran afoul of bad timing and not adapting well to a changing work environment (otherwise known as new management).

I think women have a tough time breaking into the biz because the reflex of many industry execs is to go with the "boys' club" flow. This is changing (albeit slowly), but overall women need to possess superior skills and have fine-tuned political instincts to climb the creative ladder.

It's good that a woman at the top of the ladder is out talking about the Way Things Work.

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Your Weekend Box Office

... Inside the United States and Canada.


1). Fury (SONY), 3,173 theaters / $8.8M Fri. (includes $1.2M latenights) / 3-day est. cume $24.3M to $25M / Wk 1

2). Gone Girl (FOX), 3,248 theaters / $5.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $18M to $18.4M / Total cume: $107.7M / Wk 3

3). The Book of Life (FOX), 3,071 theaters / $4.9M Fri. (includes $330K late nights) / 3-day cume: $17.8M to $18M / Wk 1

4). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 3088 theaters (0) / $3.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13M (-29%) / Total cume: $37.8M / Wk 2

5). The Best of Me (REL), 2,936 theaters / $4.1M Fri. (includes $550K late nights) / 3-day cume: $10.3M to $10.9M (Relativity thinks $11M to $12M) / Wk 1

6). Dracula Untold (UNI), 2,900 theaters (+13) / $2.9M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.5M to $9.3M (-65%) / Total cume: $39.2M to $40M / Wk 2

7). The Judge (WB), 3003 theaters (0) / $2.45M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8M (-38%) / Total cume: $27M / Wk 2

8). Annabelle (WB), 2,878 theaters (-337) / $2.45M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.6M / Total cume: $73.8M / Wk 3

9). The Equalizer (SONY), 2,262 theaters (-885) / $1.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M / Total cume: $89M / Wk 4

10). The Maze Runner (FOX), 2,155 theaters (-917) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.4M / Total cume: $90.8M / Wk 5 ...

Newcomers have pushed The Boxtrolls out of the Top Ten. The picture now has a grand total of $44+ million. So right now there is but one animated feature (The Book of Life residing high in the movie rankings. There are still a few old animated numbers hang in on in a handful of theaters, to wit:

THE HANGERS ON -- Domestic Cumes

#22 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $189.1 million

#30 How To Train Your Dragon 2 -- $176.4 million

#31 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes -- $280.2 million

#32 Maleficient -- $240.9 million

#35 Planes: Fire and Rescue -- $59 million

In the next few weeks, there will be new animated entries from DreamWorks Animation (Penguins of Madagascar), and Disney Big Hero 6), with SpongeBob Squarepants commingling in February.

And here's the list of animated features over the next four years.

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Disney Feeds Startups

The Mouse provides seed money to newer companies.

In Disney's first-ever "accelerator" program, 10 start-ups got up to $120,000 each from the company, along with mentorship from dozens of Disney executives, entrepreneurs and investors. At a "Demo Day" on Tuesday, Iger and other Disney execs got to learn from entrepreneurs about cutting-edge technologies.

"The more touch points we can create with the new world order, with changes that are occurring in our market every day, that will have profound effects on our business long term—the better off we are," Iger said. ...

Iger and his team hand-selected the companies, which by the end of the 15-week program had each struck a different deal with one of Disney's divisions. ...

Jeffrey Katenberg, late of Diz Co., is working to turn DreamWorks into a min-conglomerate patterned after the Disney of the 1950s, which was also branching out from its core business of animation. (Of course, he's also trying to seek DWA).

Meantime, Robert Iger is taking a leaf out of the Warren Buffett playbook and turning Disney into the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, letting a lot of different newly acquired companies under the big umbrella operate pretty much as separate entities, with their old management intact.

Judging from Disney's rising stock price, this approach seems to be working.

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On This Day in 1946 ...

Walt Disney premiered this:

Designed for 7th grade health classes in junior highs (now middle schools) all over America.

A factoid of animation history presented by TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Domestic Pick Up

A U.S. distributor buys the feature shown above. And hopes it's a winner (or at least claws its way into the black).

Home entertainment group Shout! Factory has picked up U.S. rights to The 7th Dwarf, a German 3D-animated feature based on the Snow White fairy tale.

Global Screen, which is handling international sales of the title, also closed deals with Signature Entertainment for the U.K., Rialto Distribution for Australia, Italian International Film for Italy, Flins & Piniculas in Spain and PRIS Audiovisuais for Portugal. Global said it expects to close a deal for France soon. The film had previously sold across Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. ...

There is a whole subset of "niche" animated product. Not particularly polished, and definitely not high budget, but aimed at taking in a small, neat chunk of change before going on to a resilient half-life in video.

The 7th Dwarf looks as if it aspires to be one of the long-form cartoons in that category: a few clicks below the just-released Book of Life, which (in turn) is below Pixar, DreamWorks and Disney animated features.

Will the Shout! Factory be glad it was The7th Dwarf's winning bidder? Guess we'll need to wait to find out.

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Global Interweaving

Mainland China is where all ambitious American entertainment companies desire to go.

... Hollywood’s Dreamworks Animation is in talks with a Beijing-based production company to produce a slate of original online content based on “Surprise,” an Internet-driven TV show has been viewed more than 1.3 billion times since it went online last year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The show, produced by Unimedia and online video site Youku Tudou, follows penniless daydreamer Wang Dachui and his misadventures as a diaosi, a vulgar Chinese slang term for educated young Chinese men with dim job prospects, little money and no girlfriends.

Unimedia is expected to be in charge of the content creation, while Dreamworks would provide special effects and animation skills. The channel is expected to launch on a major domestic video streaming site and will include daily and weekly programs — from animated videos to talk shows – based on the original Web series. ...

Though the fictional Wang seems to be clueless about how to improve his prospects in life, at least his backers have come up with a plan: tying the knot with a beautiful and rich Hollywood studio.

This presents DWA with a way into the world's largest market, and since China is tightening requirements for foreign content, it's probably a smart move to get into domestic production.

If you want to play in the Middle Kingdom's sandbox, you have to play by the Middle Kingdom's rules.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

At Paramount Animation

Today, for the very first time, I visited Paramount Animation on the Paramount Studios lot. ...

I've tried over the last several months to find out where the hell Paramount Animation actually is. I had read about the studio in the trades, read about the hiring of Disney veteran David Stainton, then the resignation of David Stainton. Heard about products being started on the lot, but it all seemed amorphous and not quite real.

This was reinforced when I called Paramount and asked, "So where's your feature animation studio located?" And received the terse reply: "We'll get back to you."


Particularly since we had a contract with the studio and I wondered what the hell was going on. And couldn't find out.

But a couple of weeks ago I called (again) and Paramount said:

"Give us a a few days, we'll get back to you."

And lo and behold, they did. And invited me over.

So I motored through the Cahuenga Pass to Paramount, drove through the arched gates, and found the place is much like a 65-acre sardine can. Cars are packed into the parking lots side to side and end to end. The sound stages, all of them filled with sitcoms, are jammed next to each other. The office buildings, some in the European mode from the twenties and thirties, some in the trailer park mode (modular units that look like portable classrooms), are filled with administrators and production offices.

There is also, for the first time, a cartoon studio.

Paramount took over the Fleischer Studios in the early 1940s and turned it into Famous Studios, which was headquartered on the east coast for a quarter century. This is Paramount's first animation studio (not counting Nickelodeon) on the west coast.

Right now Paramount Animation is housed in four different buildings on the property, three containing artists, one containing execs. There are multiple feature projects in development. I would tell you how many and what they are except I've been sworn to secrecy, since the company hasn't announced any of them yet.

A feature pitch had just wrapped up when I walked into one of Paramount Animation's buildings, and there are additional features in work in the other outposts (and it's more than two, but less than ten). There are thirty-five to forty artists working in the studio right now, with several coming aboard in the last few weeks. The company is looking to hire another thirty-five to forty artists by January.

I asked if Paramount Animation was going to outsource production work, a la Illumination Entertainment (or, for that matter, Paramount Animation with Rango.) The answer?

"It depends on what the production is. No final decisions have been made."

My assumption is, the company will outsource animation work, but nothing is set in stone. On the other hand, the new Sponge Bob movie had its production work performed overseas and the pre-production done in an office building in Burbank across the street from Warner Bros.

So we can safely guess that for Paramount Animation, all things are possible.

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Dragon 2 Deleted Scene

In glorious story reel format.

And this is the way animated features get made.

Lots of experimenting at the story development level: multiple drafts of script, multiple passes on storyboards (although now it's all digital). Cut it into continuity and see how it plays. Then get outside staffers (and the boss) in for their input, circulate notes, have story meetings.

Rinse and repeat. This section was (I think) dropped at the story reel level, although the actors recorded dialogue. Often it never gets beyond scratch track.

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