Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ice Age Snark

I flitted through some MSM stories and reviews about Fox's new animated feature Ice Age 3. Not pretty.

Lazy, transparent, disposable and at its worst, boring, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs is a sometimes beautiful piece of animation consistently ruined by unfocused directing, bizarre editing choices, phoned-in voice acting, and a script which is neither witty nor filled with momentum. Of course it’s in 3D too because the extra dimension, like everything else in the prehistoric troposphere, is yet another apparatus for the film to hastily implement without foresight, planning or success. I guess the first question which comes to mind is why bother? Why bother even finishing a film all involved were clearly so ambivalent about? ...


There are so many things going on in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," ... why does the third installment of this animated tale often feel so glacial? ...

Even the gray lady, even while sprinkling a few compliments, gives the feature the back of its gloved hand.

A collection of short Scrat films would be much more pleasing than the elephantine “Ice Age” series ...

Owwy yeowy.

Me? I liked the first Ice Age and thought the second one told its story well. (The third one I have not seen.)  But I think that the negative reviews -- and they are far from being all negative -- will have minimal impact on worldwide grosses. The earlier films did robust numbers in all corners of the globe, and by now Ice Age is a brand name.

This third incarnation is going to make Fox lots of money.

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The MegaCollector's Yogi Bear

© Hanna-Barbera. Click the thumbnails for larger images.

When I was five years old, Yogi Bear premiered as part of Hanna-Barbera's syndicated Huckleberry Hound show, and I can recall being impressed (and a bit confused) that a famous baseball player would name himself after a cartoon character.

The Blue Hound's sidekick quickly became sufficiently popular to be broken off into his own show, along with Snagglepuss and the quickly-forgotten Yakky Doodle.

Wikipedia points out that Yogi was one of many H-B characters to have a collar, which facilitated animating his head separately from the rest of his body.

Local 839 picketers at H-B in 1982 sang their own version of the Yogi Bear Show theme song:

Yogi is the bear
With the greediest boss
When H&B subcontracts
It's America's loss!

Have a foreign country
You will find him there
We're on unemployment
'Cause our bosses don't care!

That's why we are mad
That's why we're annoyed
Hanna won't be happy
'Till we're all unemployed!

Hanna has it better
Than a millionaire
'Cause he's un-American
And that's unfair!
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Monday, June 29, 2009

DWA's Early Foray Into Television Animation

A commenter asks:

The only false start that I can remember DWA having on television was "Father of the Pride" in 2004 , which was five years ago. What was the other DWA television flop thirteen years ago ? (Or was it a planned tv show that was never produced ?)

Well, pull up some comfy chairs, friends and neighbors, and I'll tell you of DreamWorks Animation first television studio ... located in sun-kissed Encino on fabled Ventura Boulevard a dozen years ago ...

Before there was Madagascar penguins, before there were prides and fathers and 'Vegas magicians, DreamWorks Animation ran its own teevee animation division, located in a glossy mid-Valley office building.

This was in the middle nineties, when the proprietors of of DreamWorks SKG had visions of a television animation empire dancing in their heads, and the horizons for small-screen projects seemed wide. (Mr. Spielberg, after all, had already enjoyed fine success with Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Pinky and the Brain and others.  And Jeffrey had been present at the birthing of Disney Television Animation.)

Animation for the small screen was then roaring, and top talent was pulling down good salaries at a variety of L.A. studios.  DreamWorks Animation signed a sizable staff to term contractsat high wages and set about to develop new series that would knock the socks off the competition. (I walked through the facility numerous times in those early months, and morale and hopes were high.)

Word was going around that DreamWorks TV Animation was finalizing a deal to supply ABC with all its Saturday morning animated programs ... but then Disney (led by Jeffrey's former compadre Michael Eisner) swooped in and bough the network, and the rumored deal between DreamWorks and the broadcaster never happened.

DreamWorks t.v. division soldiered on, developing other projects. Toonsylvania, a comedy series produced and directed by Bill Kopp and Jeff DeGrandis, was broadcast on Fox, lasted from February to December in 1998, and was then distributed on VHS. (It's never shown up on DVD.)

Also in 1998, DreamWorks' animated mini-series Invasion America ran on the Warner Bros. in prime time. After it aired, one of the artists who worked on it told me.

"Steven Spielberg [one of the show's creators] is really unhappy with the animation and production quality, and didn't think Invasion America looked good at all. He thought the overseas studio did a really poor job" ...

After the two series, the studio in Encino slowly wound down. The staff, which had circulated a petition against one of DreamWorks TV Animation's execs and caused Jefrey Katzenberg to drive over to tamp out fires of discontent, became fatalistic about the division's chances of survival. "We know we're gone as soon as our Personal Service Agreements are up" was a major theme, and by and by the offices in Encino were closed. (The Lakeside building on DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus, originally slated to house the television animation division, today houses feature animation staff.)

It took most of  a decade before DreamWorks Animation again got seriously involved in television. Father of the Pride was a primetime misfire, but The Penguins of Madagascar has been a solid Nicktoons hit, with other series from DWA features are now in the teevee pipeline.

It took awhile, but DreamWorks Animation is now back in the television business. And now you know the rest of the story.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Toonish Merger Mania

Peter Bart, no longer the Big Kahuna at Variety but still holding a megaphone at the trade paper, speculates on possible corporate suitors for stand-alone DreamWorks Animation:

... Insiders say Time Warner is exploring a bid to acquire DreamWorks Animation, the publicly owned company that presently distributes its very successful films through Paramount. An "out clause" would permit DreamWorks Animation to terminate its Paramount deal next year provided it paid $150 million to that company or that one-third of DWA were acquired by another entity.

... Last week, veteran money manager Mario Gabelli told Barron's, "A round of consolidation will occur in the next six to 12 months because of the costs of financing, prints and advertising, the benefits of globalization and such. We hear talk of something going on."

Allow me to gaze into my crystal ball (handily embedded inside the Pegboard of Ollie Johnston's old animation desk) and give you the lowdown:

DreamWorks Animation will get gobbled up by one of the hungry conglomerates, and within the next two to three years. It's freaking inevitable because:.

1) DWA is the only successful animation studio not attached to an entertainment conglomerate, nad its pursuing the Pixarian business model of "Cash flow is predicated on every animated release being a hit."

2) DWA has built a strong animation track record and sizable 'toon library, both highly desirable things for the big entertainment congloms.  It's also building a television presence after a false start thirteen years ago.

3) DWA is working to hold down costs and squeeze more efficiencies into its production pipeline. (This I know from first-hand experience.) The economizing will improve chances for wider profit margins, thus making the 'toon factory more enticing to those big entertainment companies.

4) Jeffrey K. loudly proclaims that he's not looking to merge with anybody ... much as Steve Jobs proclaimed Pixar's independence from Disney just before, you know, Disney gobbled Pixar up ... and Steve J. pocketed several billion dollars. (Jeffrey can do math, trust me.)

All this is as inevitable as the sun rising tomorrow morning. I can't tell you the month and day a marriage will occur, and the current economic troubles might slow the nuptials a bit, but there is no way that a merger won't ultimately happen.

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Toons International B.O.

We know animation is cleaning up locally, but on the far sides of various oceans it's also holding its own. Like for example:

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" blanketed the international circuit during the weekend, recording an explosive $162 million from 9,910 screens -- a per-screen average of $16,347 -- in 58 markets for an overseas total of $181.6 million. The film's global gross is $363.2 million ...

Fox said it anticipates surpassing the $1 billion benchmark as early as this week, when the studio saturates the overseas circuit with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." ... Pixar/Disney's "Up" raised its early overseas cume to $47.1 million with a $4.7 million weekend at 2,064 screens in 15 territories ...

Monsters Vs. Aliens, still out in the marketplace, now has a worldwide accumulation of $369 million (which boils down to 53%/47% domestic/foreign.  For this heavily American=themed feature, the box office percentages have been lower in foreign venues that DWA's other recent releases.  Ah well ....)

Coraline has $36.1 million in overseas venues; coupled with the $75.3 million the little girl pulled in across the U.S. and Canada, Henry S.'s stop-motion epic now has a worldwide box office total of $111.4 million, with more markets yet to come ...

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

In June, Cartoons Rule

So let's review: there are presently two cartoon features riding the great Wave of Popularity.

The newest cartoon entry, Tranformers Deux, gets trampled by critics, but robot fanciers trample the box office racing through the turnstiles to see it:

Paramount-DreamWorks' action-sequel "Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen" continued to dominate the box office Friday raking in $36.7 million and raising its running domestic cume to $125.9 million over three days.

The other cartoon, now entering its fifth week, is doing well too.

Disney-Pixar's "Up" nabbed fifth with $3.9 million, down 35% on 3,487 for a running B.O. in its fifth Friday of $241.1 million.

So as we can see, animation continues to thrive.  Up floats toward the $300 million domestic mark and Transformers breaks box office records, while Ice Age 3 hits the world movie marketplace on July 1st.

Things could be worse.

Add On: Transformers just misses grabbing the big five-day b.o. record from Dark Knight; as a consolation prize, it still ends up with a nice bit of change.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” grossed an estimated $201.2 million from 4,234 theaters at the domestic box office to score the best five-day haul ever after “The Dark Knight.”

“Transformers 2’s” worldwide cume through Sunday was a massive $387 million, one of the best global deubts (sic) of all time.

Domestically, “Transformers 2,” grossed $112 million for the weekend after earning $89.2 million in its first two days (pic opened Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.) ...

The other animated entries out there aren't doing too badly either.

Disney-Pixar’s “Up” also continued to shine, grossing an estimated $13 million from 3,487 runs to come in No. 4 in its fifth frame. Domestic cume through Sunday was $250.2 million--surpassing “Star Trek” to become the highest grossing film of the year domestically. “Star Trek’s” cume through Sunday was an estimated $246.2 million ...

Monster Vs. Aliens has picked up over the past week, increasing over a 100% in weekly domestic box office gross.   MvA now stands at a hair under $196 million.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Video Games -- Non-Union Frontier

Over the years we've gotten calls from disgruntled animators, technical directors and designers at video games studios.  For some reason, these folks have been disgruntled by the long hours that chop the dollars of their weekly paychecks into small pieces when tabulated on an hourly basis.

But the game industry, even though it uses a lot of the same skill-sets and technologies as the cartoon biz, has been a tough nut for union organizers to crack -- not just for TAG but other unions as well.  Our experience has been meetings followed by management getting wind of the discontent, and then ... no more meetings or rep cards.  Even SAG hasn't achieved much leverage over the games industry.  The actors have some contracts, but they are paltry.

Aside from that, it turns out that the video games industry is a lot like the movie business. Big cash flow overall, but a lot of misses along with the game console blockbusters:

The phrase "hits driven business" gets thrown around a lot these days, but in the case of video games it really is true ... [A]ccording to Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) – as reported by Forbes – roughly 20 percent of video games that make it to market are actually profitable. To think that 80 percent of video games only break even or lose money for publishers is somewhat alarming ...

Games are pretty much like movies in the ratio of successes to failures, kissing cousins in fact. Which maybe explains why movie companies buy them. .

Warner Bros. has emerged as the only bidder for Midway Games, all but assuring that it will take control of the bankrupt publisher previously owned by Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and become a major force in the video game industry

... Redstone, who took control of Midway in 2004, was never able to bring the troubled company to profitability. He sold it at a huge loss to a private investor last November in exchange for a $700-million tax write-off that has since led to a lawsuit from the publisher's creditors ...

Cynics might say: "Of course games are tough to organize now. The business isn't as healthy as it was a couple of years ago ..." but in my experience the health of a company isn't what gets it to sign a union contract. Leverage is.


Movie and cartoon studios signed union contracts in the late thirties and early forties when the depression was still dragging pocketbooks down and corporate profit margins were minimal. But union-friendly labor laws had recently been passed in Washington and film workers were motivated. to change the status quo.

When games employees get to a place where they desire to organize their workplace ... and corporations' power is trimmed back (like, people don't fear for their jobs when the sign a union representation card) ... we might see more Midways and Electronic Arts coming under labor agreements.

In the meantime, the Warners, News Corps and Viacoms will go on pursuing game companies, becuasethe possibility of finding a rich vein of gold among all the pyrite is simply too tempting to pass up.

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This Ought to be Fun

MTV has got a bundle of new programs in the big incubator, including this one:

The MTV mothership announced its slate of in-development programming this week, and among the titles announced is one particular project that should pique the interest of comic book fans.

“The Awesomes” is described as an animated half-hour series created by “Saturday Night Live” head writer Seth Meyers and fellow SNL-er Mike Shoemaker that “follows an unassuming superhero and his cohorts as they battle evil villains, the paparazzi, and a less than desirable reputation as bumbling losers.”

The series will be produced by SNL chief Lorne Michaels’ production company, Broadway Video, with Meyers and Shoemaker serving as co-creators and co-writers ...

I'm assuming that the WGA will be repping the writers on Awesomes, since the company producing it will be Broadway Video. I have no idea who will be boarding, design work, conceptual art, etc.

If it's done out of New York, I have my doubts about the artists having any union representation. But we'll know the answer to that in the fullness of time.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cartoon Conglomerates and the Wider World

It's good to remember that no matter how much we think that the U.S. of A. is the center of the 'toon universe, it's really not. There's a big, multi-colored tapestry out there.

Nickelodeon announced on June 17 that it will launch ChinaToon, a 1-hour branded block dedicated to showcasing original Chinese animation ...

As the premier original Chinese animation block created by an international broadcaster, ChinaToon becomes the first region-wide platform for Chinese animators to showcase their programming to vast audiences across the region.

“Chinese animation is gaining immense popularity and critical recognition internationally. ChinaToon will be the vehicle to bring this unique animation genre to a wider audience,” said Indra Suharjono, Executive Vice President and Managing Director for MTV Networks South East Asia and Greater China. “We are proud to introduce ChinaToon and its exciting lineup of Chinese animation programs as new members to Nickelodeon’s family of top-rated programs that kids of all ages in Asia love,” she added.

What's striking is how good old American mega-companies are right in there partnering with the locals, subsidizing regional cartoons in various markets. Job number one, after all,  is getting eyeballs to look at your product, and putting home-grown stuff into the mix seems like a good way to increase viewership.

It's pretty to think that everybody everywhere wants Cars or Bugs or Huckleberry Hound 24/7, but such is not always the case.

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Jaime Diaz, 1937-2009

Animator, layout artist and director JAIME DIAZ died last Saturday, June 20 at the age of seventy-two.

Since 1965 he worked for Ed Graham, Filmation, Pantomime, Format, Bakshi, Hanna-Barbera, Baer Animation, Tom T Animation, Nickelodeon, Film Roman, Frederator, Fox, Magic Lantern Productions and Animotion Works. Here are memorials from Jaime's friends Larry Huber and Fred Seibert.

The funeral Mass for Jaime Diaz will be at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood at 11am on Saturday June 27. At 10:30am in the vestibule before Mass there will be a rosary for those who wish to attend.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church 10800 Moorpark St. North Hollywood, CA 91602 (818) 766-3838

After the Mass, Jaime's remains will be buried in San Fernando Mission Catholic Cemetery. There will be a procession of cars with escorts to the cemetery following the Mass.

San Fernando Mission Catholic Cemetery 11160 Stranwood Ave. Mission Hills, CA (818) 361-7387

Condolence messages for Jaime's family may be sent to:

761 Pecan Way Campbell, CA 95008

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Content on the Cheap

Another fine story of an entertainment company reaching out a helping hand to hungry artists.

Starz Digital Media announced the launch of ABEToons.com this week, the self-styled “source for independent, alternative and underground animation ...

Through August 31, animators can enter a two to six minute animated short in the contest, which is handing out $4,000 for first place, $1,000 and $500 for the top two runners-up, and $500 for the video with the highest view count.

Such a deal. And if you "win," they get to buy your film. (And -- I'm guessing here but I know how these things go -- all rights thereto. Neat, huh?)

There are ways of breaking into the business ... and then there are better ways.

On the other hand, it's a free country, and everybody is entitled to sell their sweat and inspiration for a nickel if they want to, but my advice is: Read the freaking fine print. Don't give away rights and ownership for a few thousand bucks. Better that you find a venue that gives you some real long-term upside, rather than donating work to a site that is paying peanuts.

My opinion, anyway.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Viz Effx Business Model

Here's the way the visual effects industry goes:

1) Big Fat Conglomerate puts most of the work on its new, $200 million effects-laden blockbuster out for bid.

2) Effects houses from far and wide bid on the project, busily low-balling one another.

3) BFC picks the cheapest price among the houses, gives a few high-end "money shots" to a prestigious effects studio in San Francisco, and hands off wire removal and other mundane chores to Mumbai, India (which is even cheaper!)

4) Management of Low-Ball Effx House discovers that it is seriously in the red doing the work and will have to look for suitors with money if it wants to keep its doors open. (As an interim measure, it cuts staff salaries and benefits) ...

Versions of this scenario have been happening with metronomic regularity for years. Variety had the basic storyline just yesterday:

Digital Domain, the Venice, Calif.-based visual effects shop ... is scheduled to be in court Wednesday for opening arguments in a wrongful termination suit by the company's former prexy, Christian Bradley "Brad" Call.

Call alleges the company pressured him to falsify the company's financials to attract investors ...

...[D]documents reveal that the company, founded in 1993 by Scott Ross, helmer James Cameron and creature wiz Stan Winston, has never turned a profit despite having a thriving commercials division for much of its existence to supplement its feature work ...

But weep not for Digital Domain. Per the article, current management strongly implies that everything is really good now. (And if you believe that, then call me quick, because I've got some prime real estate out in Lancaster I'm willing to sell you.)

There's a reason that the major entertainment companies got into the effects business and then (except for Sony) quickly got out again. The profit margins just weren't there.

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Warren Buffet States the Obvious

This sort of occurred to me when I first read it:

Warren Buffett says Apple has been too secretive about the health problems facing CEO Steve Jobs ...

"If I have any serious illness, or something coming up of an important nature, an operation or anything like that, I think the thing to do is just tell the American, the Berkshire shareholders about it. I work for 'em. Some people might think I'm important to the company. Certainly Steve Jobs is important to Apple. So it's a material fact. Whether he is facing serious surgery or not is a material fact ..

It's all well and good to be a control/secrecy freak, but there's a time when your passion for keeping everything buttoned up tight could very well violate the rights of the company's freaking owners.

At least, Warren seems to think so.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Toon Disney Experience

Today was my Disney Toon day, and the artistic staff is busy with various Tinkerbell features in different stages of production (Numbers Three, Four and Five are in work; number Two is ready for launch. As one of the Tink artists related:

"It's been great having so many projects coming through, because it's really helped a lot of us have longer employment. And management is lining up more projects beyond Tinkerbell, so that's good.

The way things work here is that John Lasseter sits down with the story crew and looks at the story reels for one of the pictures, then we go into another room and go over his notes. I've been here off and on for years, and before John it wasn't this way. The old set of execs didn't want story artists around and didn't want input, so this is a good change. And John brings in folks from Pixar who also look at what we've done and also give notes. He's got a group of Pixar women development people who give notes..."

I was able to get a look at some of the visual development for the next group of Toon Disney features (waay different than Tinkerbell) and my first reaction was: "That's going to make the Mouse a lot of money!"

Because it is a real commercial property.

(And no, I'm not going to say anything about what it is, since the company hasn't announced much about it yet.)

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The MegaCollector's Huckleberry Hound

© Hanna-Barbera. Click the thumbnails for full images.

The title character of Hanna-Barbera's second syndicated TV cartoon show (and first hit) was a blue dog whose most distinct characteristic was singing "My Darling Clementine" off-key.

According to Ted Sennett's The World of Hanna-Barbera, Hanna and Barbera originally intended for Yogi Bear to be named Huckleberry Bear -- which is a clue to the character's (intentionally?) generic nature.

In various cartoons, Huckleberry Hound appeared as everything from a cowboy to a farmer to a medieval knight, all voiced by Daws Butler in the identical Southern drawl. Most of M. C.'s collection of Huck art is of the Hound in the center of a group of his "buddies," pointing to his intended status as the H-B equivalent of Mickey Mouse -- at least as much of a corporate symbol as a distinct cartoon personality. Two years after Huck's debut, a certain Flintstone named Fred arrived, and soon took Huck's place as the de facto symbol of H-B's growing empire.

Below, "Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie," the pilot episode of the first season, originally broadcast October 2, 1958.

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Monday, June 22, 2009


Tim B's vision of the Lewis Carroll book will be in a multiplex near you nine months from now:.

... The film will be a spectacular combination of CG animation and motion capture and 3-D effects, quite fitting for the wonderland Burton has re-imagined ...

A Burton favorite, Johnny Depp is the eccentric and over-the-top Mad Hatter .... In addition to Depp, the film stars Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen ...

I'm so old I can remember when Tim was fresh out of school designing characters down on the first floor of the old Disney animation building ... and getting ignored by Disney management.

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Through Nicktoons

This afternoon I was walking around Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios, where a management person told me that the studio is up to five hundred employees. Not all of those people are TAG members, of course, but we have our share ...

The studio is easily the biggest teevee toon producer in Los Angeles, and it continues growing.   A staffer inside Nick's Olive Boulevard building said:

"We don't have a lot more room around here. The Kung Fu Panda series has got offices up in the former Axium building at Magnolia and Glenoaks next to Cartoon Network. There's not a lot of people there yet, just the producer and a few writers, but the artists will be there in the next couple of months ..."

Nickelodeon, besides being the biggest television producer of animation in the city of angels, is the only studio with which TAG has a new three-year contract. The deal was negotiated and ratified last October, and stipulates 3% bump-ups for job minimums in each of the next three years.

The other television cartoon producers? The boys and girls haven't told us across the table what kind or pay raises they think TAG members should get (if any)), but they've dropped hints they don't think it should be 3/3/3.

We find this kind of amazing, given that's been the pattern for other Hollywood contracts, but maybe they know something Nickelodeon doesn't.

Then again, maybe not.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Big Plans for Ice Age 3

Fox knows on which side its bread is buttered. And since Ice Age Deux cleaned up internationally three years ago, News Corp. this time is leaving nothing to chance .

Fox will release its 3-D animated feature "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" in most countries around the world within a day or so of its July 1 domestic bow. Getting 3-D screens in place has been a challenge.

"The deployment of 3-D screens is far less internationally than it is domestically," Fox international distribution co-president Paul Hanneman noted.

Fox expects to have 1,500-2,000 3-D screens in place for "Dawn," spread among 11,000 international screens set to play the movie ...

Fox knows a zingy franchise when it sees one. Seventy percent of Ice Age 2's $652 million worldwide take came from overseas, so the current edition is going to get a monster roll out in all parts of the globe.

Art is well and good, but there's all those euros, rubles, yuans, pesos and yen to think about.

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Thomas Rolls On ...

...straight to CGI land.

Thomas the Tank Engine is getting a computer-generated face-lift, according to HIT Entertainment, which owns the preschool property ... To make certain that “Thomas & Friends” speaks to “a new generation of kids and generations that follow,” the company said, it has decided to use computers to animate the engine’s face and, for the first time, Thomas will speak in his own voice ...

George Carlin must be rolling over in his grave.

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The Old Man and the Balloons

...continues to drift high overseas.

Disney-Pixar's 3-D "Up" continued to get good lift as it grossed $8.2 million at 2,234 theaters in 14 markets. Film, which is rolling out slowly, came in No. 5 for the June 12-14 weekend. "Up" finished the sesh with a foreign cume of $26.6 million and a worldwide tally of $187.4 million.

Of course, Up this report is a few days old and pretty inaccurate in its totals. Up has now collected $239.4 million domestically, which means that worldwide the picture has to be north of $266 million ... .

Add On: A couple of days later, Up adds another $12 million overseas:

Finishing No. 1 in 11 markets including the Ukraine, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia was Pixar/Disney's "Up," which collected $6 million from 2,051 locations. The animated feature's overseas gross over the course of a graduated rollout is $38.8 million to date.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Middle June B.O.

Now with fiber-rich Add On

Upfloats past the $200 million marker, coming in at #4, as it collects $6.1 million on Friday, continuing to track as one of Pixar's bigger domestic earners.

Disney-Pixar's 3-D toon "Up" ... declined 39% to an estimated $6.1 million from 3,832 theaters for a cume of $208.9 million. Film is only the second 2009 title to jump the $200 million mark domestically after Paramount's "Star Trek" ($234.7 million).

Sandra Bullock and Disney score a end-of-week #1 with The Proposal, which takes the top slot as t earns $12.4 million ...

Second and third places go to Year One and The Hangover, finishing in a dead heat with $8.5 million apiece.

Add On: Sandy B. and Disney come in at the top of the box office heap (The Proposal = $34.1 million), and Up continues to truck right along:

“Up” dipped 31% in its fourth frame to gross an estimated $21.3 million from 3,832 runs for a cume of $224.1 million. The toon is coming close to surpassing Paramount’s “Star Trek,” the most successful film of the year thus far at the domestic B.O. Pic grossed $239.4 million through Sunday.

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Flynn's Centennial

It's Errol's 100th birthday.

Forget that drink and drugs fetched him home half a century ago. He's still one of the great song and dance men swashbucklers of all time ... as this clip doesn't exactly demonstrate.

Obviously Mr. Flynn is out of place on an animation blog ... except that Daffy Duck referred to him in some Warners shorts ... and Errol even appeared in one.  That will have to be the excuse for celebrating the centenary of his birth, because I have no others.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Disney Walk Through

Over at the hat building, the Princess and the Frog cleanup crew is in the last couple of months of work. As a couple of crew-members said to me:

"We're hearing that management wants to keep us together, have us come back to work on Winnie the Pooh. That would be fine with us ... It wasn't easy when we got let go the last time, but this time has been better. We''ve got lower expectations about job security..."

Work continues apace on Beauty and the Beast - 3-D. Having only seen still frames of the new format, I've got no idea how it plays in three dimensions, but I was told it looks good.

I suppose the world will know how true this is when the refurbished tune is rolled out on Valentine's Day, 2010.

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Early Summer Linkfest

Now with Add On .

The hot season is upon us, and with it a new festival of links.

DreamWorks Animation is, the trades tell us, working on a new supernatural project:

DreamWorks Animation is moving forward with an untitled feature about a ghost who is bad at his job and must return to ghost school.

The project, referred to internally as "Boo U.," is being considered for release in the fourth quarter of 2012. Jon Vitti ("The Simpsons Movie") recently was brought on board to write the script. Tony Leondis ("Igor") will direct.

In late May, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose contract recently was extended to 2013, said a "supersecret ghost project" was on the books for a potential late-2012 slot. "Boo U." is that project ...

In the way of new, non-Big Three animated features: first there was Yellow Submarine, now there's HITC.

Animated feature "High in the Clouds" is an adaptation of a children's book written by McCartney, Geoff Dunbar and Philip Ardagh. The film will be directed by Rob Minkoff and adapted by Caroline Thompson.

The book, about a squirrel's quest to find an animal sanctuary, marks McCartney's largest involvement in an animated pic since the Beatles frontman was part of 1968's "Yellow Submarine."

"Paul said he would commit to a score of original songs as part of it," Lynne said. "Bob and I had never focused on animation in our career, but that got our attention." They have not yet set the project at a studio ...

Let the bidding begin.

Examiner.com kindly provides its list of "Top Ten Essential Anime".

Anime can be television series or feature films with theatrical releases. Much of anime comes from manga (Japanese comic books), which has a greater diversity of genres than its American counterpart. As a result, female-driven sports dramas, technology ridden sci-fi, children's fantasy films, cyberpunk, and soft-core pornography all exist under the category "anime." ...

Not a lot of people have focused on it yet, but there's another big c.g. animated feature looming on the far side of the horizon, and it pops into you local AMC on July 1st:

"Ice Age: Dawn of Dinosaurs" is the third installment of the Academy Award-nominated computer-animated film "Ice Age". The film directed by Carlos Saldanha will once again hear the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary as the three unlikely friends ...

(And we put this older link up here for the clip. Come July 1st, IA3 will grab most of the 3-D venues away from Up, so it will be interesting to see how the two battle it out.)

In the battling department over who pays for what in 3-D land, Fox has now blinked:

20th Century Fox's high-profile stare-down with exhibitors over who would pay for digital 3-D glasses to go with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" has been settled. But the issues underlying the dispute will almost certainly flare up again.

Fox, which had initially threatened to make theater owners bear the costs, has agreed to pick up the tab, according to several people familiar with the matter.

It's a sore point for studios, which complain that they shouldn't have to pay that fee, particularly because theaters can reuse glasses. The studios are already incurring additional costs of about $15 million a picture to make a movie in 3-D. Tickets for 3-D movies come with a $2 to $3 surcharge, which is split between theater owners and studios ...

In the meantime, the Mouse is starting to push 3-D gaming in a major way:

Now Disney eyes up 3D gaming

Upcoming Wii, PS3 and 360 titles include special glasses and could change perception of games, says firm.

Disney will beat Ubisoft to the punch with its release of the first major game supporting 3D this summer.

At E3, Ubisoft unveiled its 3D game Avatar, made with Hollywood legend James Cameron – but Disney was also demonstrating its Toy Story and G-Force movie spin-off 3D games on the stand next door ...

Wade Sampson at Mouse Planet has a fine, short history about the collision of two Hollywood moguls: Walt Disney and Harry Cohn, the king of Columbia Pictures. Said Disney:

“Columbia wasn’t doing right by our pictures. I knew they were making deals with theater owners, selling their lousy pictures with our shorts. They were getting more for the shorts but we didn’t see the extra profit. After two years, we opened negotiations with United Artists without letting Columbia know. When we pulled away from Columbia, the executives complained, ‘Why didn’t you give us a chance?’ I said, ‘We gave you a chance for two years.’ The Columbia boys were really sore, because just one year later we came up with Three Little Pigs.”

Add On: Steve Jobs has an organ transplant (not the kind you listen to in church.)

Steve Jobs, who has been on medical leave from Apple Inc. ... received a liver transplant in Tennessee about two months ago. The chief executive has been recovering well and is expected to return to work on schedule later this month, though he may work part-time initially.

... William Hawkins, a doctor specializing in pancreatic and gastrointestinal surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., said that the type of slow-growing pancreatic tumor Mr. Jobs had will commonly metastasize in another organ during a patient's lifetime, and that the organ is usually the liver ...

Have yourself a life-fulfilling weekend.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Over at Cartoon Network

I spent a part of my morning at Cartoon Network, where Chowder and Flapjack to hear staffers tell it, are soon to be part of CN's history:

"They're writing some scripts and doing some boards for new episodes, but right now it looks like Flap and Chowder aren't being picked up. I'm getting laid off next week, know of any new shows happening other places?" ...

Over in the skyscraper next to CN's Burbank studio, Generator Rex is staffed up and in production, as is Adventure Time in the main building. (There's also Ben 10 and Sym-Bionic Titans moving along.

And CN is moving in bold new directions, like blowing rent-a-wrecks up in the mountains and putting the results on the teevee:

Andrew W.K., the rocker-turned-TV personality has signed on to host “Destroy Build Destroy,” a new Cartoon Network game show predicated entirely on explosions. In the show, he guides two teams of teenagers through a competition on an empty lot in the mountains outside of Los Angeles as they destroy vehicles and then use the wreckage to create new machines. “We can reclaim explosions and find joy in it, even celebration,” he says.

Being a joyful guy always in search of new joy, I can't freaking wait.

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Fair Compensation

As TAG tussles with the studios over contract wage hikes, and I get told by a Disney Senior Vice President that "times are tough" and we can't expect what the editors, grips and art directors have already secured at the bargaining table, (we're negotiating a contract eight months after them), Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal Magazine runs this bon mot in its July issue:

PAY DAY -- Which CEOs are earning their pay, and which, well, aren't? We weigh in on pay packages that stand out -- for better or worse.

Robert Iger -- The Walt Disney Co. Pay: $30.6 million

Includes: $2 million salary, $13.9 million bonus, $13.7 million in stock and options.

Disney had a record year, with $37.8 billion in revenue, Iger's focus on franchises like the Jonas Brothers has paid off. But does that warrant a $16.3 million bonus? Even Iger may not have thought so: He trimmed $2.4 million off what the board initially approved. That seems reasonable, given Disney's stock was down 30 percent in 2008 ...

-- SMART MONEY, July 2009, p. 20.

See, falling stocks only impact the wages of run-of-the-mill employees, not Top Dogs.

Because corporate boards of directors mostly behave like this ...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Around Disney TVA

These days, there's not a lot of point for an animation union rep to go to Disney's Sonora building to see Disney Television Animation employees, because there aren't a lot of them there. The Tigger and Pooh crew is long gone; Mickey's Clubhouse is history, so it's now a big, empty first-floor space in search of artists.

Happily, the Frank Wells Building on the Burbank lot is a different story ...

When I sauntered in this afternoon, I ran across a group of Phineas and Ferb artists who were happy to have a long stretch of work ahead of them (many new episodes), but had other good news:

"Inspector Oso got picked up for new episodes on Friday. I think it's 33 new half-hours. The producers told the staff the good news on Monday, and people will start coming back in the next few weeks. The word around here is that the show will be moving over to the Sonora building ..."

(Moving to Sonora makes sense, because the Mouse has a lot of empty square footage over there and it would be good if somebody on the TVA floor was drawing inside its walls.)

A number of artists asked me about retiree health benefits, what's up with the pension plan, how early can somebody access benefits? (Times being what they are, people like to know where the escape hatches are.) I told them:

1)) The Pension Trust Funds are solid, but down 17-18% due to an unfortunate economic melt down.

2) Retiree Health benefits are available to participants in the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan who have a minimum of fifteen qualified pension years (three after the age of 40) and twenty thousand contribution hours.

3) If a participant has thirty qualified pension years and sixty thousand contribution hours, they can retire wilth 100% of their monthly pension and 100% of their lump-sum Individual Account Plan at the ago of sixty ...

There's gotta be a reason people keep asking me about pension and health care, and also keep saying: "I'm really happy to be working ..."

Wonder what it could be?

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Name at least two things missing from these pictures

Click on thumbnails for larger pictures

Left: Steve Hulett. Below: Marta Strohl-Rowand. Below the fold: Lyn Mantta; Jeff Massie.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

3-D Boost

President Koch and I lunched with an industry person today, and the subject of 3-D came up. One of us questioned whether cinema in three dimensions was a Fad or a Permanent Phenomena. I offered the opinion that it would soon be as prevalent as color.

Full confession here: I was one of those people who was skeptical that 3-D had staying power, but day by day, I'm becoming a believer:

... Disney-Pixar's 3-D toon "Up" has enough lift to likely become the second-highest-grossing Pixar title at the domestic B.O. after "Finding Nemo."

Through Sunday, "Up's" domestic total was $187.4 million -- the second best of any summer film to date. Par's "Star Trek" has cumed $231.9 million.

"Up's" boffo run is the latest example of how 3-D runs can boost a film's bottom line through higher ticket prices. The film's 3-D runs make up only 40% of the total screen count, yet they contribute 60% of the gross ...

Forget for the moment that Pixar's latest uptrend blows Jim Hill's theory of Emeryville's ever-declining revenues into a raggedy hand-basket. Think about what 3-D is doing to animation just now. Not only did it aid tremendously in making Monsters Vs. Aliens a dmoestic hit, but it's goosing Up's overall numbers in a major way.

This continuing shower of legal tender insures that 3-D will keep expanding geometrically. It won't be long before a majority of theaters have dimensional capability, and at that point, producers will be shooting most pictures in 3-D because it will be increasingly risky not to.

I'm betting in a couple of years 3-D will be close to critical mass, and live action in three dimensions will be as widespread as Cinemascope was half a century ago. At that point, bins of cheap polarized glasses will be everywhere, and you wouldn't be able avoid them if you wanted to.

So get ready for darker screens (because those viewing glasses reduce light) and View Master panoramas. You'll be seeing a lot of them.

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Pixar Equals Motown Records?

Gamasutra draws a comparison I'd never considered before:

The challenge facing all creative media businesses today is to establish a system that balances their creativity alongside productivity ...

What I went looking for were companies that sustained commercial success over a long period using different teams and entirely new concepts – not just more of the same – and yet still managed to create works of long-term artistic merit. There are two absolute crackers: Motown Records and Pixar Animation Studios.

[Motown] delivered over 110 top tens in a ten year period - that's almost one a month: for an entire decade!

Berry Gordy, Motown's founder, applied the same principle of quality to every aspect of the production process. He used dedicated songwriters. He brought in the best local musicians for recordings rather than the artists themselves. He created ‘artist development’ to coach his young stars on how to act, behave and present themselves.

Better yet, he held regular weekly meetings to review all of the tracks being worked on and to assess them against the current top five. Any song which he felt wasn’t up to scratch, or wouldn’t be received well in the charts, was sent back for more work ...

And how does Pixar compare to this? I think we can see the similarities, can't we?

Ten movies in just over a decade, grossing more than $2.5 billion, giving them the industry’s highest average.

Pixar’s approach highlights another key aspect of a successful ‘creative assembly line’: it’s not about the original idea - it’s all about the people and the process. Ed Catmull, who’s now the president of Disney-Pixar, encapsulates it very neatly: "If you give a good idea to a mediocre team they will screw it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something that works." ...

The thing of it is, there are no original ideas, only old stories told in new and audience-grabbing ways. Is Wall-E something nobody has never seen before? Uh, no. Not if you've watched various space operas that have been produced for the silver screen over the last .... oh ... seventy years. The Wallster draws bits and pieces from a lot of them. But the little robot's creators hammer together something fresh and zestful in the process.

Shakespeare didn't concoct his plays out of whole cloth, he rewrote old plots that had been lying around in other people's manuscripts and made them his own. It was the music he put into his new works that made them endure. The storylines had mold on them when he used them back in the sixteenth century, he just spiffed them up.

In the 20th Century, the iconic Casablanca was constructed from a rickety, unproduced play entitled Everybody Comes to Rick's. Some Warner Broos. writers, in fact, thought it was downright sucky, and said so:

Dear Hal:

I do not like the play at all, Hal. I don't believe the story or the characters. Its main situation and the basic relations of the principals are completely censorable, and messy, its big moment is sheer hokum melodrama of the J. Phillips Oppenheim variety, and this guy Rick is two-parts Hemingway, one-par Scott Fitzgerald, and a dash of cafe Christ ...

Bob [Buckner]

Despite this internal studio derision, Hal Wallis, Michael Curtiz, Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers used movie alchemy to turn copper into gold, and the rest is Turner Classic Movies.

But I think the examples and lessons above are reasonably clear: It isn't the subject matter; it isn't even the "originality." It's the talent of the crew to turn steel wool into spun silver, of making the dialogue crackle and the plot twist and turn in compelling,unexpected directions on its way to the Third Act. It's the ability to make characters -- even slighty cliched one -- connect with five and fifteen and fifty-year-olds.

Pixar, and once upon a time Motown, had the game plan and game players to accomplish these things. No doubt there will be others that will, sooner or later, come trundling down the pike.

But originality has little to do with it. Execution, as Gamasutra points out, is far more important.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

The MegaCollector's Snooper and Blabber

Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse were part of the first season of Hanna-Barbera's Quick Draw McGraw Show, debuting in 1959.

After Tom and Jerry and Jinks, Pixie and Dixie, S&B represented the first time a cat and mouse existed in relative harmony with each other in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

The ubiquitous Daws Butler voiced both Snooper and Blabber. They seem to be going for a Jack Webb/Dragnet vibe in the debut cartoon, "Puss 'n Booty," although the author of the Wikipedia page cites the vocal inspiration of Ed Gardner’s Archie from the 1940s radio show Duffy’s Tavern.

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The Other Coraline

Not the book, but the New York stage production.

... Directed by Leigh Silverman, with songs by Mr. Merritt and a book by Mr. Greenspan, “Coraline” is a grown-up exercise in story theater that asks its audience to take a childlike leap of faith into fantasy. But the invitation is couched with such self-conscious craftsmanship that you wind up frozen in admiration of its elegance and inventiveness instead of taking that necessary step into make-believe ...

In translating Mr. Gaiman’s story to the stage, the creators of the musical “Coraline” emphasize the telling over the tale. Christine Jones’s attic-of-the-mind set is filled with an assortment of decrepit-looking pianos of varying shapes and sizes. And the show begins with ensemble members plinking isolated notes on different pianos. It’s as if a group of children were randomly discovering music and its powers to summon an enveloping atmosphere ...

There is much wit in this sophisticated rendering of a child’s tinkering with music. But the show’s aural landscape never varies much, even as Coraline crosses between her two lives, and the music can sometimes feel more metronomic than hypnotic ...

Unlike Mr. Gaiman’s novel or Henry Selick’s recent film adaptation, Coraline’s one-child fight against evil never summons much suspense and almost never involves you emotionally.

You can't keep a good story confined to a limited number of platforms, it seems. The next venue will probably be as a comic book ... or graphic novel.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Animation B.O. in Foreign Lands

Underscoring the previous post, animation continues to chug smartly along in overseas theaters:.

... No. 5 on the weekend was Pixar/Disney's "Up," which continued its graduated foreign rollout by grossing $8.2 million from 2,243 locales in 14 territories.

"Up's" international total stands at $26.6 million, worldwide $213.8 million. The animation title finished first in 12 markets, with a second Mexico weekend generating $2.6 million (down only 29% from the opening round) from 799 screens for a market cume of $7.9 million. A Ukraine opening looms this weekend ...

Focus Features/Universal's "Coraline" upped its international cume to $29.7 million thanks to a $2.7 million weekend at 1,690 screens in 31 markets. Debuts in four markets were capped by a No. 3 opening in France, which produced $1.3 million from 438 locations.

... "Monsters vs. Aliens," [is] $171.5 million over 11 weeks foreign ...

And one of the larger animation markets is set for an on-rush of 3-D toonage through the balance of 2009:

The Japanese film industry has dubbed 2009 “year zero” for 3D with high-profile releases and new screens expected to finally kick-start local interest in the format....

...Paramount Pictures Japan announced last week that Monsters Vs Aliens will open on about 300-plus screens on July 15, with about a third of those in the 3D format. It will be the territory’s widest 3D release to date.

Disney’s Bolt, Pixar’s Up (which will receive a wider launch than Monsters Vs Aliens), [and] Toy Story 3 ... are also expected to drive interest ...

I still have glittering hopes for the White Doggie, now sitting on a $291,705,768 worldwide gross, to crack that vaunted $300 million barrier ...

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Coraline Kudos

Mr. Selick's Oregon opus shared the Big Award at Annecy yesterday:.

Henry Selick’s “Coraline” and Australian Adam Elliot’s "Mary and Max” shared the best feature nod at the 33nd Annecy Animated Film Festival, Europe’s most important toon confab. Prizes were unveiled Saturday at the fest’s closing ceremony.

The stop-motion 3-D “Coraline” was one of the most anticipated - and applauded - films at Annecy.

Already opening Sundance this year, “Max,” a clay-animated toon about an unusual pen-pal friendship, had been a favorite with critics and execs alike ...

What's struck me over the past dozen years is that both the quality and quantity of animated features continues to rise.

Even more importantly, the box office is solid for any number of 'toons. Which of course explains why any number of 'toons are getting made in various corners of the world.


Is it a glut? Only if the product doesn't make money. Otherwise, it's just Hollywood and other places working hard to keep up with a hungry public's insatiable demand.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Life Magazine and Disney

Life Magazine photographed Walt and his studio quite a lot from the 1930s to ... well, to right now. (Although these days it would be Time-Warner covering the Disney Co., I guess).

But there are some pictures tucked in the link above that I haven't seen before, so I post a couple here.  Above, a pensive Walt in 1938. (h/t TAG board member -- and crackerjack storyboard artist --  Bob Foster.)

Below, Walt and Ward Kimball in January 1939, poring over drawings of the cricket for Pinocchio ...

Joyous weekend.

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The Box Office Three

Now with photo finish Add On

On Friday there were three big horses in the box office steeple chase. All the other releases were Shetland ponies flailing around far back in the field ...

Warner Bros. woke up to discover that its hit comedy "The Hangover" held on to the number one box office spot in its second Friday, grossing an estimated $10.44 million at 3,355 venues.

After posting strong midweek figures, the second Friday for "The Hangover" dipped 38%, giving the laffer a running eight-day cume of $82.4 million. The running B.O. for "The Hangover" is almost on par with that of last summer's R-rated comedy champ "Sex and the City" which raked $85.3 million largely from the female set in its first eight days.

Disney-Pixar's "Up" stayed afloat in second place dipping just 33% in its third Friday with $8.8 million from 3,886 theaters ...

Coming in third for Friday was newbie The Taking of Pelham 123, collecting $8,250,000 and looking for a reasonable amount of box office boodle by Sunday night..

Add On:: The weekend finish is about as expected: The Hangover gallops in with $33.4 million (and a $105.4 million total), making Warner Bros perform a jig of joy.

Up comes in second (and third on a per-screen basis), collecting $30.5 million out of a $187.2 million total.

Pelham 1 .2 .3 rakes in $25 million during its initial weekend, achieving the second highest per-screen average for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Monsters Vs. Aliens, down in eighteenth place, has now collected $195.2 million for its domestic run.

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The MegaCollector's Hokey Wolf and Ding-A-Ling

© Hanna-Barbera. Click the thumbnail for a full-sized image.

Above, an Ed Benedict publicity drawing of the characters that first appeared in the third season of The Huckleberry Hound Show, with voices by Daws Butler (doing Phil Silvers) and Doug Young.

Below, the first Hokey & Ding-A-Ling cartoon, "Tricks And Treats", which aired 9/11/1960.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

DreamWorks Animation Walk Thru

I spent a good part of my morning going around DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus, updating members about the ongoing negotiations between TAG and their studio.

In the layout department, I stood watching a clip from Shrek 4 and asked an artist what he thought of the latest ogre opus. He said:

"You know, I laughed out loud more during this one than the others. I think it's really funny. I think it's the best of the four ..."

It was at that point that his roommates began debating him, one artist saying the like Shrek 2 the best, another saying he thought the first had a lot of zest and pizzazz. (I'm partial to the first, but that's me.)

The quality of the next Shrek, to be released twelve months hence, might have something to do with today's financial report on DWA:

Dreamworks Animation stock has been showing support around 27.86 and resistance in the 29.14 range. Technical indicators for the stock are Bullish and S&P gives DWA a positive 4 STAR (out of 5) buy rating. DWA appears on the Investors Observer Volume Leaders list ...

The DreamWorks Toon factory continues to expand, with a newer building going up behind the Lakeside Building, and more staff continuing to be added.

I've got the idea that the company is confident about its three upcoming features (all released in 2010) doing better than all right.

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End-of-Week Linkage

Once again we vacuum up news from toonland and spit it out in one hand post.

Nickelodeon Studios, now with 500 employees, is busy greenlighting new product:

Nickelodeon has ordered two new animated series, greenlit three pilots and upped an exec with VP stripes.

Kid cabler is asking for delivery of 26 episodes of "Planet Sheen," a spinoff of its popular "Jimmy Neutron" toon, from creator Steve Oedekerk.

Nick is the one studio -- thus far -- that we've negotiated a new three-year deal with. All them other studios? We're still arm-wrestling at the AMPTP ...

The L.A. Times profiles DreamWorks Animation and its expanding universe of business deals:


DreamWorks' expansion comes at a time when many other Hollywood studios are retrenching and signals to some investors that the company may be positioning itself for a sale once the economy recovers. The Glendale-based film and TV producer headed by Jeffrey Katzenberg and spun off from DreamWorks SKG in 2004 is one of only two smaller publicly owned independent studios left in an industry consolidated among a handful of major players.

Katzenberg has told analysts the company is not for sale at this time but has been increasingly vocal about the company's strategy to leverage its core characters beyond the big screen ...

Futurama returns for more episodes (Fox prime-time series never die ...):

"Futurama" creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen already are working on stories for the new batch of episodes of the sci-fi cartoon, slated to premiere on Comedy Central in mid-2010.

As with "Family Guy," whose improbable return was triggered by big DVD sales and solid ratings for the show's reruns on Cartoon Network, the performance of "Futurama's" repeats on Comedy Central and on disc was key to its resurrection.

Futurama is the only Fox show TAG doesn't have under contract. Hopefully we can get that changed going forward ...

Although television animation is still emaciated compared to earler, fatter years, at Disney TVA there is one generous serving of pot roast on the dinner table:

Disney ordered 35 more episodes [of P and F, which will take the show to 100 total episodes. The third season also features a new recurring cast member: Jack McBrayer, the actor who plays Kenneth the page on "30 Rock." ...

Co-creator Dan Provenmire talks about P and F here:

Dan Povenmire: My writing partner Swampy (Jeff Marsh) and myself were looking to do something together. I was in a restaurant in Pasadena where they put paper in front of you and crayons, so I sketched character ideas. I did this triangle-headed kid and I liked it so much that I took it home and called Swampy and said, "Hey, I think we have our show."

And the rest, as they say, is broadcast history.

And since we're plowing through interview territory, Garfield creator Jim Davis is out tub-thumping for the latest Garfield CGI-live actors feature film.

“The advantages are the reality levels you can achieve,” Davis said. “With traditional animation, you really can’t zoom in on characters. With CGI, all of the sudden you have the right lighting, shading, the right perspectives. You have the right tools to tell the story, if you have the right story."

“It does have greater production values. We’ve done all this stuff in-house, and the guys who [developed it] really did a great job.” ...

“The more I go to CGI, the more I get to distance myself more from Disney, because you’re always going to get compared to Disney, with their big budgets and grand, huge stories.”

Have a glorious weekend. Treat yourself to an ice cream Sundae. It's only right.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Work For Free Update

You might remember this from a few weeks ago:

Deferred payment 1st episode (no-pay), action/adventure series, Cartoon Network, paid assignments and/or production contract after 1st episode.

It was a happy little notice found on Craig's List, referring to Cartoon Network shows. We have now gotten a response from CN:

We don't know how this got up there, but we didn't put it up or have it put up. We have contacted Craig's List and told them to take down the posting, as it violates our union contract with the Animation Guild.

So, anybody that finds themselves working under this strange, "deferred payment" arrangement, call us quick and we'll take care of the problem.

Apparently Cartoon Network wants to take care of the problem too.

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Sony Pictures Animation Marches On

This is encouraging news.

Sony Pictures Animation has picked up the rights to "The Familiars," an upcoming children's fantasy book series written by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson.

Sam Raimi and Josh Donen are in negotiations to produce via their Stars Road Entertainment banner. Epstein and Jacobson also will write the script.

The writers pitched the idea to their reps at UTA and H2F Entertainment, who believed -- given the current marketplace that favors having an IP like a comic book or book behind a project -- that going the book route would be better than simply going out with a pitch.

People have wondered if SPA was going to continue as a production entity (this includes Sony Pictures Animation employees I have talked to.) They've got Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs ready for release; it's gratifying that another property is being picked up.

The more animation players in the marketplace, the better.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The MegaCollector's Cab Calloway

Click the thumbnail for a full-sized image.

Not even the great and powerful MegaCollector himself knows what cartoon this Cab Calloway caricature comes from.

Calloway made three cartoons for Fleischer Studios: "Snow White", "Minnie The Moocher", and "The Old Man Of The Mountain", but this image doesn't seem to be from any of those. Yet it's definitely the Hi-De-Ho Man ...

Below, "Minnie the Moocher".

ALL-STAR ADD-ON: Thanks to Fun With Mr. Future for telling us that the drawing is by Ward Kimball, from the Disney Silly Symphony "Mother Goose Goes To Hollywood".

Any excuse to post a Cab Calloway cartoon (as he said, Calloway is at about 6:45):

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The Wisdom of Bob Gibeaut

When I was a but a lad, Robert Gibeaut was a Vice President at Walt Disney Productions, in charge of Operations. Before that, he had been the guy in charge of Editorial (Cutting, as the sign over the editorial building had it in those simpler, halcyon days.)

One day, a long-time Disney film editor was given his layoff notice. The editor became enraged at this, and stormed around the studio waving a glossy, Mouse House pamphlet that proclaimed employees at the studio were all part of the "Disney Family," all of them special, all of them part of the long Disney tradition of Family, etc.

The man yelled at his supervisor: "We're a family here! This pamphlet says so. I've been working at Disney's fifteen years!" (etc.)

The boss didn't want to deal with the tirade, and so bumped him up to the next level. The same story was yelled, and the same flyer was flapped about. The editor was again bumped along.

He finally got up to Company Chairman Card Walker, waved the pamphlet again and spit out his story. (Did I mention these were simpler times?) Card, also not wanting to deal with the guy, told him to go see Bob Gibeaut, the man in charge of operations. So the guy did. And two minutes into the waved pamphlet and angry sob story, Bob cut him off with:

"You don't believe all that 'family' crap, do you? We're running a business here."

Which pretty much ended the string of tirades.

I've told this tale before, but the core of the story always resonates with me, because old Bob was right. Companies aren't families, or charitable organizations, or there to look out for your interests. Oh, they'll tell you they are all those things, if they think it serves their interests at that particular moment, but they aren't, not really. Not ever.

Companies exist to maximize cash flow and profits for stockholders. They act in their self-interest, and if this means lying to you, cutting you off at the knees, laying you off a day before Christmas, they will do it.

Because "it's business."

I mention all this now because I've gotten a number of phone calls recently from members, some working and some not, who express disbelief that employers can be so callous and heartless, lay them off at the blink of an eye, write them up for a slight infraction, and so on and so forth.

They have, you see, heard the "We're the good guys here!" tape loop from administrators and supervisors until they start believing it, and that is always a dangerous thing.

So here (again) are a few simple rules to keep in mind when you enter employment with studios:

1) When negotiating for a job, go in with as much knowledge as possible (wage levels, work loads, political dynamics in studio, etc.) It will help you get a better deal.

2) Once hired, play well with others. Remember you're a newbie and at the bottom of the food chain.

3) Always have your antenna up, checking the studio atmosphere and political weather. It often changes daily.

4) Know what your rights are. And strive to know when it's best to exercise them.

5) Understand that one day you'll be moving on. Be at peace with that.

6) Tell yourself daily as you're brushing your teeth: "The company is not my Mommy."

And always but always remember the wisdom of Bob Gibeaut: "You don't believe all that 'family' crap, do you?"

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Should I Cash Out My 401(k) and Buy a House Now?

Uh ... no.

[Patricia] Hynes bought her three-bedroom home in Lancaster brand-new for $119,000 in 1989 ... Her home is an island in a sea of repos. Houses on both sides have fallen into foreclosure; one is priced $10,000 less than the amount she paid 20 years ago.

Nearby, a four-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot home sold in May for $89,000 ...

Another tsunami of foreclosures is threatening to swamp an already saturated market. In Palmdale and Lancaster, 903 homes were sold in April, but according to ForeclosureRadar, more than 7,500 are in some stage of foreclosure.

Some buyers who thought they were getting bargains didn't ...

I bring this up here (and now) because I've TAG had members call to ask if now is a good time to liquidate retirement funds to purchase a new abode.

I've told them: "Not yet. We're not at the bottom of this fustercluck, so why cash out of funds that have probably lost a bit of money so you can buy some real estate that will lose money faster?"

There will be a time to buy the new house or condo, but I don't think we're there yet. Give it another year. Maybe two.*

* For those of you unfamiliar with So Cal, Lancaster and Palmdale are out in the Antelope Valley, in the desert. There is lots of empty land out there, and whenever we go into a recession, the area's property values always tank.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Last SAG Post


After a year of dicking around, the Screen Actors Guild finally ratified a new contract:

The membership of the Screen Actors Guild has officially ratified its proposed new two-year TV/theatrical contract by a margin of 78% to 22%. SAG members had been working under the terms of the previous contract since June 30, 2008, as negotiations stopped and started, stalled and dragged on, over the past year.

SAG's national board recommended the contract to the membership for ratification April 19 by a mere 53% to 47%. Ballots went out to the 110,000 or so members in good standing May 19.

Of those eligible to vote, 35.26% turned in ballots ...

What made this particularly ludicrous is that the basic deal sat moldering for a year. But SAG had a President and executive director who thought they were going to find a different, prettier pony in the manure pile, and were proven -- over and over -- to be wrong.

So the SAG membership turns out to be more clear-thinking that the officers who represent them, and a two-year deal is in place. Due to the brilliance of Mr. Rosenberg and his executive director, SAG members missed out on a year of pay-rate increases, but decided having a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that ended at the same time as the other above-the-line guilds was more important.

Or something.

Maybe they were just sick of the theatrics at board meetings and all the crazies picketing outside SAG's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. And the angry "Open Letters" that were flung back and forth between warring factions.

Either way, SAG's long nightmare is over. For two years. Then we'll start the festivities over again, and see what kind of economic hits the industry gets to endure during the next contract cycle.

Should be a gas.

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Happy 75th, Mr. Duck

We're informed that today is Donald Duck's 75th anniversary of pestering people.

... Unlike many other Disney characters, Donald has aged well. The veteran of 18 feature films, over 150 shorts and eight television series, he also has starred in 21 video games ...

I'm part of the post-war generation that remembers Donald as the hero of countless Carl Barks comic book adventures. (How many of those were there?) I even had a multi-year subscription for "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories," which had a Carl Barks epic in each issue.

Simpler times, free of computers and the internet. But Donald successfully navigated through them. All power to the Duck.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

At the House of Ears

Back from vacation, back in the saddle, and back at the Disney Animation Studio, stumbling from room to cubicle.

And as I stumble, work on Princess and the Frog is wending its way to a conclusion. Staff tells me:

"Rough animation and rough layout are pretty well done on P and F. Rough animation is 95% finished ..."

"The last sequence going through is being animated with clean, tight drawings, and the inbetweening done in-house. They're not doing cleanup on it ..."

"Most of the supervising animators on Princess and the Frog have been picked up for the next project" ...

"Rapunzel is going into animation the last part of the year. It's a musical, and they're going to have fairly short production schedule like they did on Bolt. Glen Keane is still the executive producer, and I think he could be supervising some animation, but I've just heard that could be happening. Don't know if it actually is" ...

I walked through the layout department and discovered the crew shrank while I was off in the mountains. One room was missing half its artists, another had a bunch of empty desks. Two artists mentioned it was their "last week of work."

I told them I hoped that the next hand-drawn project got rolling soon.

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Pixarian Linkage

Lately there have been no festivals of links, so let us do one now ... focused on the Disney Co.'s Emeryville studio.

NPR/Fresh Air's Terry Gross interviews Peter Docter:

Docter, ... tells Fresh Air ... that the tale's influences included everything from Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo to the animated work of Hayao Miyazaki.

Docter also confesses to doing a bit of undercover research to help flesh out the central character in Up: He and several instrumentalist colleagues — Docter plays bass, the others ukuleles — visited a retirement home as volunteer entertainers but took the opportunity to observe the tics and habits of the elderly men in residence.

"And so we were playing for these guys and secretly kind of taking little notes for ourselves ..."

Pixar goes the DreamWorks Animation route, propogating sequels:

... [I]nformation regarding a sequel to Monsters Inc has been leaked. This information was purportedly told to the buyers at the Licensing International Expo 2009 ...

And Sim Brew at Den of Geeks worries about it.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. For the past few years, Pixar has come up with a collection of interesting and distinctive films, that stand apart in the market. ... [Y]ou generally get something far more daring and risk-taking.

However, for the next few years, it's seems that the focus at Pixar is going to be on sequels. This is understandable from a business perspective, certainly, given the fact that box office revenues for Pixar movies haven't ever since reached Finding Nemo-esque levels. But it still puts an iota of worry in the back of my mind.

Uh, Simon? They call it show business for a reason ...

The L.A. Times ruminates on the literary ancestors of Up:

... [T]he theme of Lightness appears in children's literature. From Mary Poppins to Peter Pan, from Tarzan swinging on vines to Harry Potter scooting on his broomstick, children's stories seem to feature the quick, the lithe and the aerial. Maybe that's not surprising. While adults seem earthbound, youngsters zoom by on skateboards or jump from heights as caped incarnations of Superman ...

Little Wild Bouquet listens to criticisms about the lack of female protaganists in Pixar movies, and wonders:

... Saying that none of Pixar’s ten movies so far feature a female heroine just because they happen to keep coming up with great stories about boys strikes me as about as exculpatory as saying your friends – or your country club, or your Senate – are all White because you’re just waiting for a great worthy person of color to come along and join the group. If the “whimsy” of Pixar’s boys guides them exclusively to stories about other boys, and critics get together to challenge that, why should we root for the boys’ club to win out? Does whimsy trump equality?

I think the explanation is simpler than that: 1) Pixar is run and staffed by mostly males, 2) Hollywood leans toward male-centric entertainment for commercial reasons (Batman did far better at the box office than Cat Woman; of course, the Cat Woman movie sucked.), 3) It probably doesn't cross a lot of people's minds.

Ray Appen explains why Steve Jobs rules the world:

... In 2004 Mr. Jobs sold Pixar to The Disney Company for $7.4 billion – mostly in Disney Stock. Not a bad return on $5,000,000. Jobs is now the largest individual stock holder of Disney stock with 7.4% followed by Roy Disney at 1.4% and Michael Eisner around 1%.

... Jobs dumbs down technology better than any human being alive. It is easy to operate anything that Apple manufacturers. You would have thought that some of those 800 lb competitors would have figured that out buy now, but they haven't.

... Jobs did in fact save the music business with his iPods and his iTunes. Sometime in the next month or two Apple will have downloaded its billionth song. That's with a "B". And one other nifty little factor about Mr. Jobs and this music download business. In 2004 Apple had about a 74% share of all paid worldwide music downloads. Guess what Apple's share is today – almost six years later: try 75% ...

When all the fur finished flying, The Hangover (apparently) claimed Numero Uno over Up for the weekend gone by:

Final figures will show that "Hangover" grossed $45 million from 3,269 runs. "Up" should finish at $44.3 million to $44.4 million from 3,818 theaters ...

Have yourself a fine work week.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Cameron Directing Animation

This is out and about, but James Cameron is on board to direct a fragment of Heavy Metal.

... James Cameron has now come on board as Co-Executive producer, and will direct a segment. Cameron’s involvement is also notable because it pretty much guarantees that the film will be 3D. It was also revealed that Jack Black would be part of Kung Fu Panda helmer Mark Osborne’s comedy segment ...

As Brad Bird transitions into live action, directors Cameron, Spielberg and Verbinski are dipping their toes into Toonland. Although there is nothing new about animation directors entering the realm of sets and live actors, directors traveling the other way is a relatively new phenomena. Robert Zemeckis, I think, was the first with Polar Express.

(And it's always good to see an oldie making a reappearance.)

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