Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The General Membership Meeting

A lively meeting this evening.

I reported that overall employment is fairly robust, and divided equally between feature and television work. Out of 2550 in active membership, approximately 76% are working in staff or freelance jobs. ...

A member asked about tests, and I went into a long dissertation about testing in various studios (much as I did here) and how I believe long tests are A) unnecessary, and B) borderline abusive, because more often that not they don't land candidates the job they're testing for, and a one page test is more than enough to see if an artist can do the work.

There were questions about possible remedies, and I said that we'll have proposals regarding overlong tests on the table in the Spring negotiations. I asked for active members to consider volunteering for service on the negotiation committee, stating that it's good for us to have as much input.

The meeting concluded with a discussion about uncompensated overtime. Members agreed that artists in the studios need to build awareness of the problem and a culture that nips it in the bud. I said that some departments at some studios have cohesiveness and make sure nobody works unpaid overtime, while other departments have an "every artist for him/her self" attitude. I pointed out that this is (in general) a problem more prevalent in tv work, but I had reports of uncomped o.t. going on during some recent Disney features.

The meeting adjourned at 8:30. A panel discussion about Motion Capture and Animation followed.

Click here to read entire post

At Disney Sonora

Not a studio of the Mouse that resides in Mexico, but a two-story building in Glendale California. ...

I went through the place this morning, and Gravity Falls (a series in development) moves briskly along, most of the Phineas and Ferb crew is on hiatus for a month (or soon to go there) and awaiting the new season, and Kick buttowski is winding to a close.

Meantime, Diz Co. has made moves to create a bigger footprint in India.

US media giant Disney announced on Tuesday it will take a controlling interest in India's leading television producer, UTV, and delist the Indian media and entertainment group.

"Increasing our brand presence and reach in key international markets is a cornerstone of our growth strategy," Disney International chairman Andy Bird said in a statement.

"This acquisition expands our footprint significantly and allows us to more effectively build, monetize and brand multi-platform franchises, and deliver a rich library of content to the world's second largest population," he added.

UTV, which has interests from film and television to gaming and animation, has already acquired public shareholders' approval to delist the company's shares from Indian stock exchanges, after buying out the respective stakes. ...

Walt's Place. Forever on the march.

Click here to read entire post


One of our fine trade papers reports:

The Book of Mormon star Josh Gad, Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader and Kate Hudson have signed to star as the voice cast of Me & My Shadow, the animated fantasy from DreamWorks Animation.

Alessandro Carloni, who served as head of story on DWA’s Oscar nominated How to Train Your Dragon, will make his directorial debut on the movie, which is being produced by Melissa Cobb (Kung Fu Panda 2). ...

For those keeping charts at home, Shadow was earlier being developed by Mark Dindal, who (I'm told) ramped it up from a concept by Jeffrey K.

(When I interviewed Mark last June, he was deep into the project. He left it only recently.)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, January 30, 2012


A week (and change) ago we noted:

... Royal Bank of Scotland prepares to offer a bonus of more than £1m to its chief executive, even though the state-controlled bank’s share price has almost halved in a year.

Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of RBS, and the bank’s board are determined to face down political pressure and will press ahead with a bonus payment to Stephen Hester likely to be in the range of £1.3m-£1.5m on top of a salary of £1.2m. Final figures will be settled next month. ..

Welll, despite Sir Philip and his board's chesty determination, the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British Guvmint due to recent louse ups among the swifties in charge of banking, caved:

Stephen Hester, head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, gave way to heavy political pressure last night to forego his £963,000 bonus.

The final straw for the RBS chief executive appears to have been the looming threat of a vote in the House of Commons condemning the Government for failing to block the payment.

He is reported to have feared becoming "a pariah" over the controversy. ...

There's no "right" here. No "justice." There are people who think that Mr. Hester has done a fabulous job and deserves every penny of his bonus, that a contract's a contract, that RBS has to uphold its end of the deal and cough up the dough.


But guess what? It's all about the leverage. The Cameron government can see they're not holding winning cards here. They can't on the one hand bellow about "sacrifice" and "austerity," then turn around and give Stevie Hester his money.

They get killed politically.

So Steve H. now does the patriotic thing and doesn't take the moolah, and a little time will pass ... and then (very quietly) the Royal Bank of Scotland will find some other way to slip Steve a few tokens to show its appreciation and gratitude for services rendered.

They'll just be sure that the tv cameras and reporters are looking the other way.

Click here to read entire post

In the January Hat

Spent the morning and early afternoon at Diz Co.'s Hat building on Riverside Drive. Got to see some clips from an upcoming short that's going to be kind of ground-breaking. It's just now wrapping up, and nobody could tell me if it's going to be attached to an oncoming feature or hit the festival circuit as a stand-alone.

In the meantime ...

Staff informs me that the pace at Walt Disney Animation Studios is picking up:

"A bunch more tech directors will be coming onto Wreck-It Ralph pretty soon. We have to get the picture done for a November release, and the pace is picking up. We have a lot of sequences to do and not a lot of time to get them done. ..."

Word is that Frozen, the feature following Wreck-It Ralph, will pick up most crew members as they come off Ralph. Here's hoping.

Click here to read entire post

On the SAG-AFTRA Merger

The boys and girls in the acting community are finally doing what they should have done a long time ago:

The AFTRA board of directors Saturday approved a proposed merger with SAG, triggering a membership vote that could unite the unions by the end of March into a single union, to be called SAG-AFTRA. The move was expected and came a day after SAG’s board passed a similar motion.

The proposal, which includes a Merger Agreement and Constitution, was approved 94% to 6%. ...

[T]he proposal will be sent to the two unions’ membership for a vote on or about February 27, with a ballot return and tabulation deadline of March 3 ...

SAG and AFTRA came close to merger in 2003, but SAG couldn't close the deal because it fell 2% short of getting the required 60% approval. (A few old SAG officers were in the forefront against merger, and carried the day.) At the time, an IA officer said:

"I don't know what these people are thinking. SAG is losing the work, shooting on film is going away, and AFTRA is eating the Screen Actors Guild lunch. Funny thing, but actors -- like everybody else -- follow the work, not the union. This is not a good move."

Apparently, nine years later, SAG agrees and is changing course. And many of the dinosaurs who opposed a merger back in 2003 are now out of power, retired, or no longer among the living. So this time, a merger will likely go through. (It certainly seems the right move, but I guess we'll see.)

Click here to read entire post

Tomorrow's membership meeting ...

... will feature a panel on a controversial and important topic, hosted by TAG vice-president NATHAN LOOFBOURROW.

Motion capture, known to some as “The Devil's Rotoscope”, is here to stay, but handmade keyframe animation is still alive and well! When used as a tool in the animator's arsenal, how can motion capture help us produce better performances? Head of Character Animation and Department Chair JASON REISIG and Character TD Supervisor JEFF LIGHT, both currently at DreamWorks Animation, discuss how access to a motion capture studio can benefit the animator, even when committed to producing animation by hand.


Tuesday, January 31

Pizza & refreshments, 6:30 pm * Meeting, 7 pm

1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

Between Chandler and Magnolia

Link to map


Excessive work hours and overtime: An ongoing discussion

Discussion of upcoming contract negotiations

Panel discussion: Motion capture for real animators

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nast Spurned

T. Nast; one of the great 19th century talents.

He was a hell of a cartoonist, but also something of a ... you know ... bigot.

The controversy swirling around 19th-century political cartoonist Thomas Nast, who died more than 100 years ago, and his entry into the New Jersey Hall of Fame can be put on hold for at least a year.

... Nast — whose nomination stirred outrage among some politicians and the Ancient Order of the Hibernians because of his anti-Irish and anti-Catholic cartoons — failed to make the cut for induction this year. ...

I stumbled on Nast while in knee socks. He's famous for cartoons like this:

And in 2012 a wee bit infamous for the virulent anti-Catholicism:

In any event, Tommy will have to wait until next year to get into the N.J. Hal of Fame. So ... good luck in 2013!

Click here to read entire post


And what the hell is a "stereogranimator?"

It's a stereoptican photograph ("stereograph") transferred to the internet. Like for instance the one below.

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index
GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator

The 3-D photo above is Louisa May Alcott's dear old mum, at home in Concord, Mass. ...

As TPM reports:

A library may not be the first place you would associate with digital innovation, but some interesting things are happening at the New York Public LIbrary.

This week, NYPL Labs launched Stereogranimator, a project that draws on the library’s massive archive of stereographs, a classic 19th century form where two nearly identical images are viewed side-by-side through a stereoscope to create the illusion of depth.

The Labs project uses the very old form and allows users to turn images into animated GIFs, a classic internet form. The rapid animation creates that same illusion of depth. The Labs unit itself is also a sort of collision between classic library archives and digital tools.

“We think this is a really fun and unique opportunity to play with the conventions of what was 3D then and what is 3D now,” NYPL Labs Product Manager David Riordan told TPM. ...

The New York Public Library has several truckloads of these photographs, and they offer a sampling here, for your perusal and amusement.

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index
GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator

This shot is of the daredevil wire walker Dixon, crossing Niagra below the Great Cantilver Bridge, at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries.

Good thing we have Retinal After-images. Otherwise, no stereo vision on the intertubes.

Click here to read entire post

Your Foreign Box Office

Animation in foreign lands:

Puss In Boots grossed $7.1 million on the weekend from 3,967 sites in 59 territories. Foreign cume for the animation title is $358.7 million. ...

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked hoisted its foreign gross total to $182.7 million (with $20.9 million of that coming from Brazil) thanks to a $6.8 million weekend ... Other international cumes: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, $286.3 million*; Disney’s Beauty and the Beast 3D, $4.7 million ...

And Brad Bird's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol has now become the highest grossing installment of the MI series, with $571.6 million and counting.

A few worldwide totals:

Puss in Boots -- $506.8 million

Beauty and the Beast 3D -- $45.8 million

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $308.2 million

The Adventures of Tintin -- $360.6 million

* Our friends at The Hollywood Reporter have an incorrect foreign gross for "Tintin." We've used the Box Office Mojo numbers.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Clampett's Carter

Until I stumbled across today's Geeks of Doom, I had no idea another animation director had aspirations to make a feature-length John Carter of Mars. ...

In 1931, ... author [Edgar Rice] Burroughs approached Bob Clampett about possibly making a full-length animated John Carter feature. Working with Burroughs’ son John Coleman, Clampett spent a year beginning in 1935 producing a reel of test footage ...

The test was impressive enough for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to acquire the rights to Burroughs’ John Carter novels but when the reel was screened for theatrical exhibitors across the country it was greeted with cold indifference, particularly from those who felt the elaborate sci-fi fantasies wouldn’t play well with audiences in the Midwest. MGM canceled development on the film and the next year Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the first full-length animated feature ...

And three-quarters of a century later, Andrew Stanton makes Carter. Sometimes in Hollywood, ideas have to percolate a little while before coming to full boil.

Click here to read entire post

The Weekend Race

Now with Add On!

Animation is quiet in the Top Ten (but not totally absent) ...

1) THE GREY -- $6,500,000 -- wk 1

2) ONE FOR THE MONEY -- $4,100,000 -- wk 1

3) UNDERWORLD AWAKENING -- $3,425,000 -- $36,051,000

4) RED TAILS -- $2,800,000 -- $26,180,000

5) MAN ON A LEDGE -- $2,500,000 -- wk 1

6) EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE -- $2,000,000 -- $15,961,000

7) CONTRABAND -- $1,900,000 -- $51,770,000

8) THE DESCENDANTS -- $1,735,000 -- $54,033,000

9) BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (3D) -- $1,227,000 -- $37,029,000

10) HAYWIRE -- $1,170,000 -- $12,449,000 ...

At #11, Brad Bird's Mission Impossible opus has ascended past the $200 million marker, and Alvin and the Chipmunks is at $125.6 million.

Add On: And in the finals, we've got:

Beauty and the Beast declining a respectable 39.5% to earn $5.3 million for a total of $41.1 million.

The Adventures of Tintin collects $1.3 million for a total of 74.3 million as Alvin and the Chipmunks makes off with $1.7 million and a grand total of $127 million.

Lastly. Puss in Boots, still in a few theaters, has made $148.1 million domestically. Click here to read entire post

Friday, January 27, 2012

Viacom Compensation

The movie business has been very good to Uncle Sumner and a chosen few.

Billionaire Sumner Redstone got a 39% boost in compensation last year in his role as executive chairman of Viacom Inc. The 88-year-old media mogul and his top two lieutenants together collected compensation packages in 2011 totaling nearly $100 million.

Of course Sumner got a 39% bump in pay. Viacom stock went up close to 9%; we can never do enough for the Job Creators.

Click here to read entire post

Ian Abercrombie, RIP

The British actor was 77. ...

... Abercrombie ... had a recurring role as Palpatine/Darth Sidious on George Lucas’ animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, did voice work on animation hit Rango this year and, just before his death, completed his work on the latest episode of the Green Lantern animated series for Cartoon Network. ....

A busy man, Mr. Abercrombie.

("Rango" is always an "animated hit." And the current DreamWorks Animation releases are always "disappointments," no matter what sort of money they pull in. ...)

Click here to read entire post

The Deserving Rich

Face it. The Top Dogs are better and more entitled than you are ...

And if you don't like it, you're a whiner.

... [T]he World Economic Forum, in a recent report, named the growing income divide as one of the biggest risks facing the world in the years to come.

“In developed economies, such as those of Western Europe, North America and Japan, the social contract that has in recent decades been taken for granted is in danger of being destroyed,” the report said, warning of the threat of a “dystopian future for much of humanity.” ...

We are a labor blog, after all. We do occasionally have to point these things out. (Let the Bush and Obama bashing begin.)

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Del Toro on the Animated Oscar Nominees

Guillermo del Toro reflects on DreamWorks Animation's two Oscar nominations.

... On “Puss in Boots,” I felt like one of the many parents that the movie has. Every experience I’ve had at DreamWorks has been really rewarding in terms of how they connect with the audience. Following “Kung Fu Panda 2,” all of the audience test screenings and seeing it get a really strong foothold and then “Puss” also getting the CinemaScore that it got and getting the critical consensus that it got — all of that is hugely satisfying ...

I'm guessing that the folks at Pixar ... and Mr. Spielberg ... are a wee bit unhappy they didn't make the cut. But then, nobody hits it out of the park every time at bat. Sometimes even champion players whiff.

I just hope Disney doesn't boycott next year's Oscars.

Click here to read entire post

A Day at Fox Animation

Although traffic was awful, I made it to Fox Animation early enough to hit all three Fox shows: American Dad, The Cleveland Show and Family Guy ...

Things are steady as they go on FG and TCS, but the equilibrium is a bit different on American Dad:

... We haven't been picked up for another season, and artists are getting laid off one by one. We're pretty much in limbo ...

I've got a couple of weeks left, and then I'm out of here. There hasn't been any big farewells, it's just ... people disappear and nothing is said. Nobody knows if we're coming back or not. It's kind of weird. ...

As of early January, American Dad is performing much like its Animation Domination counterparts (Family Guy -- 6 million viewers; The Simpsons -- 5.11 million viewers; American Dad -- 4.5 million viewers; The Cleveland Show -- 4.3 million viewers.)

Whether the series gets picked up for another year, I donno. But an American Dad board artist related that it didn't feel like cancellation is imminent.

... Nobody I talk to is uptight about the show going away. Other years artists have been more depressed and fatalistic about American Dad getting cancelled. But this year? Not nearly as much ...

Which may or may not be a good sign. It was explained to me that part of the problem is the show is preempted a lot, so there is a stock pile of episodes.

Me, I hope AD goes on, because I find it the most amusing of the Seth shows, even though it runs behind Family Guy in popularity.

Click here to read entire post

Syd Mead show, opens tonight

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Foreign Releases, Foreign Moolah

Seeking Alpha gives an astute answer to a semi-dumb question:

2. Why are a bunch of zoo animals going to Europe? Don't they know there's a major financial crisis there?

If we look at the foreign numbers for the last Madagascar movie, we can see that the film did quite well in many European countries, grossing in excess of $40 million in both France, and Germany; about $35 million in Italy, and the U.K.; $20 million in Spain, and depending on whether your grade school geography teacher taught you Russia was part of Europe or Asia, over $40 million in that country, too. So it's not surprising that the Madagascar crew have wound their way into a European traveling circus, likely to visit popular European destinations, as can be seen in the trailer for Madagascar 3. ...

I don't think it's lost on DWA (or other cartoon studios) that animated features without U.S. environments in them do better overseas than movies with.

Monsters Vs. Aliens and MegaMind, both solid performers in the U.S. of A., did less well in foreign venues. Both of DreamWorks Animation's 2011 releases, by contrast, made lots of money in overseas markets.

I think the fact they're not American-themed had a lot to do with it. When I mentioned this to a DWA director, he allowed as how it's likely the case. (Can we prove this with certainty? Nope. But it's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.)

Click here to read entire post

Board Tests

The testing issue just never goes away.

A month ago, a board artist at one of our fine entertainment conglomerates, who was working on a show that was wrapping up, said to me:

"We're all done with this series in a few weeks. And we're all taking tests to get on the next one. The tests they're asking the crew to cover three and a half pages of script ..."

Three or three and a half typed pages pencil out to a week's worth of work, give or take. When I heard about this, I went to H.R. and ranted about the abuse being visited on production staffers.

I pointed out:

1) Artists have to pour their hearts and souls into work that may or may not result in a job, and do it gratis. For a week.

2) Studios already employing board artists shouldn't require those board artists to take a week-long test to get another job on another show. They already know the artists' capabilities.

3) If an actor or writer or (God help us) production manager was up for a job, it's doubtful the prospective employer would ask the candidate to come in for a week and work free-of-charge to show "how he handled the assignment."

This has been an issue for a decade or more, but (amazingly enough) back when I started as business rep, tests were minimal. Portfolios and maybe a short drawing test were considered sufficient to secure work.

More innocent times, I guess.

Long tests became the norm back in the nineties, and TAG (naturally enough) started complaining about it. Each time we complained, studio reps listened, nodded their heads in agreement, and said that "something had to be done."

And something was done. For a few months. Then new show-runners would wheel into town and initiate new week-long tests. No studio administrators would say boo about it. Then we would start complaining again.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

This time around, the studio in question has agreed to reduce board tests by 40%. We'll see how long the reduction lasts.

Click here to read entire post

Motion Picture and Television Fund's Long Term Care

The MPTF Motion Picture Retirement Home in Woodland Hills was on the brink of closing its long-term care unit two short years ago. Lack of money was the reason, and there was major push back against the unit being shuttered. In the end, l.t.c. stayed open.

Happily, there is now this: ...

The Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF) announced today that it will immediately begin admitting additional industry members to the long term care unit on its Wasserman campus in Woodland Hills. First priority for admission will be given to former MPTF long-term care residents who moved off campus at the time of the announcement of the proposed closure of the unit in 2009. MPTF’s long-term care unit, when fully occupied, will allow for 40 residents.

“We are excited to finally be able to bring more residents into long-term care,” said Bob Beitcher, president and CEO of MPTF. “This will be a pivotal moment for current long-term care residents and their families, other campus residents, and staff. It will restore the continuum of care on campus everyone has been hoping for,”

Getting l.t.c. on a firm footing has been something of an ongoing toothache for the Fund, so it's good to see that the long term care facility is not just holding steady in terms of the number of occupants, but is poised to grow numbers again.

Good news.

Click here to read entire post

Chouinard: An Overture

* Nelbert Murphy Chouinard pictured above

On Wednesday, February 8 at 8:30 pm the REDCAT Theater in downtown Los Angeles will present Chouinard: An Overture, an evening devoted to a discussion of the Chouinard Institute, its history and its influence. Tickets can be purchased from the REDCAT website:


Founded in 1921 by Nelbert M. Chouinard (approximately pronounced "shuh - nard"), Chouinard Art Institute remains one of the most influential art schools ever to have existed in this country. The impressive faculty and alumni attests to the school's rightful place on the short list of great art schools of 20th Century America. Giants of the art world studied and taught there and many went on to fame, fortune and great respect in the categories of animation, film, fine art, architecture, ceramics, costume design, illustration and photography.

Students and faculty included such luminaries as Mary Blair, Preston Blair, Millard Sheets, Pruett Carter, Corny Cole, Phil Dike, Phil Paradise, Emerson Woelffer, David Siqueiros, Edith Head, Theadora Van Runkle, John Altoon, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Otto Heino, Terry Gilliam, John Van Hamersveld, Rick Griffin, Bob Foster, Terry Allen, Chuck Jones, Bob Kurtz, Pete Alvarado, Dave Brain, Joe Goode, Hardie Gramatky, Karl Hubenthal, John Hench, Robert Irwin, Ollie Johnston, Bob Mackie, Bill Melendez, Jimmy Murakami, Maurice Noble, Virgil Partch, Woolie Reitherman, Dan Spieigle, William Stout, Frank Thomas and Alan Zaslove, to name a few. Chouinard graduates were readily employed by many of the major animation studios in the greater Los Angeles area and to this day many of those graduates are still working in the industry.

In 1969 Chouinard Art Institute merged with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to form The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) with its campus in Valencia, CA.

The number of artists employed in the animation business who attended Chouinard and, in more recent years, CalArts, is staggering. The Animation Guild is proud to represent almost all of those highly skilled artists who work in the animation business.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The 2012 Oscar Nominations

The big moment has arrived for 2012 as the nominations for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar Awards was released this morning.

While we congratulate all who were given the prestigious honor of being nominated for their work, we list below the break the nominations pertinent to our corner of the entertainment world.

And the Nominees are ...


  • "A Cat in Paris," Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
  • "Chico & Rita," Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
  • "Kung Fu Panda 2," Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • "Puss in Boots," Chris Miller
  • "Rango," Gore Verbinski


  • "Dimanche/Sunday," Patrick Doyon
  • "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • "La Luna," Enrico Casarosa
  • "A Morning Stroll," Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • "Wild Life," Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby


  • "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • "Hugo," Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • "Real Steel," Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Add On: Rio from Blue Sky didn't get a "Best Animated Feature" nod, but it picked up a "Best Song" nomination.

Click here to read entire post

The Jennifer Yuh Nelson Interview -- Part II

Early sketch of the villain from "KFP2"

Jennifer Yuh Nelson spent a long time working on the first Kung Fu Panda. She describes the first picture's development as the more difficult of the two KFP features because they were developing the characters from the ground up, getting to know each one ...

TAG Interview with Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

With Kung Fu Panda 2, most of the major players were in place. But there was still a new villain, about which Jennifer relates this:

... Lord Shen was one of the first things we thought about when we began work [on KFP2 three years ago. A small group of us gets together. We get a lot of snacks, and we get in a room and start spitballing ideas. In the first movie, we had Tai Lung—a guy who could walk into a room and punch someone in the face. We thought, Why don’t we go in the opposite direction—somebody who is devious, sharp, and dangerous in a different way? We made him into a peacock, a character with speed and flash. ...

She is now at work on a new project, about which she is (understandably) mum.

The interview with JYN took place in her office on the DreamWorks Animation campus. So ... audio only. The video interview above? It's a different one. (Like you couldn't tell.)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oscar Watch

Here's an animated short in the race for the Little Gold Man that seems to have some oomph behind it:

... [Morris Lessmore], with a hybrid animation style, us[es] stop motion with miniatures, computer animation and traditional hand-drawn techniques. The Morris Lessmore that made it into the film is completely computer animated, but the crew created a miniature version of him too, which it placed inside the miniature sets as a guide for lighting for the animators.

Moonbot Studios is based in Shreveport Louisiana far out of TAG's jurisdiction, yet I know Animation Guild members who've worked there. Whether Moonbot can survive and thrive down on the Mississippi is an open question. But the sample here looks good.

Click here to read entire post

The Jennifer Yuh Nelson Interview -- Part I

Jennifer Yuh Nelson arrived at DreamWorks Animation after working in television for a half-dozen years as board artist, designer, and director. Her first boarding assignment at DWA was the hand-drawn feature Spirit. ...

TAG Interview with Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

(Jennifer says that her love of drawing horses has declined a wee bit after two-plus years of labor on that particular picture. Ah well ...)

After that came work on Sinbad, then Madagascar. When those finished, she heard about an embryonic project entitled Kung Fu Panda.

"I didn't know anything about it except the title. But I've loved martial arts movies since I was young, and knew I wanted to work on it. Had to work on it. ..."

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tax Breaks Forevah!

Screams of anguish from Brit animation companies:

The UK's animation industry is "scrabbling for crumbs, selling up and shipping off" because production companies cannot compete against tax breaks offered overseas, the companies behind Wallace & Gromit, Peppa Pig and In The Night Garden have warned.

Animation UK, which represents producers including Aardman Animations and Astley Baker Davies, has written to George Osborne, Chancellor, warning him that Britain is losing its best animation talent, and calling for tax breaks before the industry is wiped out altogether.

The sector is "not seeking handouts to get a competitive advantage", but needs to be able to compete with animators overseas, particularly Ireland and Canada, where tax breaks and funding supply up to 50pc of budgets and create "a distorted market place we cannot survive in", it said in a letter to be delivered to the Treasury today. ...

Let us face facts. Tax breaks for motion picture production are rampant around the globe.

Yesterday, a union rep for an IA live-action local said to me that television and movie productions have galloped away from L.A. in droves, going to where tax and other cost breaks are large and plentiful:

"Lots of shoots are now happening on the east coast. Atlanta has a lot of movie work going on. The place is hopping. " ...

And so it goes. The Los Angeles animation scene has been (somewhat) shielded from poaching and job shifting because Southern California is where a concentration of animation talent resides, and critical mass results in gravitational pull.

But this happy phenomenon will not necessarily last forever. Once upon a time, cities in Canada and other parts of the United States had a tough time fielding professional, competent movie crews, so work remained in L.A. That stopped being the case a long while ago.

When the cost differences and tax breaks get big enough, even established California animation studios could start saying ...

"Heeey now!"

Animators and tech directors are not all that different from their live-action brethren. They are just as likely to pull up stakes and "go where the work is" in order to survive, if and when that work travels elsewhere.

Click here to read entire post

Overseas Winter Box Office

The numbers we care about:

... No. 5, Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked ... Foreign gross total comes to $170 million.

DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s Puss In Boots upgraded it overseas cume to $345 million thanks to a $8.7-million stanza at 4,503 playdates in 58 territories. ...

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn drew $4.48 million on the weekend ... Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, $330,000 in three markets ...

Worldwide totals for the above:

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $294,171,000

Puss In Boots -- $492,724,000

The Adventures of Tintin -- $351,062,000

Beauty and the Beast -- $33,694,000

That last counts B & B's bounty in its 3-D incarnation.

Click here to read entire post

DWA's Fortune Ranking

I saw this last week, but since one of our fine trade paper mentions it ...

DreamWorks Animation is the only entertainment industry company on this year's annual Fortune list of 100 Best Companies to Work for, ranking 14th after taking the 10th spot a year earlier. ...

"What animates the animators here is the accessibility of CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who welcomes new hires and sends a daily update to the staff," Fortune said. "He makes it feel like 200 people work here, not 2,000," the magazine quoted one staffer as saying. ...

I'm in and out of DreamWorks Animation's campus all the time, and the morale is better than at other cartoon studios I visit. (Which isn't to say it's "ideal." There have been layoffs over the past year and a half, and some rehires. And of course Wall Street has its issues with the company's cash flow and stock performance.)

Still in all, as I ramble cubicle to cubicle and office to office, I find people relatively buoyant about their work situations.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Elton John has had a pretty good record with animated features: Lion King. Gnomeo and Juliet And now there is this ...

Elton John’s Rocket Pictures has acquired film rights to Michael Buckley’s bestselling series Nerds, and will develop them as an animated family feature that Buckley will script. ...

The question I have is, what production entity will create Elton's new feature? And what director/board crew will be hired to lead development?

Click here to read entire post

The Usual Stacked Deck

Here's a big surprise:

Lori McAdams of Pixar, which also had a "no-poach" agreement with Lucasfilm, sent an internal email saying that "effective now, we'll follow a gentleman's agreement with Apple that is similar to our Lucasfilm agreement."

Gee. A big company. Colluding with other big companies to hold down wages. Who'd have thought?

Must be a treat for the congloms to have these come out now. I feel so bad for them.

As the Register says:

The emails are part of the Justice Department's evidence in its class action suit that accuses the tech firms of agreeing not to steal each other's staff so that they could artificially lower employees' wages by killing competition.

The only time it wasn't this way was when Disney and DreamWorks CEOs hated each other and the two companies were outbidding each other for talent. This was the middle nineties.

Click here to read entire post

The State of the Box Office

Beauty and the Beast, they still remain in the Top Ten but decline 61%. The Mouse will make some nice coin, but the returns are not nearly as robust as The Lion King's ...

1. Underworld Awakening (Sony Pictures) NEW [3,078 Theaters] Estimated Friday $9.8M, Estimated Weekend $23.4M

2. Red Tails (LucasFilm/Fox) NEW [2,512 Theaters] Estimated Friday $6.2M, Estimated Weekend $17M

3. Contraband (Universal) Week 2 [2,870 Theaters] Estimated Friday $3.7M, Estimated Weekend $12.5M, Estimated Cume $46.2M

4. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,630 Theaters] Estimated Friday $3.2M, Estimated Weekend $9.5M, Estimated Cume $10M

5. Haywire (Relativity) NEW [2,439 Theaters] Estimated Friday $3M, Estimated Weekend $8.6M

6. Beauty And The Beast 3D (Disney) Week 2 [2,625 Theaters] Estimated Friday $2.1M (-61%), Estimated Weekend $8.5M, Estimated Cume $33.2M

7. Joyful Noise (Warner Bros) Week 2 [2,735 Theaters] Estimated Friday $1.7M (-49%), Estimated Weekend $6M, Estimated Cume $21.8M

8. Mission: Impossible 4 (Paramount) Week 6 [2,519 Theaters] Estimated Friday $1.6M, Estimated Weekend $5.5M, Estimated Cume $197.3M

9. Sherlock Holmes 2 (Warner Bros) Week 6 [2,485 Theaters] Estimated Friday $1.2M, Estimated Weekend $4M, Estimated Cume $177.8M

10. The Iron Lady (The Weinstein Co) Week 4 [1,076 Theaters] Estimated Friday $1M, Estimated Weekend $3.4M, Estimated Cume $12.4M

And Brad Bird's picture is about to cross the $200 million threshhold. Congrats, Brad!

Click here to read entire post

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wage Increase

Now with scrumptious Add On.

The Mouse has reviewed Robert Iger's performance, and found it good.

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger received nearly $31.4 million in total compensation last year, an 11.9% increase from 2010, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. ...

It's good to see Mr. Iger is running ahead of inflation with his salary increases. By contrast, the Hollywood labor organizations get 2% annual wage bump-ups in their collective bargaining agreements.

Add On: Here's a banker of a British state-owned bank, presiding over a stock price that has dropped by half, who's in line for a nice bonus:

... Royal Bank of Scotland prepares to offer a bonus of more than £1m to its chief executive, even though the state-controlled bank’s share price has almost halved in a year.

Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of RBS, and the bank’s board are determined to face down political pressure and will press ahead with a bonus payment to Stephen Hester likely to be in the range of £1.3m-£1.5m on top of a salary of £1.2m. Final figures will be settled next month. ..

The top dogs -- on both sides of the pond -- really do take care of their own. Regardless of results.

Click here to read entire post

Retreat, Regroup

It sounds like it's over ... all except for the semi-orderly withdrawal.

After a week in which their anti-piracy legislation got derailed by the full force of the Internet lobby, the mood in Hollywood was one of anger, frustration and a growing resignation that the entertainment industry will be forced to accept a much weaker law than originally envisioned.

A full-on counterattack by a tech industry opposed to the toughest elements in the congressional bills, including a well-publicized Wednesday shutdown by key Internet sites, halted the legislation.

With supporters defecting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday postponed a key procedural vote. The lead sponsor of the companion bill in the House said he would redraft the proposed law in search of consensus. ...

Nothing like a gazillion petitions, e-mails and letters to focus a congress person's attention ...

I got a call today from one of the people from "Creative America" one of the groups helping the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, and the IATSE shepherd the anti-piracy bills through congress. He made reference to the unfairness of the tech industry's attack. I replied with my usual mantra:

"There is no fair. There's only what one side or the other has the leverage to get."

And we got into a back-and-forth about the merits of the bills, the threats of piracy on movie workers' livelihoods, also the unwillingness of the tech and internet industries to bend a little. I replied that it didn't look like those folks had to bend, given their muscle with congress.

He had no response to that.

This is a tough time for content conglomerates and movie unions. The digital age and the internet have upended almost every status quo: television viewing; movie attendance; dvd purchases. Long-time business models are, to put it mildly, in flux.

Major parties in the entertainment industry should have seen this coming, what with those coal-mine canaries called record companies. Capitol/EMI, Warner Records and the rest battled collapsing revenues by suing their customer base (always a great idea) twelve years ago, when college kids started downloading songs off the internet. Apple and iTunes saved some of the industry's bacon when they invented a new business model to which the public flocked, but the cake had already been baked. The era of selling little silver disks out of brick and mortar stores was O-ver.

So now movie studios are in the pressure cooker, fighting the wars the old-line record companies lost a decade ago. They'll have to change to survive and prosper, and it won't be easy. But few things are when you're in the throes of radical transformation.

The Animation Guild, like other Hollywood unions, has long supported the battle against internet piracy. The health of industry pension plans depend on it. As unions and guilds said today:

"We fought for this legislation because illegal Internet businesses that locate offshore expressly to elude U.S. laws should not escape the very same rules of law that currently apply to illegal U.S. websites," ...

For the moment, it seems the fight will be waged under current laws and regulations because the fight to push through SOPA and PIPA is at a standstill. But the problem of big-time internet theft is still out there, and it would be useful to have some sharp-edged weapon to combat it.

A representative from the DGA-SAG-AFTRA-IATSE Internet Piracy Group ("Creative America") will be at the next TAG General Membership meeting on Tuesday, January 31st to talk about the battle and legislation against internet piracy. If you have questions or issues, we suggest you BE there to voice them.

Click here to read entire post

Chroniques des studios sardoniques, by Bob Foster

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, January 19, 2012

French Tunes

The land of wine, Brie and the Eiffel Tower rolls out its latest animated production in various parts of the globe.

... [Today] sees the release of A Monster in Paris in UAE cinemas, a French production that boasts all of the high-tech modifications of a Hollywood blockbuster: it is computer-animated, presented in 3D and features a noted voice cast in the French singer Vanessa Paradis, who is Johnny Depp's long-time girlfriend, and Danny Huston, a regular in big-budget productions such as Wolverine. ...

I had zero awareness of this movie until my younger son showed me clips of the picture on You Tube. It hasn't gotten a release in the States yet (or maybe a release is secured and not yet not announced) but the opus looks fairly slick. And if my computer and movie-oriented kid is aware of The Monster, something must be up.

France, little by little, has become a center for animation. Illumination Entertainment animates there at its newly-purchased studio. Animation schools abound. And of course there is the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

It ain't all about the U.S. of A. anymore. There are other world players, and the best ones don't appear to be in India. Funny how that happens.

Click here to read entire post

Mega Question Mark

The Reporter reports on three big-budget movies, two of them with animation directors directing live-action for the first time.

Brad Bird, THR says, had plenty of expert assistance and came out fine. Andrew Stanton the paper isn't so sure of.

But they end on a positive note, with the help of an Anonymous Person:

... "I've got a lot of faith in this guy," one former Disney insider says of Stanton. "Remember: Finding Nemo was supposed to be the first Pixar flop." ...

Me, I think the movie will take in some good-sized grosses. The trouble is, when you spend between $200 and $300 million on a picture, you decrease the Mother Conglomerate's chances for making a profit on the movie. It's one of the problems hand-drawn animate features had in the 1990s. Their budgets doubled, then doubled again. And the big profit margins turned narrow or negative.

The same thing applies to live-action extravaganzas. The more the production budget, the less the opportunity to end up in the black.

Click here to read entire post

Nickelodeon Changes

Today I visited Nick, and there's some differences at the studio since the last time I tromped through. ...

Over the holidays, sparkly new floors were installed in the central hallway, the entrance lobby, and the back door. (I like it. The new high-quality floor replaces black-and-white chessboard style flooring that was starting to bubble.) Cubicles, office walls and hallways are repainted. The color scheme is now white with a few color highlights hither and yon. (Nice clean look.)

Mark Taylor, the Nickelodeon studio topkick for a long stretch of years, retired at the end of 2011 and his office currently stands empty. (I was told that no replacement for Mark has come into the studio yet.)

The Robot and Monster crew was told yesterday, ten months after 26 episodes were greenlit for production, that their show was ending. (The artists are down, naturally, but keeping stiff upper lips: "You heard? We're kind of in mourning." ... "This isn't the first time a show has ended, right? We'll find other work ...")

I padded around to a lot of R and M's staff and offered condolences. I was able to give a teensy bit of good news: Because most of them have been at the studio eighteen months or more, they'll have health coverage for twelve to fifteen months after they exit.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DWA's Future Cash Needs

The Nikkster's site is not sunny.

... [A]nalysts want to know how Katzenberg plans to distribute his films at the end of this year when his deal with Paramount expires. His silence about a potential replacement “leads us to believe that (he) may be seriously considering a self-distribution model, which would likely require some sort of capital raise, likely in the form of debt issuance” ...

The last ten years, I've watched DreamWorks Animation do a high wire act with a business model that requires it to turn out one hit film after another, and it's left me in awe.

As I've said before, the only other stand-alone company that performed the trick better was Pixar.

But now the marketplace is changing. More competition. More piracy. And the little silver disks aren't the hot sellers they used to be, for anybody. And DWA is out there all by its lonesome, the only company that isn't part of a big, fat entertainment conglomerate. (Jeffrey Katzenberg has maintained that he's happy being a solo corporation, but I've always believed that the goal was some sort of buyout. But hey, maybe I'm wrong.)

DWA's financial well-being is of concern to TAG because DWA is one of our largest contract studios, so DreamWorks future impacts our future. (Funny how that works.) I've thought for awhile that the features the studio produces have been on a steady, up-trending arc, creatively speaking, but will that be enough going forward?

Guess we'll find out.

Click here to read entire post

Soon a Funeral?

Hollywood and Hollywood unions (of which TAG is one) appear to be on the fuzzy end of the Internet Piracy popsicle stick:

In the space of a couple of days, Hollywood and its content creators lost the public relations war over Internet piracy SOPA legislation -- which now appears poised to crumble into a million bits of dust.


The messaging industry never had control of the message.

The tech guys found a simple, shareable idea -- the Stop Online Piracy Act is Censorship -- made it viral, and made it stick.

Hollywood had Chris Dodd and a press release. Silicon Valley had Facebook.

It shouldacoulda been a fair fight. But it wasn’t. ...

But here's a cute irony: A Fox News contributor argues against SOPA even as Rupert Murdoch (supporter of SOPA; owner of Fox-News Corp.) rails for it.

... SOPA is a Pandora’s box of proposed regulations that would inadvertently make it easier for our government to censor the Internet. Current laws already allow owners of copyrighted material to get that content removed from unauthorized websites. But SOPA would mean entire sites could be shut down even for minor copyright infractions, a slippery slope that would undermine even good, legal content on the web and allow politically-motivated witch hunts against entire websites. ...

I wouldn't care to predict how this legislative struggle will come out. When large corporate interests are in a wrestling match, it's always risky to try and foretell outcomes. But we might be wise to start burial proceedings for the piracy legislations as it currently exists.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

TV Ratings

Enough about theatrical animation. How is Fox's Animation Domination doing? It seems pretty well.

[Thanks to the NFC playoffs,] "The Simpsons" jumped nearly 300 percent to a 6.8 rating in 18-49-year-olds, followed by the series premiere of Napoleon Dynamite which pulled an impressive 4.6 rating in the demo -- almost double that of recent time slot holder Allen Gregory. Family Guy and another Napoleon Dynamite rounded out the night with a 4.4 and a 3.6, respectively. Fox averaged 20.2 million for the night with a 8.0 rating among adults 18-49.

In the meanwhile, ABC and CBS are getting kicked in their scrawny, undernourished backsides ratings wise. Since ABC is owned by the Mouse, which ... so I've heard ... has quite a background with different kinds of cartoons, one would think that the alphabet network would try a frontal assault with some serious cartoon programming.

But such, sadly, is not the case.

Click here to read entire post

Top Animation Grossers

... of 2011.

5) Kung Fu Panda 2 -- $665.7 mill

8) The Smurfs -- $563.6 mill

9) Cars 2 -- $559.9 mill

11) Rio -- 484.6 mill

13) Puss in Boots* -- $479 mill

18) The Adventures of Tintin* -- $348.1 mill

21) Alvin and the Chipmunks* -- $273.8 mill

23) Rango -- 245.4 mill

33) Gnomeo and Juliet -- $194 mill

38) Lion King 3D -- $168.5 mill

45) Arthur Christmas* -- $146.7 mill

56) Happy Feet 2* -- $123.6 mill

In days gone by, there would have been nowhere near this many animated features released, let alone spotlighted in a "Top Grossers of ..." list.

The fact that the #5 feature for the year, Jennifer Yuh Nelson's Kung Fu Panda 2 is considered a "disappointment" by some of the bright lights of the media, is sort of mind-boggling. But maybe it's a neon marker that points out the strength of animation inside the movie marketplace.

What's equally mind-boggling is that the four movies above KFP2 have large amounts of animated characters and effects in them. Stars aren't the major drivers of box office anymore. Animation -- in all its varied forms -- now does that job.

* Still in theaters and bringing in moolah. So grosses and positions on the list could change.

Click here to read entire post

Ultimate MoCap

We have hardly scratched the motion capture surface ....

Who needs real life?

Click here to read entire post

Monday, January 16, 2012


This doesn't sound good.

When Pixar's "Cars 2" lost the Golden Globe award for animated feature to ... "The Adventures of Tintin" ... it marked the first time in the history of the Globes' category that a movie from the beloved animation house failed to capture the top prize. ...

There's a first time for everything.

But seriously. I haven't met many people living in the Animation Community who think that Cars 2 will take home the Little Gold Man this year.

I haven't met many who are high on Tintin either, but never underestimate the power of Spielberg/Jackson in leveraging the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They are Big Shots. Animation people are anything but. Even with all the high-grossing films they have worked on.

Click here to read entire post


I'm sure this will make executive hearts at Sony go pit-a-pat.

... Essex-based Lepra Health in Action has expressed "disbelief" at the scene in Aardman Animation's The Pirates! Adventures with Scientists.

The charity said the film, due for release in March, sees an arm fall off a crew member on a "leper-boat".

... The scene shows the arrival of the Pirate Captain on board a captive ship, demanding gold.

"Afraid we don't have any gold old man, this is a leper-boat," explains a crew member. "See," he adds as his arm falls off.

... "We have already received complaints from people affected by leprosy in Brazil and India” ...

Complaints? Who would have thought?

No word yet if there will be changes to Aardman's short about blind school girls and teenage cripples ...

Click here to read entire post


But kind of true ...

The chart doesn't translate to animation work exactly, but some of the slots I would create (based on participation and observation) are:


Studio CEO (with money/power)

Production Execs (with some power, leverage and money)

Feature Directors (with talent, artistic chops, and a bit of power)

Television Animation Executives

Television Animation Show Runners/Creators (talent, bit of power)

Feature Story Directors (with artistic talent, experience, bit of power)

Production Designers (with talent, resumes, bit of power)

Production Managers

Television Directors

Production Managers

Story Board Feature Artists


Television Timing Directors

Production Board Artists


Animation Checkers

Board Revisionists

Production Assistants

People will no doubt have their own pecking orders, and the orders change a bit from studio to studio, but this presents one viewpoint. (Mine.)

As an old timer told me today ...

The animation biz is getting more and more like live action, isn't it? Shorter gigs, jumping from studio to studio. Makes it more difficult. And there are less places to jump to than in live action."

Well, yes and no.

DreamWorks Animation has pretty long employment for numbers of people, while Disney Feature Animation, not so much. Disney Toons has relatively stable employment for a chosen few, while Disney TVA seems to have hired more artists and directors of late. (Though it's not near the go-go 1990s.)

Warner Bros. Animation has gotten busy again, and Nickelodeon chugs along.

Then there is The Simpsons, which is in a league all its own. Some folks have been working on that TV show for decades ... although the staff is leaner than in previous years.

(Live action has its own sets of frustrations. We will leave that for others to dissect.)

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Maybe Not a Lock ...

So Rango isn't a shoo-in. I guess the Golden Globes knows what it's doing.

Channing Tatum and Jessica Alba presented the animated feature film award to The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson.

... Or maybe the Globes/Foreign Press Association is sucking up to Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson?

Click here to read entire post

Middle January Foreign Derby

The ongoing box office tally of animation in foreign lands:

No. 4 was DreamWorks Animation’s Puss In Boots ... Weekend overall came up with $14.6 million ... lifting the film’s overseas gross total to $331.7 million.

No. 5, Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, elevated its foreign gross total to $154.2 million, thanks to a $14.4 million weekend ...

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn grossed $3.4 million on the weekend ... Cume comes to $260.8 million.

Puss is approaching a worldwide gross of $500 million, with almost 70% of its ticket sales coming from abroad.

Tintin has rolled up $346.5 million around the globe, with over 80% of the money collected outside the U.S and Canada. And Alvin's latest, owns $271.6 million in worldwide totals, with 56.3% of that coming from abroad.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, January 14, 2012

SOPA Trouble

Now with Foxy Add On.

Apparently Hollywood content providers (Disney, Time-Warner, Viacom, News Corp., etc.) and the unions who have contracts with them (DGA, SAG, IATSE) have hit a rough patch with internet legislation ("Stop Online Piracy Act") that they favor:

Hollywood has a potential new adversary in its effort to pass expansive antipiracy legislation: President Obama.

A message posted on a White House blog on Saturday says that the Obama administration acknowledges the threat that foreign websites pose but it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” ...

Bad news for Hollywood players. If SOPA goes down, they will need to develop other strategies to keep internet pirates from stealing movies and television shows.

This is a long-term headache, no matter how you slice it.

(The Nikkster's crew provides their take on developments here.)

Add On: Rupert, he no like Obama's SOPA position, and tweets so:

“So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery ...”

No word yet on how much angry snark the News Corp king pin has dumped on Republican Darrel Issa, who is leading the charge against SOPA in the House.

Click here to read entire post

Martin's Box Office

Now with Add On!

On the long, Martin Luther King weekend, the Nikkster conjures early box office.

1. Contraband (Universal) NEW [2,863 Theaters] Friday $7.7M, 3-Day Weekend $22.9M, 4-Day Holiday $28M

2. Beauty And The Beast 3D (Disney) NEW [2,625 Theaters] Friday $5.5M, 3-Day Weekend $18.5M, 4-Day Holiday $25.6M

3. Joyful Noise (Warner Bros) NEW [2,863 Theaters] Friday $3.7M, 3-Day Weekend $12.3M, 4-Day Holiday $14.8M

4. Mission: Impossible 4 (Paramount) Week 5 [3,346 Theaters] Friday $3.5M, 3-Day Weekend $12.1M, 4-Day Holiday $14.6M, Est Cume $189.9M

5. Sherlock Holmes 2 (Warner Bros) Week 5 [3,155 Theater] Friday $2.5M, 3-Day Weekend $8.8M, 4-Day Holiday $10.6M, Est Cume $172.2M ...

Tintin, hanging onto the Top Ten mid-week, has now exited, running a cume of around $65 million. The feature, a hit in Europe, is a long way from that stateside.

The Mojo informs us that the early number projections seen above didn't quite hold up:

... [Beauty and the Beast's]$18.5 million debut was less than The Lion King's $30.2 million, though it was more than the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double feature ($12.5 million) and seems to confirm that there is a decent audience for re-issues of classic movies. The movie's 3D share was 97 percent (up from The Lion King's 92 percent), and the audience gave the movie an "A+" CinemaScore.

Even though B and B hasn't had the gangbusters opening that Lion King enjoyed, the fact that it debuted at #2 means that Disney will continue to mine this particular vein of riches. (Beauty was converted to dimensional viewing before Lion King, but didn't get a wide release until it dawned on the execs that "Heey now! We're looking at a nice cash flow here!")

Click here to read entire post

Friday, January 13, 2012

Viz Effx

Reading through Below the Line's review of the year's big visual effects movies, one sentence jumped out:

... [O]ne problem ... making visual effects a victim, in a sense, of their own success – is that a “consistent level of knock-your-socks-off has made us numb.” ...

There's another problem for effects in the digital age. When people aren't numb from apes or dinosaurs or mind-bending airplane crashes, they are unimpressed with shots that used to jerk them upright in their theater seats.

Think about the long take. In the old days of film, a lengthy tracking shot that ran seamlessly for three or four minutes was truly impressive, because you knew that the actors were exchanging big blocks of dialogue for the entire scene, that the background elements were choreographed in real time, that you were, in short, watching an actual event.

Now the same tracking shot might be cobbled together from multiple takes, but computers humming in dark rooms make it appear as one. Audiences know this, so the real-time "Wow!" factor is gone. Now it's all tricks with pixels.

Click here to read entire post

Party pix

Our official party photographer, ENRIQUE MAY, has come up with his portfolio detailing the fun that was had on the evening of January 6 at the Autry Museum.

Below the fold, a slideshow ...

Click here to read entire post

Game Over?

So now that Rango has won the Critics Choice Movie Awards for "Best Animated Feature", I guess we all know what picture goes on to win the Oscar ...

Or do we wait to see what some of the other Gold Trophy Ceremonies designate as "Best" before we fall all over ourselves with congratulations.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Expanding Cartoons

A worried artist on "The Simpsons" asked me today if the animation business is growing or shrinking. When I said "growing" he was surprised. I told him that one island of animation expands while another erodes, but overall, there are more people working in the animation business in Southern California than ever before.

Of course, you have to count cgi work, visual effects, games, television graphics, animated features, and television product, but if you do, there are one hell of a lot of people engaged in making blocks of entertainment.

To underscore my point, there was this from a few days ago ... that I somehow overlooked ...

Fox Broadcasting Co. is betting on cartoons to challenge NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

The network, which already relies on animation to fill its Sunday night prime-time lineup, is getting even more invested in cartoons with a new Saturday block of cartoons that will compete with "Saturday Night Live," the reigning champ of weekend late-night TV..

Fox is about the only television network that believes in animation and keeps making new shows for new time slots. Of course, there is a reason it believes. Rupert and his minions keep making Big Money out of cartoons.

Now if only some other webs would try the same thing.

Click here to read entire post

Gaming Shrinkage

As internet streaming and downloads have impacted television, dvds and cds, so is it impacting another area of entertainment (and animation):

... [T]he video game industry saw sales drop 8% last year despite a deluge of highly anticipated titles ...

Some ... dollars have migrated to online, social and mobile games, as well as games that are digitally downloaded ... "December was very rough," [Anita] Frazier, NPD's game analyst,] said. "Because of the great slate of content that came to market during the fourth quarter, I had expected December sales to represent a larger portion of total-year sales than what occurred. ...

Lowered expectations and revenues. Sound familiar?

As the music industry was pushed from its business model of silver disks sold in brick and mortar stores a decade ago, so now are other leisure-time industries getting shoved. The video game industry is just the latest example. Everything is shifting to the internet cloud. Everything is getting priced in new and not always exciting ways.

Changes in the conglomerates' revenue streams are going to continue. Whether the conglomerates like it or not.

Click here to read entire post

Moore Caballeros

When in doubt ...

When out of things to write about ...

Turn to the Mega Collector ...

(Mega wondered why we never put up this Fred Moore drawing, circa 1942. We're rectifying that oversight now.)

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oncoming Dimensions

Now with Add On!

Beauty and the Beast, which was converted to 3-D before The Lion King, is only now getting a nation-wide roll-out. (Big box office grosses have a magical pull on movie execs.) This week, corporate hearts at Diz Co. beat faster in anticipation of opening weekend ...

... “Beauty and the Beast” [is the second most popular new release in the Yahoo Search box.] Despite the original film being 20 years old, searches are starting to roar. Over the past seven days, web searches for “beauty and the beast” are up 44%. Related look-ups on “beauty and the beast 3d” are up over 238%. Roughly 25% of the searches come from kids 17 and under. In other words, people who weren't even alive when the film first hit back in 1991..

Since B and B 3-D has already been out on the little silver disks, it's anyone's guess how it performs two days hence.

Add On: Richard Corliss in TIME again give Beauty and the Beast a rave... and this about the new Dimensions:

... For the new edition, the 3-D filigree work — which comprises perhaps 30 or 40% of the film, allowing you to watch most of it without the glasses — sends wood shavings, bats, tree leaves and rain hurtling out of the screen. The process is sometimes an ornament, once or twice a distraction, but it doesn’t materially dilute the still-sublime experience. ...

And of course, there are more conversions to come. In the Fall we get this choice morsel:

Click here to read entire post

A Mega Christmas

Belated, but still worth posting ...

The above is the 1957 holiday card from UPA, then a thriving animation studio picking up awards left and right, now (sadly) a memory.

If you can't tell, this is a BIG art piece that unfolded to large proportions. In real life, it's a couple of feet wide, and maybe four feet long.

The Christmas greeting is brought to us by our esteemed friend, Mega Collector. (Like you wondered?)

Click here to read entire post


One of our fine trade papers notes upcoming contract talks:

... Hollywood's below-the-line unions have set March 5 as a start date for contract negotiations with the congloms ...

When the trades talk about "below the line," they mean the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employes, the Teamsters, and any other Hollywood union that isn't SAG, DGA or WGA.

In other words, us guys.

What you should note here is that The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, was chucked out of the "West Coast Bargaining Unit" -- the group that Variety is referring to -- back in 1982.

(We were kicked out for being uppity*. TAG has negotiated by its lonesome ever since.)

This time around, I'll be sitting in the big negotiations, but I will be sitting as an observer, not a participant. Just like always. (We always like to be there because we are tied into the Health and Pension Plans, and what everybody else gets, we also get.)

As best we can tell, TAG's negotiations will take place in April or May, after the Basic Agreement has been negotiated and (hopefully) ratified.

* As used above, uppity means "Striking too much."

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Disney Experience

I spent part of my day inside the hat building on Riverside Drive for the first time in weeks. Work is humming merrily along on Wreck-It Ralph. A couple of artists said ...

"The script for Frozen had a good table read. Management liked it, and we're putting it up in story reels. They want a screening in the next couple of months ..."

"We're gonna make Frozen in about a year. That's what we seem to always get, a year. Every time we make the tight deadline, we make sure we'll get a tight deadline the next time ..."

Maybe Diz Co. is more focused on schedules and budgets these days. Because they seem to be keeping a lid on spending. Maybe because of this:

"John Carter," the $250 million sci-fi epic ... may be the biggest studio gamble since "Avatar." The film doesn't hit theaters until March, but reports are rampant that "John Carter" has gone over budget and required costly reshoots. ...

"How does something like this get green lit?" one film financier told TheWrap. "It's insane. The only people who could justify a budget like this are true superstar filmmakers like Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and George Lucas. Guys who have a proven history and who have created billions." ...

If Carter opens and sustains interest, then everything is roses and lollipops and the Mouse goes on to its next triumph. And if not, then Richard Ross points his finger at (the departed) Dick Cook and hopes that Wreck-It Ralph and Brave are major hits.

Click here to read entire post

Retirement Saving in a Freelance World

When Newbies waltz into my office, I always present to them the 21st century realities of the animation business, one reality being:

"Don't anticipate spending you career at one studio. If you're one place for five years, that's exceptional. You'll be working at lots of differents companies, both freelance and on staff. One or two decades from now, you'll be working at places that haven't been started yet ..."

That being the case, it's more important than ever that you sock loot away for your eventual geezerhood. Happily, TAG member Jennifer H. Jerrard has put up a fine post detailing some of the things people in the biz (both animation and visual effects) should be doing now. ...

... Those who don’t plan to work until they drop will need some means of paying for food and housing in their old age. Social Security alone might not be enough.

The Los Angeles visual effects industry does not offer a safety net for its retirees. Visual effects might earn big money at the box office, but VFX artists and VFX studios do not share in those profits. VFX artists do not earn ongoing income from a project after the project ends. When they retire, they’ll be on their own.

The older VFX artists I know already have some kind of plan for their future. Some left the VFX industry for better compensation at 839 studios, and some left VFX altogether. The rest save their money, pay down their debt, work towards home ownership, start their own businesses, create their own intellectual property, invest or practice some combination of the above. ...

For artists who spend their careers under the feathery wings of The Animation Guild, there is a bit more security. Things like:

* A monthly pension check from the MPIPHP to go with the Social Security check.

* Retiree medical benefits under the MPIPHP.

* A lump sum payment from the Individual Account Plan of the MPIPHP that can be rolled over into a tax-sheltered retirement account.

* A 401(k) Retirement Account from TAG.

My two cents: The best move you can make when you get into this business is to live below your means, pay yourself first, and assume that you will have to retire on your own stash even if that is not, three decades down the Great Highway of Life, the actual case.

When I was thirty-nine years old, I didn't have a pot in which to dump change from collecting empty Coke bottles. Then I got a series of jobs that actually paid something, and I made up my mind to put as much money away as possible, because I didn't want to be in a position where I was out of work and had no savings.

Again. Strange, huh?

Very slowly, I learned where to put extra money, and where not. I'm not a licensed financial advisor, but I believe that simplicity and low costs are the best strategies for most people, which has led me to put my money in:

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index

Vanguard Total Bond Market

Vanguard Total International Stock Index

Vanguard Treasury Inflation Protected Securities

I don't use an "Investment Advisor" since he or she usually skims 1% or 2% (plus commissions) off the top. I believe that every dollar you pay an Investment Person is a dollar you take out of your own pocket.

I further believe if your age is 25 to 45 then your stock/bond allocation should be 60%/40% ...

That if your age is 45 to 60 your stock/bond allocation should be 50%/50% ...

And if you are over the age of 60 your allocation should be 40% stock/60% bonds (maybe even 35%/65%.)

Whenever I've gotten tricky and invested in more exotic items, like sow belly futures or individual stocks, I have gotten burned. The small secret about smart investing is that it's simple ... if you allow it to be. The sad part is that many people start making it complicated by going a twisty route chasing hot tips and (ultimately) losing their shirts.

So keep it simple and straightforward. And know that time is on your side. It's close to impossible to outthink or outguess the markets. So don't waste time and energy trying.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Carlos Saldanha Interview

TAG Interview with Carlos Saldanha

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Born and raised in Brazil, Carlos Saldanha has long been a pillar at Blue Sky Studios ...

Mr. Saldanha came to New York a few decades ago to train at the School of Visual Arts, where he focused on computers and their graphics. While there he made two animated shorts that made a splash on the festival circuit. Soon after, Chris Wedge -- one of Carlos's instructors -- invited him to join a small computer-based studio named Blue Sky. Animating and directing commercials and shorts, Mr. Saldanha moved over to co-direct Blue Sky's Ice Age, and his career has been on an ascending trajectory ever since.

We talked on January 6, 2012.

Click here to read entire post

Roy Disney's Farewell

Eight years and one month back, the ongoing battle between Roy Disney and Michael Eisner came to a (temporary) end with this ...


December 3, 2003

Dear Disney Cast Members,

It was nearly 20 years ago that a small group of us recognized that dramatic changes were necessary to reinvigorate and reenergize the Disney Company. We changed the composition of the Board and assembled a new leadership team headed by Frank Wells and Michael Eisner. I returned to the Disney cast and, working as a team, we planted the seeds that rekindled the spirit and creativity that is synonymous with Disney. Those efforts paid off handsomely in the late '80s and early '90s. Once again, Disney was admired for the wholesome family entertainment it brought to millions of people of all ages. Together we created the dreams and excitement that made Disney respected and beloved throughout the world. We succeeded in recapturing the dream born of Walt and my father and the heritage they left us.

Sadly, times have changed. Michael Eisner has lost sight of the vision upon which this Company was founded. The focus has shifted to the chase for the quick buck instead of a dedication to new and high quality ideas, the development of enduring value. This has led to division within the Disney work force, a revolving door of managers, and the exodus of too many of our most creative and inspired employees.

For the last several years, Michael Eisner has done his utmost to isolate me from the members of Disney's Animation Department and exclude me from participation in decision making regarding the Department. Most recently, I was prevented from even attending the Animation Department screening of three feature animation projects. The collegiality and openness that once typified the Disney workplace has been destroyed.

It is against this backdrop that I had no choice but to resign as Chairman of Disney's Animation Department and as a member of Disney's Board of Directors. This has been a very painful decision. I am torn between my duties and loyalties to all of you who have made my journey so memorable and special, and the need to preserve the Disney heritage for future generations. However, I cannot stand idle as the heart and soul of this Company is being systematically eliminated by senior management protected by an ineffective Board of Directors. This is a Board that seeks to avoid constructive tension necessary to guide management through difficult times. Instead, it is a Board that seeks to stifle dissent and, to that end, has asked me to leave the Board of Directors.

Although this is not how and when I would have liked to leave the Disney Company, I assure you that I view it not as an isolated and sad event, but as part of a process. I hope it is not too late for the Disney Board of Directors to finally recognize that fundamental change is needed to restore the Disney luster, nurture and protect the wonderful characters that together we have developed and, most importantly, to create the environment within the workplace necessary to give life to new Disney icons for the generations to come.

As I now set off on a different course, I cannot fail to publicly and openly once again express to all of you my most heartfelt thanks. I am grateful that we have shared this journey. Without you, your contributions and camaraderie, we would not have been able to make the magic and wonder that is Disney. I hope that one day soon the Disney Board gets the message.

Yours faithfully,

Roy E. Disney

And so began Roy E. Disney's second campaign to oust a Disney chief executive.

The first was Ron Miller, whom Roy was successful in eliminating in 1984. The second was Michael Eisner. Roy saw Mr. Eisner depart in 2006, after a proxy fight and press/internet campaign, and he then rejoined the Board as Director Emeritus.

The reason for the fights between two Disney CEOs and Roy Disney were similar. Neither Ron Miller nor Michael Eisner (at the end) gave R. E. Disney much respect. They viewed him as a lightweight, made that view clear, and in retaliation, Roy brought both of them down.

I wasn't privvy to much of the back-and-forth between Ron Miller and Roy Disney during the first corporate dust-up. I was a lowly feature animation employee down in the trenches. But during that second battle, I happened to have a lengthy conversation with Roy about what was going on.

The occasion was one of TAG's Christmas parties. Roy had launched SaveDisney.com, and was talking to shareholder groups and pension funds about pressuring Eisner to resign. And he was looking for allies wherever he could find them.

A labor union not might seem like a natural fit as "best friend" for a Disney family member, but a lot of Disney animation employees were ticked at management running the House of Mouse. So when Roy showed up at two Animation Guild holiday festivities (he was invited by TAG board member Karen Nugent), they welcomed Roy with open arms.

It was at the first party that Mr. Disney told me this:

"They [Disney management] fired me. Only I quit before I could get fired. Michael wouldn't let me come to my office at the Feature Building. Wouldn't tell me about screenings or meetings. I didn't like things that were going on and said so, so they were getting ready to kick me off the Board of Directors. But I left before they could do it."...

I always kind of understood the wrestling match between Ron and Roy. They were members of the same family, and they were having a feud. Ron Miller thought the status quo was okay; Roy wanted more changes. Ron won the first round and Roy left the company, then Roy won the second round and Ron was forced out.

But why Michael Eisner, who had always been careful to keep Roy Disney within the Golden Circle, got high-handed and started ostracizing Disney from corporate perks and functions that Roy had enjoyed for two decades, was always a mystery. I asked Kim Masters, author of Keys to the Kingdom, why Michael did it. She speculated:

"I guess Michael thought he was the company and didn't need Roy. But he didn't have the last name Disney, you know? Michael loved being CEO, he loved being the head of Disney, but I couldn't tell you why he treated Roy the way he did. ..."

I have my own theory. I think human beings often get caught up in their own self-importance. When they are surrounded by people who keep telling them how wonderful and indispensable they are, they begin believing it. And they lose sight of the cold reality that nobody is indispensable, that nobody can stand forever against bad news and powerful enemies with a grudge.

Just ask Moammar Gadhafi, or Louis the XVI. Or Michael Eisner.

* The reason for this post now? In the course of house cleaning today, I came across Roy's letter, sent to my Disney employee wife eight years ago. It started me reflecting.

Click here to read entire post
Site Meter