Friday, May 31, 2013


It isn't just Southern California animation and visual effects houses that are streamlining. Happening on other continents, too.

Mad Max [and Happy Feet] director Dr George Miller is selling off his animation studio Dr D, bringing to an end plans to develop an Australian rival to Peter Jackson's Wellington-based Weta. ... Babe director Miller [is] holding a fire sale of the assets of his Dr D Studios via online auction house Gray's. ...

Dr. Miller, despite an Oscar and some commercial pictures, is like other mortals. If you make one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates money ...

Happy Feet was #1 in the United States on its first weekend of release (November 17–19) grossing $41.6 million and beating Casino Royale for the top spot.It grossed $198.0 million in the U.S. and $186.3 million overseas, making about $384.3 million dollars worldwide. ...

... then you prosper. And when it's otherwise ...

Happy Feet Two achieved less than 45% of the attendance figures of its predecessor. Major box-office prediction websites were almost unanimously predicting an opening weekend of $35 million - $45 million, so Happy Feet Two's box-office performance of $21,237,068 was underwhelming.

... then it becomes harder to finance your dreams.

That seems to be what happened here. It's always about the moolah and the leverage.
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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Prehistoric Space Jam

As there was an animated basketball movie, now there will be ...


Warner Bros and WWE Studios are tag-teaming to co-produce a Flintstones animated movie to be released in early 2015. Here, fixtures of the ’60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon including Fred and Barney will be joined by WWE staples including Vince McMagma (voiced by Vince McMahon) and such WWE superstars and divas including John Cenastone (John Cena) and CM Punkrock (CM Punk). ...

From appearances, it doesn't seem as though this will be a major theatrical event, but rather entertainment for the little silver disk and home flat-screen.

... “WWE is family-friendly entertainment, so partnering with Warner Bros on a Flintstones/WWE project was a natural extension of our Scooby Doo deal,” said Michael Luisi, President, WWE Studios. ...

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At Tuesday Night's General Membership Meeting

There was a lively panel discussion about investing for retirement (about which there will be more soon), and ...

An even livelier back-and-forth about storyboard tests (verdict: they're abusive), uncompensated overtime (consensus: there's lots of it going on), and artists sharing information and rating various L.A. studios (which the TAG executive board will discuss at its Tuesday meeting.)

I gave a report on the guild's recent face-to-face with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers where I presented studio storyboard tests that took a week to complete, said they were way longer than they had any right to be, and informed studio reps that a lot of talented, experienced board artists were flat-out refusing to take them.

I told the assembled multitude that I need first-hand reports and samples of abusive board tests as fast as artists can report them. I said I wanted to be in the studios' grills as frequently as possible. For that that we needed board artists providing testimony (anonymous or otherwise) and examples of long tests each and every time they encountered them.

The meeting lasted until 10:30 p.m. Among the topics discussed:

* Creating an anonymous internet forum for Animation Guild members.

Forum would be a place where members can lodge complaints/grievances without fear. (Also a place where the guild can gather information from members.)

* Creating testing standards.

Can tests be eliminated? If not, how can they be limited, or monetized?

* Uncompensated Overtime and Tight Schedules

Should members report unpaid overtime violations? What is the studio blowback for doing so? **

I gave examples of departments at different studios where uncomped overtime happens a lot, and examples of departments where the employees NEVER work unpaid o.t. because they've built a culture where it's not allowed to happen.

I also talked about an I.A. production local that told me it has a policy of no free work being done by its members (i.e., no uncompensated tests) ... yet a major studio said at the AMPTP meeting that those same members work for free on a regular basis "trying out" for jobs on live-action features.

The issues above are not new. They were smacking me in the face when I started this job, and they remain problems years later. The challenge is: how to MINIMIZE them?

** Adapted from a meeting attendee's notes.
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not Robust

Or so says the L.A. Times:

... International box office for "Epic" is anything but so far.

The animated movie from 20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Productions unit -- which focuses on a transformed teenager who befriends a group of misfits and fights rot-causing creatures -- has taken in $43 million from 34 international markets since its release two weeks ago, according to the studio.

That is not a flop by any means, but the nearly $100-million production will need big numbers when it opens in Japan, Russia and Australia to be considered a global smash.

The last animated film to hit theaters overseas was "The Croods," a DreamWorks Animation title also released by Fox. That movie, which also features animated human characters instead of animals, launched with $63.3 million when it debuted in 47 foreign markets in March. The film has since collected $386 million abroad.

While noting that "Epic" has met expectations, Craig Dehmel, a senior vice president at 20th Century Fox, said the film's plot may make the movie a tougher sell outside the U.S. ...

As went Rise of the Guardians so now goes the latest Blue Sky feature.

These adaptations of William Joyce's books are beautiful and beautifully mounted, but they appear to have trouble connecting with audiences.
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Feature Release Schedules

DreamWorks Animation yesterday gave notice about another upcoming feature, and its release date.

DreamWorks Animation has announced today that Mike Mitchell is set to direct their upcoming Trolls. Emmy Award-winning writer Erica Rivinoja will provide the screenplay.

Mitchell, currently directing the live action sequences in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 2, has garnered a fan base among family audiences for hits such as Shrek Forever After, Sky High and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, and has a proven track record taking legendary characters on new adventures. Rivinoja has been lauded for her work on comedies including "South Park" and "Up All Night." Under the direction of this new creative team Trolls will be distributed by Twentieth Century Fox on November 4, 2016.

"Mike and Erica are the perfect team to reimagine this film," said Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke. "Mike's pedigree in shaping stories with already beloved characters is second to none." ...

One thing you can say for DWA, they give you titles, subject matter and dates when they announce their future feature projects.

Diz Co., on the other hand, trods a different path:

... Disney has set a course for its animated features through 2018. All will be in 3D, with 2-3 pics coming out a year essentially alternating between Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Most dates fall in June (where Pixar has opened Brave, Cars 2 and Toy Story 3 and will bow Monsters University on June 21 this year) and November (past titles opened on this month include Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled and this November 27 release Frozen). The new dates come after already announced slots for Disney animated titles like Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (May 30, 2014), the untitled Inside The Mind movie (June 19, 2015), and the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory (November 25, 2015). It’s also after Disney’s first Marvel-based animated feature, Big Hero 6, which has a November 7, 2014 release date. It seems likely that the just-in-the-news Dia De Los Muertos movie could get one of these new dates. Speculate away. Here’s the list if you’re scoring at home:

March 4, 2016 — Untitled Disney Animation wide in 3D
June 17, 2016 — Untitled Pixar Animation wide in 3D
November 23, 2016 — Untitled Disney Animation wide in 3D
June 16, 2017 — Untitled Pixar Animation wide in 3D
November 22, 2017 — Untitled Pixar Animation wide in 3D
March 9, 2018 — Untitled Disney Animation wide in 3D
June 15, 2018 — Untitled Pixar Animation wide in 3D

DW Animation is a wee bit less sketchy about its upcoming projects than the House of Mouse is, but of course DreamWorks release dates only extend to Turkey Day 2016, while Diz Co. has months and days pinned down through the middle of 2018.

Nevertheless, it looks to us as though there is going to be a royal collision of animation titles down the road. The question is: How many animated features can be nurtured and sustained in a given calendar year?

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Da Planes! Da Planes!

With a seven-hours-old trailer:

The summer marketplace is going to be crowded with animated films. Despicable Me II. Monsters University. Turbo. And of course The Croods is (are?) now winding down and Epic has just hit the neighbrohood multiplexes.

And there is Planes, which is a DisneyToon Studios presentations with aspirations of theatrical greatness. Disney had a small crew of animators in Glendale, and a large one in India (or wherever.) I have no idea how the picture will perform, but I guess we'll find out in August.
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Monday, May 27, 2013

Morphing Into A Conglomerate

Seems kind of where DreamWorks Animation wants to be going.

Super RTL, Europe's number one children's channel, has signed a multi-year output deal with DreamWorks Animation that will see DreamWorks supply the Cologne-based network with around 1,200 hours of programming through 2020. ...

The DreamWorks deal includes programming from DWA's $155 million purchase of Classic Media last year, which gave Katzenberg the rights to hundreds of hours of classic kids TV. ... DreamWorks is also revving up its in-house television operations with small screen spin-offs of its hit animated feature films. These include a 20-episode animated series based on How to Train Your Dragon and a show based on the upcoming Ryan Reynolds-voiced feature Turbo, which will see DreamWorks partner with Netflix. Turbo the film bows July 19. The series, Turbo: F.A.S.T., is set for Netflix release in December. DreamWorks expects to produce at least five long-running animation series next year, all of which will have their German debuts on Super RTL. ...

DreamWorks Animation Television was shuttered in the 1990s. Disney Television Animation head Gary Krisel left the Mouse House to run the division, but due to the changing economics of T.V. production and distribution, the DW Television Animation didn't last long.

It's only in the last couple of years that a DreamWorks t.v. arm has come to life again. The company has a lot of different irons in the fire: German partnerships, a new China studio, and of course the new distribution deal with Fox. Some DreamWorks animation staffers opine that the Glendale campus could be hiring more staff as upcoming theatricals get into crunch time.

Conjecture at this point, but more employment is always a good thing. And The Croods, DreamWorks Animation's current release, stil rolls along overseas. And particularly in the Middle Kingdom.

The Croods’ sustained performance in China largely stems from the widespread acclaim it received via online word-of-mouth. The film didn’t make a splashy bow in the country when it opened April 13; contrary to market trends, its earnings actually increased in the next two weeks, culminating in its third-week takings of $20 million (122.7 million yuan). While takings fell by more than 50 percent the next week (to $9.5 million/58.1 million yuan), subsequent dips were not as drastic: It took $6.4 million (39 million yuan) the week after, and then $5.1 million last week.

While it's now nearly impossible for The Croods to match the box office success of the highest-grossing animation film ever released in China – that’s Kung Fu Panda 2, which took $99.2 million (608.4 million yuan) in 2010 – the latest blockbuster's slow but long-burning success has already alerted cinephiles and officials alike about the chasm in quality between these imports and homegrown productions.

In an article titled “Domestic Animation Films Urgently Need to Discover High-Class Children-Friendly Fun,” the widely read, state-backed Beijing Youth Daily has criticized local productions as slanting towards the “infantile” and catering to young children only.

“They are not like The Croods, which could be released amidst blockbusters and still bring in adult viewers,” said the piece, which was reposted on the government-run National Animation Industry website.

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How NOT To Invest

There are some great new ways to lose money.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs Asset Management announced that it would launch a new mutual fund that — apparently — will bring the joy of hedge fund investing to the masses. For as little as $1,000, the Multi-Manager Alternatives Fund (GMAMX) allows mom-and-pop investors to put their life savings into some of Wall Street’s riskiest and most expensive products. This “fund of funds” will, according to its prospectus, let investors gain exposure to the trading strategies of hedge funds.

The obvious question is: “Why would investors want that?”

Despite all the media coverage, glitz and glam of hedge funds, they have not done well for their investors. They have high — some say excessively high — fees; their short- and long-term performance has been poor. ...

Hedge Funds are actively managed funds on steroids. They cost a fortune to get into, and investors end up on the short end of the deal.

* From 1998 to 2010, hedge fund managers earned $379 billion in fees. The investors of their funds earned only $70 billion in investing gains.

* Managers kept 84 percent of investment profits, while investors netted only 16 percent. ...

Anybody interested in getting a piece of that action? (I thought not.)

The Animation Guild will be holding more 401(k) enrollment in the coming week:

Starz-Film Roman: Tuesday, May 28th -- 2 p.m. in the Glass Conference room

Nickelodeon: Wednesday, May 29th -- 2 p.m. main conference room

DreamWorks Animation: Thursday, May 30th -- 2 p.m. dining rooms B & C

And on next Tuesday night (May 28th), TAG will be holding a panel discussion on investing or retirement. I don't think that hedge funds will be part of the discussion.
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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Foreign Box Office

Weekend totals for the world's favorites. ("Worldwide" includes the U.S. and Canada. "International" excludes the U.S. and Canada.)

Weekend Box Office -- Worldwide -- International

1) Fast & Furious 6 -- 256,528,000 -- 158,000,000

2) Hangover 3 -- 61,615,000 -- 19,200,000

3) Epic -- 57,300,000 -- 23,100,000

4) Star Trek: Into Darkness -- 51,100,000 -- 13,100,000

5) The Great Gatsby -- 38,105,000 -- 24,400,000

6) Iron Man 3 -- 36,824,000 -- 17,400,000

7) The Croods -- 7,015,000 -- 5,800,000

To date, The Croods global box office is $562,638,000, while Epic is just getting under way with $77,100,000.

(Box Office Mojo has a handy comparison between the two here.)
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Saturday, May 25, 2013


The Animation Guild reviews two or more O-1 immigration visas per week. They are (mostly) for CG workers, but there are a sprinkling of others.

Should we be letting more foreign-born workers in? Should we be training more of our own people here? The questions constantly get asked, but not just in the U.S. of A. here's what's going on in a small country on the other side of the globe:

[In New Zealand], foreign workers are being targeted for more than 500 visual-effects jobs for the production of the next mega-movie in The Hobbit series.

Wellington-based special-effects giant Weta Digital, co-owned by Sir Peter Jackson, has asked Immigration New Zealand for approval in principle to outsource 526 positions.

Weta says most are just extensions to visas that are about to expire and the company has a great record of hiring Kiwis, but Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly is questioning the company's commitment to the local industry.

Apart from ads on the company website, she could not find evidence Weta had let Kiwis know opportunities were available, and questioned why another application was being made when Weta asked for 369 temporary work visas last year.

"They've done very little to bridge that gap. They don't want to invest in (our) people."

But Weta general manager Tom Greally said the company had proved its commitment to this country - 70 per cent of its 1,100-strong workforce were New Zealand citizens or residents. The temporary work visas were for roles that would be spilt between about 140 new employees and 250 people who were already working for the company, but who needed new visas. ...

There are a lot of people being trained in the U.S. for high tech jobs, but clearly more education needs to be done. Most of the foreign applicants the Animation Guild sees are artists with production experience, and many (though not all) command big salaries.

Unions and guilds have had the right to review 0-1 immigration visas since the 1990s. We know of a few IA unions that reject almost every visa application that comes across their desk. This is a fine strategy, only it doesn't work. I've talked to lawyers inside and outside the Immigration and Nationalization Service who tell me when a union rejects everybody, no matter how well-qualified they are, its credibility is blown to bits with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the agency stops paying attention to the union's letters.

A guild/union can be as tough as it likes reviewing applications, but it's got to have credible reasons for writing a "No Entry!" letter. Otherwise the guild's believability and leverage with the INS dwindle away to nothing. And the INS (like it or not) is the government bureaucracy the guild needs to convince.

I don't know New Zealand's immigration laws, but the country is letting a lot of foreign workers in for effects work. I understand why native Kiwis don't like it, but I'm stumped about what exactly should be done about it. (Weta can always take its moveable feast elsewhere. Isn't that the threat that's always being made here?)
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Memorial Moolah Hunt

Theatrical box office is off to a rousing holiday start.

... The combined B.O. of “Fast and Furious” and “Hangover” — along with Fox-Blue Sky Animation’s $93 million family film, “Epic,” with a projected $40 million four-day opening — should propel Memorial Day weekend box office to record heights, surpassing the $273 million benchmark set in 2011. ...

I guess we're slowly edging out of the recession.

Friday Totals (Total Totals)

1) FAST & FURIOUS 6 -- $38,200,000

2) THE HANGOVER PART III -- $14,530,000 ($26,319,000)

3) STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS -- $10,200,000 ($119,027,000)

4) EPIC -- $9,350,000

5) IRON MAN 3 -- $5,113,000 ($353,196,000)

6) THE GREAT GATSBY -- $3,960,000 ($104,687,000)

- 42 -- $300,000 -- ($90,104,000)

- THE CROODS -- $240,000 ($178,263,000)

As we get closer to the end of the weekend, here are the revised accumulations

Box Office Top Ten

1. Fast & Furious 6 - Universal - $98.5M
2. Hangover 3, The - Warner Bros. - $42.4M
3. Star Trek Into Darkness - Paramount - $38.0M
4. Epic - 20th Century Fox - $34.2M
5. Iron Man 3 - Disney - $19.4M
6. Great Gatsby, The - Warner Bros. - $13.7M
7. Mud - Roadside Attractions - $1.9M
8. 42 - Warner Bros. - $1.2M
9. The Croods - 20th Century Fox - $1.2M
10. Oblivion - Universal - $0.8M

The Croods had a sizable drop when Epic entered the marketplace, and Epic seems to be at expectations, per the Nikkster:

... Twentieth Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios’ 3D toon Epic is looking at $9.1M Friday and expecting $44.2M in 3,882 U.S. and Canadian locations for Memorial Weekend.

That’s about par for the course for original content animated films in a very competitive environment. (Opening weekends for recent comps range from $37M-$39M. This may pop since audiences gave it an ‘A’ CinemaScore which will help word of mouth. Sibling of the hit Ice Age and Rio franchises looks more earnest and less fun but benefits greatly from what has been a drought of family fare since March when The Croods opened.

Fox claims cost was $93M for this Chris Wedge-directed animated actioner with screenplay credited to James V. Hart & William Joyce, Dan Shere, and Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember. Producers were Lori Forte and Jerry Davis. BeyoncĂ© was the cast ‘get’ plus Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler. Blake Anderson, and Judah Friedlander. Epic began its $14.5M overseas rollout last weekend in only 16 markets - only 3 top – with 20 additional international territories opening this Memorial Weekend. ...

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Ex-Union Officers Suing Union

This sounds familiar:

Actors Ed Asner, Clancy Brown, Dennis Hayden, and George Coe are among the 15 plaintiffs who filed suit today in federal court against SAG-AFTRA for not properly disbursing $110 million in foreign residuals they say have not been paid out.

Asner is the former SAG president (1981-1985) who very publicly opposed the SAG-AFTRA merger along with other ex-union board members. The 52-page filing also claims that the merged union has deliberately withheld information and kept the money in trust and spent portions on first class travel and lavish parties and big salaries for current union officials. ...

Funny thing. TAG was involved in a similar lawsuit against the WGAw thirty-six months ago. Individual writers were suing over money held in trust, and we joined in. Soon after, there was a settlement:

A state court judge has finalized the settlement in the tangled 5-year-old WGA West foreign levies case -- including a promise that he'll closely monitor how those funds are distributed.

... The WGA has agreed to use its "best efforts" to pay all foreign funds within three years.

... The WGA will have to allow the foreign money to "escheat" to the state for works not covered under WGA contracts if it can't locate the writers or their heirs after three years.

... The WGA West will hire consultants for a one-time review to make recommendations on how to improve the processing and distribution of the funds.

... The final settlement, which followed extensive objections to last fall's preliminary settlement, is much narrower than the WGA had sought.

The settlement brought about changes to the way the Writers Guild disspersed the money. (I started getting more foreign levy checks.) But many plaintiffs continued to be dissatisfied with the payouts.

Sounds like Ed and associates share the same gripes many writers do.

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DWA, Glendale

Inside DreamWorks Animation's Lakeside building, it was (pretty much) the last day of production for many on Turbo ...

A supervisor on the second floor said:

It's quiet around here. Go over to the far side of the floor and there's hardly anyone there. Everybody's finishing their last shots and people without another movie to go on are packing up. ...

Some of the departing staff that is getting laid off asked me about dismissal pay, asked how long health coverage would last (answer: 12-14 months in most cases), asked about going on honorable withdrawal with their TAG membership. A departing artists said, "Working here the last few years is a good calling card. I've gotten three of four job offers because of it."

Meantime, the studio is busy with cross-promotions:

2013 Indianapolis 500: Dreamworks Animation and IndyCar team up for "Turbo" film

"Turbo" is taking center stage this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The movie will be screened on Friday night at the Speedway as well ride shotgun with driver Townsend Bell in his seventh-career Indianapolis 500 start. ...

DWA leaves no wheel unrotated.
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The Wealth Factor

Since we do talk about labor and money around here ...

The U.S. of A. has had great wealth disparities before: the late 1920s. The 1880s and 1890s. So the dynamic isn't exactly new.

But the late 19th century was a time of high social unrest. The haymarket riot. The Pullman strike. Little things like that. And 1929 was the front end of the Great Depression ... which saw a wee bit of unhappiness.

My point is, when there is a huge concentration of wealth, problems inevitably result. (If you're a student of history, you might recall the French revolution, yes?)

Funny how the troubles start when people are ground down and desperate.

What's a continuing mystery to me is how removing the social safety net and returning to the glory days of 1894 is better for anyone. If the Top 400 have 80% of the bread, and everyone with significant money is living large behind a walled estate, they still have to go out in the wider world from time to time.

(Won't they have to fret about getting knifed and beaten while standing in line at Starbucks? But then, the executive assistant will be fetching the coffee at Starbucks, so I guess it isn't a major concern.)

(The YouTube above is sort of a companion piece to this one.)

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lawsuit Aimed at Time Warner

Somebody smells money.

An advertising agency has slapped a lawsuit on the creators of a Cartoon Network show, accusing the producers of ripping off their idea for a show about wacky, talking fruit.

H2M, a Fargo, N.D.-based ad firm claims "Annoying Orange" creators Dane Boedigheimer and Spencer Grove, who are originally from North Dakota, saw the "Talking Orange" commercials that aired in the state from 2005 to 2009,

When Annoying Orange was a gleam in YouTube's big glass eye, nobody got sued because there was little in the way of greenbacks at stake.

Now, of course, the situation has changed and the sharks are circling. (Big surprise, yes?)
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Animation in China

Since we're on a geography kick ...

Chinese animation industry produces about 266,600 minutes of animation content every year. Foreign animation films dominate the market with more than 60% of television animation being of foreign origin.

In China, there are about 8,000 animation studios. The key animation industrial bases in China are Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Shenyang and Wuxi. The Chinese animation industry is growing at the rate of about 10-15% YoY. The cost of outsourcing one episode of animation work to China is about US$ 60,000 - 70,000. ...

The key factor which is driving the flow of outsourcing of animation jobs to China is the low cost labour as well as the availability of a large talent pool of animation professionals. ...

But low costs only take you so far. Beyond the "work is inexpensive" calling card, the work created in the Middle Kingdom needs to be dynamic enough to compete in the world market place.

Hasn't happened in a major way ... yet. Doesn't mean that at some point it won't. The world never remains static.
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Animation in Utah

The NYT profiles Brigham Young University's animation school.

... Out of nowhere, B.Y.U. — a Mormon university owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has become a farm team for the country’s top animation studios and effects companies. Unlikely as it sounds, young Mormons are being sucked out of the middle of Utah and into the very centers of American pop-culture manufacturing.

Praising the program in a speech on campus in 2008, the president of Pixar, Edwin Catmull, noted: “It’s the perception not just of Pixar, but also at the other studios, that something pretty remarkable is happening here.” (During the production of “Brave,” for example, a 14-person team tasked with rigging the complicated musculature in horses and wrangling Princess Merida’s curls included six B.Y.U. alumni.) ...

Makes sense to me that Brigham Young turns out top-flight artists.

Many are older when they start their education, and they don't get slowed down or hampered by booze or drugs. And being older they have a clearer idea of where they want to go with their careers and the road they need to travel to get there.

Adding, TAG Prez Bob Foster just pointed out to me that some of the best animation artists he's worked with have been Mormon. So there's a history of quality work that goes back a few years.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On the Matter of Testing

We get any number of complaints about tests that studios often require of animation job applicants. There's a job posting; artists contact the studio; said studio tells the applicant that there's a test they have to take for that storyboard/design/background job. (Choose one.)

And funny thing. The tests take three ... or four ... or five days to complete. ...

A couple of decades ago, tests were minimal to non-existent. Then, a cartoon studio looked at a prospective hire's portfolio. And if the studio liked it, the artist was hired into an entry-level position and worked her (his) way up ... or flamed out.

Simple as that.

But not so simple anymore. These days, there are packets that include design samples, script samples, semi-humorous instructions and the admonition to "Draw up X pages of script and be creative! Be inventive! And HAVE FUN!"

Sadly, it's often not fun. One veteran storyboard artist told me:

"I'm doing two or three freelance jobs, all on deadline, and a director I know calls me about a staff job. I'm always up for a full-time gig, so I say yes. And he says, 'I know you're good, but the studio insists everybody takes their storyboard test. So take the test and we'll hire you.'"

"So I get the test and start it. Only it's long. And I've got paying jobs to do. So I don't finish it. And the director calls me to ask where the test is because he needs me, and I tell him I'm busy with real work and I don't have time to complete it, I've got other deadlines. And he gets mad at me. "I want you to start a board, but I can't hire you! Because you haven't finished the test!'"

I never did get through the thing. I didn't have time, and I'm not into working for free."

Imagine. He doesn't want to work for free. How greedy and short-sighted.

The testing mania sweeping cartoon studios has gone several clicks past ludicrous. The studios engineer tests that grow progressively longer. Directors don't have time to look at long tests let alone short ones, and as a veteran boarder said to me today: "You don't need a lot of board panels to know if somebody can draw the style of your show. If somebody does thirty bad board panels, the thirty-first panel is going to turn everything around? Don't think so."

The complaints about testing got more numerous around the start of the year, so I called the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which reps the major cartoon studios) and asked for an audience. Four months later I got one with all the studios in attendance, and I dutifully hauled in copies of studio tests to show that testing was (is) wildly out of hand. And you'll be amazed to discover that the studios are reluctant to admit that their tests are "long," even when it's screamingly obvious. To take one example: Disney's Gravity Falls test said in black-and-white: "This test should take no more than ONE WEEK."

Fairly clear, yes? A strong hint, wouldn't you say? I pointed out the sentence. The Disney people denied it meant what it said. "Oh, that means a couple of hours a day. Not forty hours."

Yeah, hm hm.

Except nowhere on the test materials does it say, "Take six or seven hours, maximum" or "Just put in a couple of hours a day." And when the packet contains 2 1/2 or 3 pages of script, that's a tipoff that the artist will ge spending a bit more than two hours a day.

I made the suggestion that since studios are requiring job seekers to draw the studio's copyrighted work, the studios are effectively hiring these folks, and should pay them. This did not go over well. The argument was put forth that actors audition for nothing, so why shouldn't board artists do the same.

(Maybe because artists are not actors? And even actors don't audition for forty goddamn hours?)

The meeting went on for the better part of an hour (the details of which I will be relating at next Tuesday's General Membership meeting.) The studios thanked me for bringing the issue to their attention (again.) I told them I would be contacting them every time long and abusive tests rear their ugly heads.

Board artists and anybody else who care about this issue should show up 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank next Tuesday night. We'll be talking about the problem. And the REMEDIES.
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Cross Pollination

Marvel Animation preps its Avengers launch.

The series premieres July 7th ...

Marvel Animation has been working on this series since last year out of its studio in Glendale, California. This is the maiden effort of Marvel's new studio, with The Hulk being #2 (and scheduled to arrive in the not too distant future.

Marvel now does its pre-production out of nine thousand square foot space snugged against Flower Street and Circle Seven Drive. MA has ambitions to expand its current lineup, but it will have to move to larger headquarters to do it. Because the studio will be packed to overflowing if it takes on more series.

Marvel's sister studio -- Disney Television Animation, located three blocks away -- is also doing shows with Marvel characters in them. The Mouse believes in cross pollinating old brands with new.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why American Animation Still Dominates

But might not for much longer. Animation producer Martin Baynton explains:

... "Some of the production scales I have seen here in China don't allow any proper development process. They want to race in animation. ... It should take a year to write a script. But people here try to write a script in one week."

"Everybody is working too fast." ...

On the other hand, animated features in the U.S. have shorter and shorter production schedules.

Maybe our fine, entertainment conglomerates are striving to imitate the Chinese.

(On the other, other hand, the development process seems to be stretching ouuut. Look how long Tangled was in development. Well over ten years.)
Click here to read entire post


So maybe Fox miscalculated.

The Croods managed $3.02 million this weekend, bringing its domestic total to $177.02 million (worldwide, it's made an astonishing $550.3 million), but, with 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios' Epic coming out, it's going to be tough reaching $200 million. ...

DreamWorks Animation's cave family did more than accumulate another three million bucks. It climbed back into the fifth position inside the Top Ten, and it beat fourth place Pain and Gain on both Saturday and Sunday.

Not bad for a feature that's been out for two months ...

Chris Sanders now has two back-to-back hits at DWA. And story director Ed Gombert has smashes in two different centuries for two different studios. (Ed's other success as story director was Disney's Aladdin. The Croods marks Ed's second go 'round. Ed likes to space his story director assignments out a wee bit ...)

The odds are good that The Croods will tumble out of the top of the movie hit parade when Epic debuts on May 24th. I doubt that Fox expected The Croods to stay viable for so long, and planned its release slate accordingly. Releasing Epic in late May probably seemed a wise move back at the front of the year. Now, of course, the Blue Sky Studio movie will snip off some of The Croods money tail.

But what's a hungry conglomerate to do? It's got pictures to release and only so many weekends on which it can catapult its next cartoon to big box office. And Diz Co. unleashes Monsters University on June 21st. (Eek!)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, May 20, 2013

More Chances For a Little Gold Man

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences becomes more generous:

The Academy has relaxed the rules for winning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, allowing more individuals to take home statuettes.

In rule changes approved by the AMPAS Board of Governors, the filmmaker with producer credit will now receive an Oscar in the category, along with the film’s credited director. In cases where a two-person team has shared director credit, a third statuette can be awarded.

In the past, the Animated Feature Oscar went to the single individual with the most creative input into the film, typically the director. In only two cases over the 12 years of the category – including the most recent winner, “Brave” – two credited directors received statuettes.

Because you can never have enough shiny awards ...

But what this is REALLY about is ... animated features are no longer the sleepy little sub-category that Disney Feature used to occupy all by its lonesome.

Now, animated features are big business, and lots of our fine conglomerates are making them. Disney, Universal, Viacom, Fox-News Corp. Sony, are in the cartoon biz, and delighted with the box office results.

In fact, cartoon features are the most profitable type of feature at the world box office. As the Nikkster reminds us:

Judged just by genre, average revenues for the decade’s 101 animated films ran 108.4% ahead of costs. DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 led the category with a 462% margin. The 71 sci-fi/fantasy films had a margin of 108.1%. ...

This might have a teensy bit to do with the Acadmey's willingness to hand out more glittering trophies. Because if there's one thing the AMPAS does really well, it's being careful not to bite the big fat hands that feet it.
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Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Hue of Money

Veteran animation players remain in the game.

... Moviehouse Entertainment is looking to draw up deal memos with foreign buyers for former studio exec Frank Gladstone's The Hero of Color City. ...

It is aimed at three to six year olds.

Moviehouse has a one minute teaser it is screening at the Cannes Market.

Gladstone (The Road to El Dorado) has worked within the animation divisions of Disney, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. The Hero of Color City is produced by Max Howard, former president of Warner Bros Feature Animation. ...

Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Howard worked together at Disney Feature Animation (Florida) back in the early nineties.

More recently, Max Howard produced the indie animated feature Igor, and Frank Gladstone was a development executive at Starz/Film Roman.

Mr. Gladstone is the current President of ASIFA, Los Angeles.
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Pretenders to the Throne

Show their wares at Cannes.

Cannes: Global Competitors Emerge in Animated Film Market

... When it comes to animation, the big American studios: Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky still dominate the market. Take a look around the Marche, however, and this seems to be changing. The Last Elf of the Orient, Space Dogs 2, Marzipan Spirit, Jitterbug - those are just a handful of the more than 200 projects from outside North America that are looking for buyers and for a piece of the global animated pie. ...

There is plenty of room below that top tier [of Pixar and DreamWorks] for animated movies made outside the states,” said Martin Moszkowicz, head of film and TV at Germany's Constantin Film, who are producing the upcoming 3D animated feature Tarzan, an action-packed take on the classic jungle tale. ...

No nation is probably more eager than China to create the next Pixar. China's Tianjin North Film Group has arrived at the market touting the second film in its Legend of a Rabbit franchise. The first film was a notable flop though. Rather than retreating, the company is doubling down. ...

News flash: There is always somebody doubling down.

When billions of dollars glitter enticingly on the horizon, animation companies big and small swarm into the marketplace. (They'd be foolish not to.)

I've been watching this particular cauldron bubble since ... oh ... 1990, and the plotline seldom changes: American animation companies make big bucks in the world market; foreign cartoon studios then create product that they hope will make big bucks too.

Mostly, they fall on their eager faces.

So far, the closest that foreign companies have come to grabbing the big brass ring is Animal Logic with its dancing penguins epic Happy Feet (although the sequel sagged at the box office) and the French animation studio MacGuff ... which is under the direction and ownership of (American) Illumination Entertainment, so perhaps MacGuff doesn't quite count.

There could well come a day when foreign cartoon features clean up at the global box office. Even now, there are animated features from foreign lands that have made $50,000,000 ... or even $100,000,000 in markets around the world. But no European, Indian or Chinese studio has come close the billion dollar wonders created by Pixar, DreamWorks Animation or Blue Sky Studios.

I wouldn't bet against it happening someday, but it hasn't happened yet.
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Your Foreign B.O.

Where new animation and old is performing well.

... Fox rolled out is animated “Epic,” one week ahead of its U.S. debut. It brought in a strong $14.5 million from 16 markets. Mexico led the way with $3.5 million.

The studio’s “The Croods” added another $10.6 million to raise its international total to $375.8 million and its worldwide haul to $552 million. ...

But what finished in the Win-Place-Show positions overseas? ...

The Great Gatsby opened in 50 foreign markets and took in $42.1 million, narrowly topping Disney’s Iron Man 3 ($40.2 million from 56 territories) and Star Trek: Into Darkness ($40 million from 41). ...

Don't know where Epic might finish up, but The Croods will be above $600 million when all the world currencies are collected and counted.
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The Toons of Spain

Spanish animation studios have been creating features for decades. And they're still at it.

... For crisis-beleaguered Spanish production, animation is proving to be a lifeline. ...

Tad, the Lost Explorer, Spain’s biggest local toon hit ever ($24.8 million) has gone on to corral $50 million-plus worldwide, and counting. Ilion Animation Studios’ $60 million Planet 51, a Sony U.S. pickup, paved the way by scoring $105.7 million worldwide in 2010.

Tad’s success underscored the significant impact of broadcasters’ marketing campaigns, especially for toons.

With aggressive promotion, Mediaset Espana helped Paramount propel Tad in Spain, beating Ice Age 4 ($19.7 million), Brave ($19.1 million) and Madagascar 3 ($13.4 million).

If Justin and Foosball catch box office fire this summer, ... says producer Jordi Gasull at El Toro, “they could consolidate a golden age for higher-end, mainstream toons from Spain.”

Higher end is in the eye of the executive writing the check.

Spain might go upscale, but Spain has the same issues holding on to its star talent that every foreign studio (live-action or cartoon) has had since around ... oh ... 1914. When a top animator, director or story artist wants to cash in, they don't go looking for a raise from the likes of Ilion Animation Studios. They get themselves a visa and catch a flight to the states, where the money is better.

The Iberian peninsula will likely produce entertaining cartoon features in the future, but the trick will be to get worldwide grosses competitive with the movies coming from our fine, entertainment conglomerates. That could be a tall order.
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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mid May Box Office

With Add On!

Friday stats SHOW viz effx extravaganzas at the top of the heap.

Friday Numbers

1. Star Trek Into Darkness — $22.0 million
2. Iron Man 3 – $9.51 million
3. The Great Gatsby – $7.65 million
4. Pain and Gain – $876,000
5. 42 — $750,000

Meantime, The Croods, residing at #8 through Thursday, declined a mere 14% going into the weekend, and has now collected north of $174 million at the domestic box office.

Add On: To nobody's surprise, Captain Kirk and associates came out on top:

"Star Trek: Into Darkness" easily topped the domestic box-office charts this weekend, grossing $70.6 million this weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. ...

"Iron Man 3" dropped to second place on its third weekend in U.S. theaters, collecting $35.2 million. World-wide, the latest superhero film from Walt Disney Co.'s DIS +0.17% Marvel Studios has taken in a spectacular $1.073 billion.

"The Great Gatsby" dropped 53% from its solid opening, grossing $23.4 million and bringing its total domestic box office take to $90.2 million. ...

Kindly note that The Croods dropped less than any picture in the Top Ten, and has climbed back to #5:

Weekend Box Office (Domestic Total)

1) Star Trek Into Darkness -- $70,555,000

2) Iron Man 3 -- $35,182,000 ($337,073,000)

3) The Great Gatsby -- $23,415,000 ($90,159,000)

4) Pain and Gain -- $3,100,000 ($46,574,000)

5) The Croods -- $2,750,000 -- ($176,750,000)

With the exception of Rise of the Guardians, DWA animated features have been remarkably consistent raking in domestic grosses that are north of (or close to) $150 million:

Domestic Box Office

Madagascar 3 -- $216,391,482

Puss In Boots -- $149,260,504

Kung Fu Panda 2 -- $165,249,063

Megamind -- $148,415,853

Shrek Forever After -- $238,736,787

How to Train Your Dragon -- $217,581,231

Monsters Vs. Aliens -- $198,351,526

By and large, it's been a quite sterling box office record.
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Friday, May 17, 2013

Son of Awesomeness

Jeffrey K. and his troops are not letting the grass grow under their corporate feet.

AwesomenessTV, the YouTube multichannel network acquired by Dreamworks Animation last month, has bowed AwesomenessX, a new channel aimed at male teens and tweens.

New channel will be stocked with seven new original series, while five existing AwesomenessTV shows will migrate over. ...

(Maybe the goal here is to be a mini-conglomerate, yes?) ...

I spent a chunk of my morning wandering through DWA's Lakeside building. Happy Smekday! is well into work, (Release date November 2014) and Me and My Shadow, although "back in story," is still having some production work done.

How to Train Your Dragon II is going full tilt, which it should be, since it's ten months out from its release date.

There's a lot of empty cubicles around and about; a staffer told me:

"I don't know if management is going to go to a Disney/Visual effects model where they hire more staff at crunch time and lay them off afterwards. In the past, DreamWorks Animation spent a lot of time and effort recruiting people they needed for upcoming projects, and it was sometimes hard to get them. And they retained them.

"But now there's a lot bigger talent pool, and it's easier to recruit. Will the studio decide they can just hire crew on an "as needed" basis and not keep them after the production deadline? I don't know the answer to that, but I hope not." ...

Another employee said:

Management's working to get budgets down from $150 million per picture to $120 million per picture. This means that production heads have to say No to directors' wish lists. Some things will be possible to do, others not." ...

Artists are still being laid off as their assignments end, so more empty cubes. But morale is a bit better than a couple of months ago, though it's still way below attitudes of, say, a year back. (Big surprise.)

One ray of sunshine: DVD and Blu-Ray sales are up.

Mr. Katzenberg cited the surprisingly strong home video performance of "Rise of the Guardians," which was a box-office disappointment in theaters last November. The movie has sold 3.2 million copies on DVD and Blu-ray, well ahead of DreamWorks' prior expectations. ...

Click here to read entire post


Since they're all the rage, there is this.

I have been thinking about [Incredibles 2]. People think that I have not been, but I have. Because I love those characters and love that world. I am stroking my chin and scratching my head. I have many, many elements that I think would work really well in another [Incredibles] film, and if I can get ‘em to click all together, I would probably wanna do that. I like the idea of moving a little more quickly in films. I’m looking for ways to accelerate the pace a little bit and figure out a way to keep creative control over these movies to a level where I’m comfortable with the end result but also speed them up a bit and make more of them. I have many different films I wanna make. It’s like a big airplane hangar and I have different projects on the floor; half-assembled in my brain. I’m interested in all of them. You kind of have to move on the ones people are willing to pay for and the ones you’re most excited about.

Of course, Brad Bird could move more quickly ...

Because animated features are produced in, what? Nine ... seven ... six months these days? The production schedules are almost like live-action, with lots of bodies thrown at this project or that to meet a release date. Story development, of course, is something else again. That part of the process can take freaking years, and often does.

But that makes it somewhat easier for Brad, I think. He could work on the story, go off and shoot a live-action feature, come back and work on the story some more, then make one more live-action movie, and then swing over to Pixar and helm the last frenetic six months of production work on the sequel. (And he could always have a co-director for the in-between times, couldn't he?)

There's ways of getting this done. Michael Curtiz and John Ford used to make three and sometimes four movies a year. No reason the directors of the 21st century can't do the same. Skype! Technology!
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The New DVD Tent Pole

Out with a new trailer.

As it happens, I was at DisneyToon Studios today doing a 401(k) enrollment meeting. It's a nice studio, with lots of amenities ...

The artists working there are working on the DTS franchises, one about planes and one about Tinker Bell and her many friends.

Tink has made Diz Co. plenty of money. I'm laying bets that Planes will make the Burbank conglomerate even more. Not only will it sell a lot of little silver disks, but it will do alright in its summer theatrical release. (If Planes' timing is good, it might do more than alright.)

And Planes is a dead-bang cinch to sell several metric tons of toys and various games. Robert Iger is about building brands and leveraging product with other product. Plenty of people object to the money-grubbing mercenary quality to some of Disney's pictures, but the profits are gushing and the stock price keeps going up ... up ... and up.

Synergy, interconnectivity and multiple media platforms is what it's about in IgerWorld. According to the wrap, that's a big part of the reason filmmaker J.J. Abrams will be coming to the Mouse House to oversee the next trilogy of Star Wars.

Abrams' ambitions to create a multi-platform film franchise will find a ... natural home at Disney, analysts and industry experts tell TheWrap. As successful as "Star Trek" has been, few franchises match the profitability and cultural prominence of George Lucas' space opera, which would be difficult for any director to pass up.

“Disney has always been oriented to multi-platform revenue stream situations,” Seth Willenson, a film library valuations expert, told TheWrap.

Multi-platform revenue streams. It's why Mr. Abrams wants to work at Disney. And it's why Planes is being made. The revenue stream from kid merchandise should be a veritable gusher.
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Ms. Jobs

Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs widow, is making use of the family money.

Steve Jobs’s Widow Debuts on Philanthropic Stage

Marlene Castro knew the tall blonde woman only as Laurene, her mentor. They met every few weeks in a rough Silicon Valley neighborhood the year that Ms. Castro was applying to college, and they e-mailed often, bonding over conversations about Ms. Castro’s difficult childhood. Without Laurene’s help, Ms. Castro said, she might not have become the first person in her family to graduate from college.

It was only later, when she was a freshman at University of California, Berkeley, that Ms. Castro read a news article and realized that Laurene was the wife of Apple’s co-founder, Steven P. Jobs. ...

Ms. Powell Jobs has tiptoed into the public sphere, pushing her agenda in education as well as global conservation, nutrition and immigration policy. ... [She] has a net worth estimated at $11.5 billion, according to Bloomberg, most of it in shares of the Walt Disney Company. ...

Ms. Powell Jobs has become a leader in pushing for decade-old legislation known as the Dream Act, a measure that would provide legal status for immigrants who arrived in the country as young children. Last December, she enlisted the Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim to make a documentary about immigration. The two had met through their work in education; Mr. Guggenheim’s most recent film, “Waiting for Superman,” examined the crisis in America’s public schools.

“Laurene asked me how much time I needed to make a movie, and I told her about a year and a half,” Mr. Guggenheim said. “But she said that she needed something done in three months because the legislation was coming up for a vote.”

So instead of a creating a big feature with a broad theatrical release, Ms. Powell Jobs commissioned a 30-minute film, “The Dream Is Now,” which is viewable online and being shown at college campuses across the country. Last month, Ms. Powell Jobs and Mr. Guggenheim traveled to Washington with several young immigrants and their families who were featured in the film; the purpose of the trip was to screen the documentary for a group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

I find it admirable that Laurene Powell Jobs is putting her riches to use helping people that need assistance. It would be so much easier to pass the time shopping or sleeping on a Maui beach; the fact that she's trying to improve lives says a lot about her values and character. Click here to read entire post

Changes in the TAG 401(k) Plan

We get questions:

[You say:] "[F]ees will go up a few basis points for people in Vanguard index funds -- which now pay zero fees."

Index funds are not managed, that's why they are cheap and historically they outperform managed funds.

People are catching on and moving more to these. Is the Union just trying to get more money to the admins?

Managed fund fees cannibalize a large amount of individual gains and usually for lower returns, sounds very fishy or the trustees are grossly uninformed... simple math.

Actually, the union is working to chop expenses. Here's why changes are happening. ...

The TAG 401(k) Plan has had expenses since its inception in 1995, all of them borne by Plan participants. (This is the same deal participants get in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan, in case you're wondering. Expenses of the billion-dollar MPI Pension Plan are paid by the people in it.)

PIMCO, T. Rowe Price, Neuberger Berman and other funds on the TAG 401(k) Plan platform charge fees, and a slice of those fees get remitted to the plan administrator (Mass Mutual) to pay for operating all the moving parts of our multi-employer plan. Vanguard Target Retirement Funds are the only funds that give no fees back to the plan administrator.

(Good deal for people in the Vanguard Funds, yes?)

Since last year, 401(k) plans nationwide have faced new regulations that require them to be more transparent. (What are the costs of the American Beacon Large Cap Value Fund? How much are participants paying for for T. Rowe Price Spectrum Growth? "Participants need to know," sayeth the government.)

There have also been lawsuits against 401(k) plans that don't use the lowest-cost share classes for the mutual funds inside the Plan. This being the case, the trustees have directed the plan administrator to reduce every mutual fund offered to the lowest possible expense ratio. (Most are already at the lowest ratio, but a few aren't.)

This will be a good thing for plan participants, but it could leave the Plan's operating budget under-funded because cash flow coming back to Mass Mutual from different funds will be lower. To make up any difference, plan participants will pay some of the costs on a pro rata basis out of their accounts, including individuals in the Vanguard funds.

Here are current costs of TAG 401(k) Plan's most popular funds:

Expense Ratios

PIMCO Total Return -- .67%
T. Rowe Price Spectrum Growth -- .8%
Vanguard Target Retirement Funds -- .17%-.19%
MM S & P 500 Index Fund -- .21%
Mid Cap Index -- .16%
Northern Small Cap Index -- .38%
International Equity Index -- .37%

(My opinion? Avoid the higher-priced, actively managed funds, dive into the index funds.)
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The (now) Junior Animation Partner from News Corp. launches a new trailer.

Rio Number One was brought in for $90 million, and grossed $484,635,760 in 2011. By contrast, DreamWorks Animation (News Corp.'s new animation recruit) has pulled down $534,309,798 in its current run, while costing $135 million to make.

I've thought for a while that DWA's recent downsizing has as much to do with Fox whispering in Jeffrey's ear: "Steamliiine ..." as it does with Rise of the Guardians falling to earth last holiday season.

I think DreamWorks Animation has a longer-term game plan to merge with Fox-News Corp. And when that happens, a large chunk of money (and stock) will change hands, Mr. Katzenberg will remain at the helm, and feature production will go merrily on.

At budgets closer to Blue Sky Studio's $90 million than DWA's $140-$160 million*.

* I'm speculating, but I won't be surprised if these things come to pass.

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Biting the Three-Fingered, Gloved Hand

With "late to the party" Add On. And even newer Add On.

Diz Co. gets blow-back for its latest character merchandising:

Following the moderate success Brave, Disney as ever was efficient in marketing the characters and film ... Merida was earlier this week revealed as the ’11th princess’ of the popular marketing line, the first Pixar character to reach the status, though [there was a] ‘redesign’ to fit her in alongside the likes of ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Ariel’. The new concept art shows her as ‘older and slimmer’ ...

Angered by the alterations, a petition against Disney and chairman Bob Iger has been started on ‘‘ with over 187,000 supporters at the time of writing ...

Brave‘s former director Brenda Chapman added to the ‘controversy’: “I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida. When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mould – to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.” ...

I don't think Bob Iger will be making any tearful apologies for the liberties taken with Pixar's lead character. (Just a guess.)

When the Walt Disney Company shelled out $7.2 billion for the Emeryville money-making machine, it reserved the right to bastardize the artists' creations any damn way it wanted. It's called "maximizing shareholder value," and if you're not down with that, it's your problem.

Mr. Iger is running a multi-national conglomerate, not a Renaissance art studio. You want the Renaissance, move to Florence.

Add On: Ah. I see that Cartoon Brew covered this blizzard in a thimble a few days ago. I should read more blogs.

Add On Too: The shitstorm that came down on Diz Co.'s head seems to have created some ... ah ... movement.

Quiet as a mouse, Disney has pulled the girly version of Merida from its site and has replaced it [with] the original movie version. ...

Click here to read entire post

Re Those Unfashionable $500 Writers

The company says it's not Joan's fault.

E! president Suzanne Kolb on Wednesday sent a letter to eight striking “Fashion Police” writers, defending the show's host Joan Rivers and insisting on a sanctioned election before it would come to the negotiating table.

The writers have been on strike since April 17, after expressing a desire to organize and join the Writers Guild of America West. The writers want the network to recognize the WGA as their bargaining representative, while the network is insisting that a National Labor Relations Board election be held first.

"Why strike over an election if you believe the vote will be in favor of representation?" Kolb asks in the letter.

The writers maintain that demanding an election before negotiating is a stalling tactic, since they've made their desire to be in the guild clear. ...

Here at TAG, we're flexible about the National Labor Relations Board.

Sometimes we file a petition for a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. (This is what E! wants and the WGAw -- apparently -- dislikes.)

Sometimes we do a card count. (That's a neutral third party counting representation cards to see if the union has enough to own a majority of the company's employees.)

And sometimes a company just comes to TAG and asks to sign a contract.

What appears to be happening in this case is that the company, knowing the WGAw doesn't want to get sucked into a NLRB hearing and vote, is trying to suck the WGAw into a NLRB hearing and vote. And the WGAw is resisting, having the writers strike and applying pressure that way.

The question is, who owns sufficient leverage to make their desires stick?

More on the $500 writers here.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Diz Ramps Up

Spent a big part of my morning in Walt Disney Animation Studios hat building. I was there for a 401(k) meeting, but walked around after it. And I came across a lot of lighting technical directors in what had formerly been a first-floor conference room. A supervisor explained to me:

"We've got most of the available rooms filled. Management's trying to be creative with space. We've hired 80 new lighters, we're on a tight schedule, and there isn't a lot of places left to put everybody." ...

Another staffer upstairs said:

"We're doing more pictures now, more stuff is in development. Big Hero 6 is going to overlap with Frozen. Management wants to do one picture a year now. They're not going to be laying a lot of people off, because they're going to need them."

Sounds like DreamWorks Animation from a couple of years ago. ...

Moseying around the building, it was obvious there are differences at the Hat. Conference rooms are filled with tech directors. Animators work in newly-erected cubicles on outside decks and what used to be open-space common areas. Many of the newbies are over from (surprise!) DWA.

What a difference eight months makes.

Some of the newer recruits are, unsurprisingly, a wee bit dour and fatalistic. I got into a discussion with several about the long-term health of the business.

"There might be a lot of people working right now, but it's all short term. Jeffrey is sending more and more of it to India. He's building a new studio in China." ... "Artists in India are making five hundred dollars a week. How can anybody here compete with that?"

I countered that some of the work will go away, but much of it won't. I said that every studio that produces animated features is going to shorter and shorter schedules. Disney gives itself less than a year to create Frozen. Over the hill in Culver City, Cloudy With Meatballs will have maybe five months to produce Cloudy With Meatballs Two, hiring a hundred animators, and God knows how many lighters and other tech directors (in two countries) to get the project out. "Hard to job all your layout and animation out," I said, "when your deadlines are tight and you have to hit a release date."

The business, I told the group, is much as it's always been: Studios are happy to outsource, but then unhappy with the crappy results. I pointed out (like always) that nobody except Illumination Entertainment has made a high-grossing animated feature outside the United States, and I.E. doesn't outsource with low-rent subcontractors, but owns the MacGuff studio in Paris. The City of Light is where all the work is done. (And Paris, as we all know, is the Mumbai of Europe.)

There is one thing you learn after hanging out in the cartoon biz for decades: Don't try to predict the future, because you'll be wrong.

In 1979, I heard animators complain in front of the old animation building how the company putting the classic cartoon features on VHS cassette tapes was going to destroy Disney's re-issue market ... and hurt future production.

In 1985, I heard Diz Co. employees moan how the new regime was going to dissolve the feature animation department.

In 1995, I heard artists say how if they could only become a hand-drawn animator, they would be set for life ... because every studio* was making long-form cartoons and it was more secure than working for the government.

In 2000, I heard Tom Schumacher assure staff that the down-sizing at Disney Feature Animation was over and there weren't going to be any more layoffs.

In 2007, animators reported how Ed and John said Feature Animation layoffs would be "small." (They totaled 140.

In 2013, Southern california's visual effects industry was pronounced "mortally wounded" ...

Whatever you think the animation business will be like in 2019, you are off by a country mile.

* Disney, Dreamworks Animation, Turner Feature Animation, Warner Bros. Feature Animation. Etc.
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Crooks? In Toon Town?!

Well, at least the scammers had rights to the property.

The FBI in Los Angeles is conducting an investigation involving investments made with Gigapix Studios Inc and OZ3D LLC between 2002 and the present for a scam to remake The Wizard Of Oz as a computer-animated feature film. The feds are “seeking victims” of financial fraud in the private offerings and is trying to find the “large number of investors” who were fleeced.

The FBI in Los Angeles is conducting an investigation involving investments made with Gigapix Studios Inc and OZ3D LLC between 2002 and the present for a scam to remake The Wizard Of Oz as a computer-animated feature film. The feds are “seeking victims” of financial fraud in the private offerings and is trying to find the “large number of investors” who were fleeced. ...

The Wizard of Oz is in the public domain. ...

I wonder if Jeff Varab could be involved? (Naaaah. How would that even be possible?) Click here to read entire post


Time flies. It seemed like only, oh, a couple of months ago ...

The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, announced today its ‘Key Dates’ for the upcoming awards season. The 41st Annual Annie Awards ceremony is set for Saturday, February 1, 2014. Location to be announced shortly. Call for Entries will begin on Monday, September 2, 2013, with complete Rules and Category information to be posted on the official Annies website – -- this summer.
“We are going to try a few new things this year, as far as the ceremony goes,” says Frank Gladstone, president of ASIFA-Hollywood. “Our goal is to make sure that the audience, either in the theatre or watching the streaming broadcast, has a more elegant, streamlined and fun experience.”

Entries submitted for consideration will be from productions that were released in the United States between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013. The deadline to join ASIFA-Hollywood or to renew membership in order to participate in the Annie Award voting is Monday, November 4, 2013. ...

You can NEVER have enough awards. Click here to read entire post

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Fox Cartoon Schedule

Rupert and his minions roll out most of their old animation stalwarts on Sunday evenings: The Simpsons, Bob's Burger, Family Guy, and American Dad..

You will note that the Cleveland Show has been quietly dropped over the side. I's not on the schedule, no board artists or writers or animators are working on it ... but Cleveland hasn't been canceled, either. However, we seriously doubt it will be coming back. The parade's moved on.

Ah, but there is one new cartoon recruit:

MURDER POLICE is a new animated comedy series that expands the boundaries of the cop show genre as only animation can. From David A. Goodman (FAMILY GUY) and rising writer/animator/performer Jason Ruiz, the series follows a dedicated, but inept detective and his colleagues – some perverted, some corrupt, some just plain lazy – in a twisted city precinct. ...

For those of you tracking News Corp.'s various cartoons in prime time, The Simpsons* has its visual pre-production done at Film Roman/Starz (Burbank), Bob's Burgers is done at Bento Box (also Burbank), while American Dad and Family Guy are created at Fox Animation on Wilshire Boulevard (over the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles.)

Bento Box is also doing the mid-season entry Murder Police at its newest studio location in North Hollywood. Wes Archer is one of the directors, with a lot of the crew from The Cleveland Show coming on board. (Guess they got tired of waiting for that pick-up.)

Board artists working on tell me that MP is a funny show, but we'll have to wait and see, since it's a mid-season replacement.

* "The Simpsons" is the last prime-time animated series that has a crew dedicated to drawing background layouts. Every other show is (as the saying goes) "board driven" - meaning that the layouts are part of the storyboards. Even though "The Simpsons" layout staff has been diminished, it still hangs on.

Click here to read entire post

Sold Off

Kind of inevitable; still sad.

Rhythm and Hues' 200,000-sq.-ft. office campus at 2100 E. Grand Ave. in El Segundo, Calif. has sold to a joint venture made up of Rockwood Capital and Marshall Property & Development for $25 million. The property was sold in an off-market transaction by 2100 Grand LLC, a related entity of the visual effects company Rhythm & Hues Studios.

... The company, which worked on the visual effects for the movie ‘Life of Pi,’ used the facility as its headquarters. At auction, Rhythm & Hues was purchased by an affiliate of Prana Studios.

“The deal was complex, time-sensitive and particularly challenging due to the bankruptcy,” said Lucent Capital Managing Director Steven Yazdani, in a statement. “Properties of this size and quality rarely trade without a national marketing campaign by a major brokerage firm. We were able to generate several, aggressive offers which met the seller’s expectations from all cash buyers.”

The buyer plans to invest up to $20 million in the redevelopment of the office campus, turning it into premier creative office space. Improvements will include interactive outdoor common areas, new tenant spaces an additional parking. ...

R & H was held up as a model company by lots of visual effects workers. As I've recounted, when DreamQuest Images was being merged with Disney Feature Animation in 2000, DQ employees stood up in meetings and pointed to Rhythm and Hues as the kind of company after which the Mouse should pattern its new visual effects division.

It didn't happen, and now R & H has faded into history and its place of business sold off. Nothing is forever.
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Africa's Largest Cartoon Studio

... Which probably doesn't mean a great deal; still in all:

... In 1996 Triggerfish was a traditional stop frame animation studio. It did commercials for ad agencies and landed a contract to produce the South African version of kiddies show Sesame Street, Takalani Sesame, and did such a good job of it that it soon landed the US domestic version as well. It was in 2002 that Stuart Forrest joined the business as a junior animator. By 2005, he would be Managing Director and have taken over the business with a handful of business partners. ...

In 2007 he teamed up with US partners to at first direct, and then produce, the animated film Zambezia. After spending several years raising the money, it went into production in 2009, and was finally released in August last year. The film is still rolling out in certain markets ... Their next release, Khumba, will have a limited release in the US, which might grow depending on initial box office receipts.

Forrest hopes his studio will look a lot more like the Disney’s and Pixars of the world, and create classics with long life cycles. He is currently negotiating with international investors to make this dream a reality, and quickly.
In the meantime the studio has started development on its third feature film, a sea monster story done differently than those that have come before it, says Forrester, who describes it as something along the lines of “How to train your dragon meets E.T.” It’s still a couple of years before it will enter production, he notes, the studio is about half way through the script at the moment. ...

There seems to be a lot of niche players in CartoonWorld, most wanting to be the next Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks, and most failing.

But if the price-points for their features are right, and the puppies click in the markets in which they're released, smaller studios can make some coin. The U.S. and Canada, of course, are markets hard to crack due to steep marketing costs, but talent, innovation and the resulting commercial properties can be found anywhere.

Inspiration, contrary to rumor, isn't all hoarded in Emeryville, Glendale, and Burbank.
Click here to read entire post

Overseas Derby

The tent poles arrive, and work their magic ways.

Foreign Box Office -- (Total Worldwide Cume)

1) Iron Man 3 -- $90,000,000 -- ($948,993,000)

2) The Great Gatsby -- 00 -- ($51,115,000 U.S.-Canada)

3) Star Trek Into Darkness -- $31,700,000 -- ($31,700,000)

4) The Croods, -- $20,900,000 -- ($536,415,477)

5) Oblivion -- $15,564,150 -- ($242,555,765) ...

Iron Man 3 will blast through the billion-dollar marker in a day or three. (Marvel-Disney is on a roll, so it's hardly a surprise that Walt Disney Animation Studios is partnering with Marvel for Big Hero Six.)

The Croods will likely level off at around $600 million. (It's now #7 domestically, after hanging in the Top Five since its initial release.)

Star Trek Into Darkness, already out in various foreign markets, unspools domestically later this week and will have a shot at the top spot.
Click here to read entire post

Investing To Win

The Big Picture reminds us:

The Math of Active Management is Daunting:

1. Only 20% of active managers (1 in 5) can outperform their benchmarks in any given year;

2. Within that quintile, less than half (1 in 10) outperform in 2 out of the next 3 years;

3. Only 3% stayed in the top 20% over 5 years (1 in 33);

4. Once we include costs and fees, less than 1% (1 in 100) manage tooutperform (net).

5. What are the odds you can pick that 1 in 100 manager?

Source: Morningstar, Vanguard

The odds? Probably not good.

The TAG 401k) Plan has a wide array of index funds (also a number of actively managed funds, in case you want to hook your wagon to some out-performer's star. But remember ... today's hot financial adviser is tomorrow's loser.)

I remind people about index investing because I've gotten shafted investing with a smarter-than-thou financial adviser picking individual stocks. It's not that the adviser was super wrong, it's that the adviser charged Big Money to be only mildly right.

Months ago, TAG 401(k) Plan trustees were faced with having to replace an actively-managed Mid Cap fund that had been sucking bad over the previous year. Not only did it suck against other actively managed funds, but it didn't keep up with the index fund that it tracked. We tried to replace it with another actively managed fund, but they all were worse than the index.

So we deep-sixed the active fund and went with the index. Forbes magazine points out that indexes dominate over time.

An actively-managed five-fund portfolio held for 20 years has only a two percent chance of outperforming a comparable index fund portfolio.

Said another way, if you hold five index funds in different fund categories for 20 years, your portfolio has a 98 percent chance of outperforming a portfolio holding five comparable, actively-managed funds. ...

Even actively managed bond funds, often thought to wallop indexes, aren't so spiffy:

"On average, about 70 percent of all actively-managed bond funds underperformed their benchmarks over the five-year period ending in 2012. ..."

Factoids to think about when you're putting money into retirement investments.

401(k) Enrollment Meeting Dates (May-June)


Disney Feature - Southside Bldg.
Tue. May 14th, 10 am Rm. 1300

Thur. May 16th, 2 pm,
Conf. Rm. 101

Disney TVA - Sonora Bldg.
Wed. May 22nd, 10 am, Rm. 1172

Disney TVA - Empire Cntr..
Wed. May 22nd, 2 pm, Rm. 5223

Cartoon Network
Wed. May 15th, 1 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Dreamworks Animation
Thur. May 30th, 2 pm,
Dining Rm. B&C

Dreamworks - Dragons
Thur. May 23rd, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Fox TV Animation
Wed. June 5th, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Marvel Animation
Thur. June 13th, 10 am,
Marvel Anim. Conf. Rm.

Wed. May 29th, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Robin Red Breast
Tue. May 21st, 2 pm,
Large Conf. Rm.
Santa Monica Bldg.

Starz/Film Roman
Tue. May 28th, 2 pm,
“Glass” Conf. Rm.

Sony Pictures Animation
Tue. June 4th, 2 pm,
North - Rm 2050

A panel discussion onf "Investing for Retirement" will be happening at the Animation Guild General Membership meeting on Tuesday, May 28. (Meeting at 7:00 p.m.; panel immediately thereafter.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Adult Swim Pickups

The late night division at Cartoon Network greenlights new animation.

Adult Swim has scheduled eight new original series and specials for the season to come, alongside bringing back 16 shows.

New for the network are Rick and Morty, from Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. The animated half-hour comedy is about a genius inventor grandfather and his less-than-genius grandson. Mr Pickles, also animated, is about a loveable border collie who has a secret satanic streak. The comedy Mike Tyson Mysteries features an animated Mike Tyson solving mysteries with his sidekick talking pigeon. The series incorporates live-action appearances by Tyson himself. The show comes from Warner Bros. Animation.

King Star King features a punk rock, modern-day he-man who falls from the realm of the gods to land as a fry cook in a slummy waffle house. ... The network also recently acquired the rights to air Bob's Burgers

Adult Swim isn't, sadly, wall-to-wall animation, but it orders up its share. The more cartoons that get made, the better we like it. Click here to read entire post

Springtime Box Office

De Caprio's new picture has traction.

While Disney/Marvel’s Iron Man 3 is heading for its second weekend atop the box office charts in North America, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s The Great Gatsby had a jazzy opening day, pulling in an estimated $19.4 million, including the $3.25 million it collected at Thursday night screenings. ...

And The Croods pass $170 million.


1) IRON MAN 3 -- $19,757,000 ($232,178,000)

2) THE GREAT GATSBY -- $19,400,000

3) PAIN AND GAIN -- $1,324,000 ($37,932,000)


5) 42 -- $1,110,000 ($81,192,000)

6) OBLIVION -- $1,000,000 ($78,792,000)

7) THE CROODS -- $700,000 ($170,315,000)

8) MUD -- $637,000 ($6,657,000)

9) THE BIG WEDDING -- $568,000 ($16,356,000)

Add On: Rolling Stone analyzes the weekend:

WINNER OF THE WEEK: The Great Gatsby. Nothing succeeds like excess. That's the lesson behind the estimated $51.1 million debut of Baz Luhrmann's lavish, garish 3D version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic the-party's-over novel. ...

LOSER OF THE WEEK: Peeples. Not everything Tyler Perry touches turns to gold. His movies typically open near $20 million, but he didn't write or direct this meet-the-parents comedy, just produce it and put his "Tyler Perry Presents" banner on top. Despite Perry's name and the presence in the lead roles of TV stars Craig Robinson (The Office) and Kerry Washington (Scandal), Peeples opened in fourth place with an estimated $4.9 million. ...

Click here to read entire post

Creating an Animated Documentary?

David Rich is an actor, comedian and filmmaker.

TAG Interview with David Rich

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

In 2010, Mr Rich began filming a non-fiction movie entitled Actor?, which explores the acting craft through the eyes of Ed Asner, Dee Wallace and numerous others.

From the start, David Rich intended large sections of the non-fiction movie to have a complementary animated story weaving around the live-action ...

Actor? is filled with entertaining interviews, but the animated sections make it considerably different from your garden-variety documentary.

I asked Mr. Rich how the animated sequences were put together, and he informed me that a Michigan studio (where entertainment tax subsidies occur in abundance) performed the work. There were twenty animators, designers and technicians on the film from start to finish, and production took approximately a year.

There's not a lot of long-form indie animated product out there, but Actor is one of them.
Click here to read entire post

Information Miss

In a lengthy Disney piece, the L.A. Times tells us:

Traditionally, [Disney] hadn't employed formal writers but let the story instead be shaped by animators — but contemporary movies have more complex storylines, with multiple plotlines and characters. "When you're writing in live action, you have more ownership," Lee said at the studio as she and Buck were in the final weeks of making story changes to "Frozen" last month. "In animation, you have to let the best idea win. You're constantly killing your darlings." ...

Not exactly.

Joe Grant co-wrote Dumbo. Bill Peet wrote and drew any number of Disney features, children's books, and perhaps most famously 101 Dalmations (with a strong assist from the book by Dodie Smith.)

Former Bing Crosby writer (and Disney assistant animator) Larry Clemmons penned a string of Disney features in the sixties and seventies. Ron Clements and John Musker co-wrote "Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and others.

So, uh, no.

Writers have been invested in Disney features for decades. I have no idea how anyone qualifies to be a "formal writer." What, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (who also wrote minor items like Pirates of the Caribbean, Pirates of the Caribbean II, etc.) don't qualify as "formal writers?" What do you have to do to get a membership card?

Who are we trying to kid, here?
Click here to read entire post
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