Thursday, January 31, 2013

Still More Cartoon Players

Another team enters the broad, sunlit playing field of theatrical animation.

Oscar-winning Shrek, Shrek 2, and Shrek The Third producer Aron Warner will head a growing slate of original animated features as newly anointed President of Animation at Reel FX. Warner first segued into animation in 1998 as a producer on Antz after overseeing films like Independence Day, True Lies, and Titanic as VP Production at Fox. He’ll hit the ground running as the design, VFX, animation, and live-action studio aims to ramp up its original animation slate ...

So here is an exec with lots of animation experience at the helm of another studio working to break into the top tier of cartoon studios.

The studio, Reel FX, has a shot at the brass ring because they've been in the game for a number of years. Long a studio that did other company's product (Open Season 2, Open Season 3, I Tawst I saw a ooty Tat, etc.), Reel FX is now taking the step of creating more original product. Whether they can pull his feat off or not remains to be seen, but based on their recent executive hife, they intend to make a full-throated and earnest effort to become the next Pixar/DreamWorks/Illumination Entertainment.

Soon enough, we will see how RFX's intentions pan out.
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Hulett Bloviates -- Part I

A few days ago I was interviewed by an academic from UC Santa Barbera. He wanted to know about unions in Hollywood and the union movement in general, and I told him.

You can hear me expound at windy length below.

Steve Hulett Interviewed

(The reason I put this up is I am always scrounging for blog posts and this was an easy scrounge. The academic -- a very nice gentleman named named Ryan Fuller who is completing a PhD in communications -- sent me the recording.) Click here to read entire post

The President's Collection opens tomorrow

Just a reminder that the opening reception for the showing of works from Bob Foster's private collection opens Friday, February 1 at Gallery 839.

The President's Collection
Opening reception
Friday, February 1 * 7-10pm

Gallery 839
1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank
Food and refreshments will be served Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

News Flash: Animation Has Gravitas

The New York Times informs us:

... While no one was looking, this year’s Oscars have become a hotbed for animation lovers. For starters an animator, Seth MacFarlane, a creator of “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show,” is hosting the ceremony on Feb. 24. There are 5 nominees for best animated film — usually there are three — reflecting a record 21 such features up for consideration this season. (There were also more contenders in the shorts categories.) Collectively the full-length Oscar hopefuls have made more than $542 million at the box office. ...

Animation has become a major profit center for Hollywood. This phenomenon has been growing and accelerating over the last dozen years. Two of our fine, entertainment conglomerates (Disney and News Corp.) have large animation footprints in movies and tv, and the others are steadily getting there.

This was unheard of twenty-five years ago. Back then, animation was a sleepy subset of moviedom that didn't make all that much money. The reality is way different today, and the New York Times is simply reflecting the obvious.

Actually a lot of people -- particularly movie execs -- were looking. That's why there's so much action around animation in the marketplace ... and the Oscars.
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Managers, Agents and the Entertainment Biz

Last night after the Guild membership meeting, there occurred a lively panel discussion about managers and their clients in both live-action and animation. Below you will find summaries of the points made by the panelists, both of them high profile managers in the industry ...

TAG Panel: Managers (and agents) In Today's Entertainment Biz

What’s a typical manager’s day like? We have the phone with us most or all of the time, and we’re on the phone a lot. We’ll be on set for a client as they’re directing a film, we’ll have a meeting with a studio or client. We will arbitrate problems and be the peace maker for clients who are unhappy with a given work situation.

When you get to know your clients, you find out what their aspirations are and help them achieve those aspirations. What’s their dream job at which dream studio? (We work to get it for them.)

One of the best parts of the job is when the tables are turned and you’re in a competitive bid situation for a hot script (or project) -– where several studios are bidding for a script and your client can pick and choose and even say “F.U” to a studio if they want to.

What's the difference between an agent and a manager? Agents are there to maximize profits for a client whose career is already happening ...

Managers develop and nurture the careers of clients who are building careers.

For one manager (who also produces) 97% of his life is representation, and 3% is producing (movies, tv, etc.) For another manager, it’s 70% to 80% producing, 20% to 30% representing clients. Managers get 10% off the top. "We as managers don’t double dip. If we produce a client’s work, we don’t take a manager’s fee."

Writers usually have agents, but artists often don’t.

Managers have minimal interest in representating storyboard artists who’s ambition is to stay a storyboard artist on studio scripts. (There's honor in that, but not much need for managers.

Managers ARE interested in representing storyboard artists who have original ideas, write graphic novels and are developing projects. Those are the kinds of artists that managers (and agents) want to represent.

As managers for different agencies, we represent writers, directors, authors and artists, it runs the gamut. Managers work to get a sense of where a client wants to be and work to help the client get there.

There are a lot of great artists around the world, but not a lot of great story tellers.

In the world of movie and television development and finance: everything is moving toward international co-productions. Work on projects will be done in various parts of the world, some of it in Southern California but lots elsewhere.

Never pitch your show as a “merchandising hit” first. Pitch it as a potential hit show, and the merchandising will follow. Be aware that you are pitching to a studio executive and his potential bonus. Pitch the tale you’re telling, not plush toys, games, and print bed sheets and pillow cases.

Don’t be afraid of pitching to an international market, to a foreign company. If you start in the U.S., you’ll get a U.S.-type deal: non-participation in profits or gross, with a small meaningless number as part of the deal.

When it comes to pitching things on the internet, You Tube and other distributors are a big deal. A video that gets a million hits is probably going to build momentum and credibility when it comes to pitching the project and marketing to studios.

How many clients does a manager have? One of us has thirty people for whom he’s the “point person.” The other has 10-12 clients to whom he pays a LOT of attention, then there’s another twenty repped by the office.

A manager’s time is spent cultivating business and generating money to keep the business going.

What can a client do to maximize the relationship? A client should “think forward,” and be entrepreneurial. Eventually those things will create career momentum.

How can someone be a good client for a manager? Improve their craft. Get better at what they do. If someone wants to be a professional who is growing, they can't be static. They need drive, ambition and perspective. ...
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Second Time, Still No Charm

Mit Add On!

In the nineties, Diz Co. closed its video game studio, located in Glendale. History now (kind of) repeats itself.

Walt Disney Co. has shut down the Texas game studio behind "Epic Mickey," the Burbank media giant's unsuccessful attempt to reinvent Mickey Mouse for the interactive age.

Disney confirmed Tuesday that it has shuttered Austin-based Junction Point. A spokeswoman declined to confirm how many staffers have lost their jobs, but on a recruiting trip to a college in 2011, the studio reportedly claimed to have about 140 employees. ...

2010's "Epic Mickey" performed relatively well, but 2012's sequel has been a flop, according to two people close to the game. ...

It's a tricky market niche in which to succeed, and thus far the Mouse doesn't appear to be a winner. As I've said before, TAG aided California employees who were slipped the axe during Disney's last shutdown of a game studio.

Add On: So. It wasn't just the Austin Studio that got it in the neck.

Walt Disney Co.'s video game division laid off about 50 staffers Tuesday from several locations on the same day that it closed the Austin, Texas, studio that produced its "Epic Mickey" titles.

The layoffs were separate from the people who lost their jobs at Austin-based Junction Point, according to a knowledgeable person not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Disney's Interactive Media unit, which also includes online content, has shed jobs recently as it attempts to meet Chief Executive Robert Iger's publicly stated goal of achieving profitability in its current fiscal year. ...

And so it goes.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

How You Gonna Keep 'Em ...

... on the animation plantation, after they've been in the wide open spaces of live action?

Brad Bird and George Clooney's top secret collaboration is getting a new title, Walt Disney Studios said Monday.

Previously known as "1952," the live action film has now been dubbed "Tomorrowland." It will hit theaters on Dec. 19, 2014.

The aura of mystery that surrounds the project is to be expected given that the script is being written with Damon Lindelof, who was behind "Prometheus" and "Lost," two projects that toyed frequently and effectively with audiences' expectations. There's also an added level of intensity, because Bird has been very much in demand after reviving the Mission:Impossible franchise with 2011's "Ghost Protocol." ...

I'm happy for Brad. He's come a looong way from the unhappy time when Ed Hansen let him go for pointing out that the Disney Animation Department was "f*cked."

(Ah, but we were all a wee bit wet behind the ears then. But Brad happened to be right.)
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How old are we?

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Joel Fletcher said:

I would like to see a graph or pie chart of the working members, at guild shops... broken down into 10 year age groups.

Ask and you shall receive ...
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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Small Studios in New Markets

Duncan Studio of Pasadena California, earlier a supplier to larger animation companies, goes in a new direction.

... With the release of My Beastly ABCs in December, Duncan Studio was able to reach a new audience by providing families worldwide with an interactive storybook app that contains captivating animation and striking artwork. The app has received glowing reviews from around the world and USA Today named it one of 2012’s top ten apps for children.

Like other animation studios not part of one of our fine entertainment conglomerates, Duncan is going the New Media route in its quest for cash flow. (Moonbot Studios is another startup doing similar things. Still another is SD Entertainment.)

The reality of today's animation business/marketplace? If you're not a large, vertically integrated entertainment company, you're going to find it tough to get enough work from larger entities to stay in business over long stretches of time. The days when an indie like Hanna-Barbera could own and create shows, then license them to broadcast networks, are long over.

Today's animation independents have to execute multi-pronged approaches to creating and selling animated product. They have to not only sub-contract from the Big Fish, but create internet product, create new media apps, and partner in foreign co-productions. The studios with the most innovative creative teams -- and that make a practice of thinking outside the box -- have the best shots at long-term success.

But it's Indie eat Indie. And the 21st-century marketplace is neither warm, nor fuzzy, nor forgiving.
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Prime Time Animation's Performance

A succinct summation of Fox's Sunday lineup.

Last Sunday Sitcoms (counts for Week 17 -- Jan. 14-20)

* The Simpsons (Fox) - A repeat at 8 did 3.97 million and a 1.8 18-49 rating opposite the AFC Championship Game, which was the best of the Fox block.

* The Cleveland Show (Fox) - A repeat at 7:30pm did 2.85 million and a 1.3 18-49 rating, matching previous week's all-new episode. I guess no one knows when it is a new or repeat.

* Bob's Burgers (Fox) 2 airings - At 8:30, a repeat did 3.18 million and 1.5 18-49 rating. A repeat earlier in the night at 7 did a similar 3.18 million and a 1.5 18-49 rating, which is way above average.

* Family Guy (Fox) - A repeat at 9 did 3.51 million and a 1.6 18-49 rating, but not the best of the block.

* American Dad! (Fox) - A 9:30 pm airing was an encore and did 3.42 million and a 1.6 18-49 rating, holding on to 100% of its lead-in in 18-49.

The Simpsons and Family Guy are the highest flyers for Rupert's minions on Sunday night. Cleveland is pretty much over, although American Dad has been picked up for another season (they had extra episodes in storage.)

If I were to wager guesses, I would say that The Simpsons will go on past next season because after twenty-plus years it's doing too damn well to cancel. And Family Guy still pulls ratings and bucks, so if Seth can be persuaded to keep doing it (even if he has to delegate more control and/or authority) then it should get another few seasons of Original Episodes.

Of course, we never know what Fox's internal corporate dynamics are, so we can never be completely sure which series lives another season ... and which series perishes.

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The Foreign Steeple Chase

Where Ralphie glides along.

... The slow rollout of Disney’s animation title, Wreck-It Ralph, pushed the foreign tally past the films’s domestic gross for the first time. Weekend action offshore was $5.9 million grossed in 61 territories, lifting the foreign cume to $185.8 million. (Domestic cume stands at $182.5 million.) ...

Overseas cume for Rise of the Guardians is $194.5 million ... [Animation hybrid] Life of Pi with its 11 Oscar nominations flew past the $400-million overseas gross mark ($422.4 million) thanks to a $17.6 million weekend at 6,566 spots in 60 markets.

In the U.S. and Canada, Rise of the Guardians has edged over the $100 million marker, earning it a worldwide total of $294.7 million. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Since We're Talking About Awards ...

Ralph copped a shiny trophy.

The 24th annual Producers Guild of America announced its film, television, and digital awards winners tonight during a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton. ... Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph won best animated film ...

[Ralph producer] Clark Spencer explained why the film was greenlighted: ”I joined Disney 23 years ago during difficult times and always wondered when I should leave. But I always believed in the studio. There is a renaissance going on at the studio – and that is John Lasseter.” ...

Maybe this is an omen that Wreck-It Ralph ultimately wins the Little Gold Man. Click here to read entire post

Eighty-Five Year Influence

Some guy who made theatrical shorts in the 1920s is still a major influence in Movieland?

Oscar is smiling on the Mouse House this season, bestowing no fewer than four nominations on Disney-branded animated films. ...

Tim Burton and Wreck-It Ralph's director Rich Moore's other fellow nominees Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman of "Brave" are CalArts grads. That school's founder, Walt Disney, really started something ...

Walt Disney founded Cal Arts in the early sixties, so (in a manner of speaking) John Lasseter, Burton, Joe Ranft, Brad Bird, John Musker, Brian McEntee, Henry Selick, Genndy Tartakovsky and hosts of others are his kids.

Disney has been dead for half a century, yet the most profitable sector of the movie industry leads directly back to him: Storyboards, story reels, sound, color, and animated features. One Cal Arts grad told me the reason students at the institute have been forces in the entertainment business is because of Cal Arts instructors:

I think the quality of the teachers who taught us back in the early days made a big difference. They'd worked in the industry, at Disney. They knew color, design, animation and story. Guys like T. Hee and Ken O'Connor. They gave students good training and a great foundation to go out and push boundaries. ...

Jack Warner didn't found a school. Darryl Zanuck and Harry Cohn didn't create colleges. It was the junior mogul Disney, the man who made cartoon shorts in the '20s.

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Your Domestic B.O.

No animated movies at the top of the charts, just the live-action kind.

fter a healthy start Thursday night, Paramount and MGM's R-rated Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters slowed Friday night, grossing $6.1 million for the day to place No. 1 and earning a B CinemaScore. ...

Any second now, Rise of the Guardians -- well out of the Top Ten -- will break into triple digits.

Rise of the Guardians -- $99,841,529

As for the other feature-length cartoons now in domestic release:

Monsters, Inc. 3D -- $32,247,000
Wreck-It Ralph -- $181,752,761

I think Monsters, Inc. underwhelming performance in the Moving View Master format is one of the reasons the Mouse has lost its enthusiasm for 3D reissues.

Lion King eDs big box office appears to have been an outlier.
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Friday, January 25, 2013


... Around and about various cartoon studios.

Yesterday I went into Disney TVA Sonora and noted (I'm slow on the uptake) the newer furniture and polished cement floor space and newer built-ins ...

A lot of this stuff has been there awhile, but it crystalized how many studios around town are expanding and upgrading.

The first to do it was DreamWorks Animation, which doubled the size of its already large Lakeside Building.

Then Disney bought the building next to Disney TVA on Sonora Avenue in Glendale and turned it into baby Pixar South. (Big wide lobby; trendy eatery; deep color walls and indirect lighting.) I'm told that the designer of the Emeryville facility had a major hand at DisneyToons Studio in Glendale.

Warner Bros. Animation expanded into various structures on the Warner Ranch (originally the Columbia Ranch.) (Note that a lot of WBA's space is now partially empty, as its staff levels have fallen.)

Then there's Walt Disney Animation's Studios, soon to get a major remodel, according to sources, also from Pixar's designer. New lobby. New offices. New carpets. Can't wait to see how that turns out.

And lastly, there is Nickelodeon newer CG production facilities -- at Third and Magnolia in beautiful Burbank. Nick has taken over three floors of a fortress-like office building and extensively renovated them. New paint, new carpet, new lighting. And now that Nick is the sole tenants on the three floors elevator cards are needed to get onto each of the floors. (When they weren't the only renters on the floors, anybody could get into the hallways.)

East San Frnando Valley animation studios: Getting overhauls right and left. (Are America's fine, entertainment conglomerates planning long-term animation projects in their southern California digs.)
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... and how many of them are working

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The latest look at employment levels over the last thirteen years shows that employment has dipped very slightly but is still robust.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where the members are working

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Here's a breakdown of where the 2,674 employed TAG members are currently working. The numbers at each studio are in square brackets. Click here to read entire post

California Labor

... which is moving against the current.

California unions grow, bucking U.S. trend

The latest snapshot of the U.S. working class shows that unions are in trouble, their ranks thinning amid a backlash against organized labor and a still sputtering economy.

But California and a few nearby states in the Southwest are showing a vastly different picture — labor's ranks are on an upswing. The Golden State's union organizers signed up more than 100,000 new members last year, while the nation as a whole shed 400,000, according to data released Wednesday.

The reason: Latino workers. ...

"There's an appetite among these low-wage workers to try and get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle," said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation.

Just 12.5% of the workforce was represented by unions nationwide in 2012, down from 13% the year before. But 18.4% of California's workforce was represented by a union last year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. ...

Demographics equals destiny in today's United States.

You don't need to look any further than the last election to figure that out. If the Latino population was the size it was ... oh ... thirty-plus years ago, we'd all be saluting President Romney's first 100 days in office.

But the population numbers are what they are. And if you don't carry the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country, you are going to have problems. The GOP has been pretty much non-competitive in California for the last twenty years because the strategy of the Republican Party has been to demonize Latinos. ("We urge you to self deport.")

Not a real swift idea if you're looking to win elections.

I've been to a few Los Angeles Federation of Labor meetings. Lots of faces around the table are Latin. They know where their leverage is, and they use it. They don't have a lot of money, but they have numbers.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Disney's Robert Iger on Apple's Steve Jobs

From the Wrap.

Iger talked about his experiences with the Apple co-founder. ...

When Iger learned that he was to be named CEO, one of the first things he did was call Jobs.

"I don't even remember it being totally premeditated," Iger said. "I just decided to call my parents and my grown daughters in New York and a couple of good friends and Steve."

He asked Jobs if they could get together to see if the companies' relationship could be "salvaged," Iger said.

"To his credit, he said, 'Okay. I think you're just more of the same…'" but he still agreed to talk, Iger said.

He also credited Jobs with being "relentlessly" honest and candid, even calling him on Saturdays to say if a Disney movie he saw the night before had "sucked." ...

It seemed to me that Michael Eisner started to lose his effectiveness when Frank Wells was killed in the helicopter crash in the mountains. Eisner's over-sized ego suddenly lost the ballast that Wells had provided, and bad decisions began to be made.

Multiple bad decisions. Why Eisner went to war with Steve Jobs and almost lost Pixar is a mystery. What Eisner was thinking when he banished Roy Disney from the board room and the hat building would be nice to know, because the move seemed incredibly shortsighted to me.

In contrast to Michael, Robert Iger seems a level-headed, even-tempered guy. Sure he's got an ego. (They all do.) But he doesn't allow his ego to pull him into the kind self-destructive behavior in which Michael E. indulged. At the end of Mr Eisner's tenure, Steve Jobs was in the middle of taking Pixar to another big entertainment company. And Roy Disney and Stan Gold were working overtime to get Eisner out of the company.

Iger, whatever his other strengths and weaknesses, doesn't seem to have the need to be an all-powerful monarch, and so he's been able write his final chapter with Diz Co. He's exiting on his own terms, and won't be pushed out in a power fight the way his predecessor was.
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The President's Collection

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'Toon Nominees

... in the animated feature category. (In case you missed it.)


A Cat in Paris
Dr. Seuss-The Lorax
Pirates: Band of Misfits
Rise of the Guardians
Wreck-it Ralph

So what awards are we talking about? These:

The Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) announced nominees for the 60th MPSE Golden Reel Awards. Nominees represent the work of today’s most talented sound professionals and their contributions to feature film, television, animation and computer entertainment media from around the world. ...

You can NEVER have too many award competitions (or ceremonies.)
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Disney's Mermaid Mistake?

The Mouse has backed off the moving View Master option for The Little Mermaid, and critic Scott Mendelsohn thinks that ain't good.

... One could argue the logic of Disney's surprise cancellation of the planned September reissue of The Little Mermaid. The 3D reissues, which started with The Lion King back in September 2011 peaked to an absurd degree with that blockbuster rerelease. ... Disney obviously thinks that the 3D reissue is an idea whose time came and went at record speed. ...

For 2013, the big female-centric picture is Frozen. [Aside from that], a company that made its billions partially by catering to young females has now set its course for young boys almost exclusively. If you look at Disney's release schedule over the next two years, you'll see a clear pattern. Not only does pretty much every film target young audiences, they are almost exclusively geared toward boys. For 2013 and 2014, Disney has a steady slate of either hardcore boy-centric entertainments (Planes, The Lone Ranger, Need For Speed) ...

I don't know if the House of Walt has made a boo-boo with Mermaid or not, but I sort of know how our fine conglomerates work: They don't really care what demographic they serve if it won't make them money.

Somebody has probably done a dollar-cost analysis and decided that the '89 flick isn't going to be turning a profit in the dimensional format, so why bother? (Maybe they're wrong, but since the 3D version won't ever get released, we'll never know.)

I don't think anybody inside the Empire stopped and said, "Oh. My. GOD. The little girl demographic isn't being well-served by Diz Co.! We must re-think this!" I think it was purely a money call. The company didn't see value in expending dollars on a reformat and re-release, so it ain't happening.

Female moppets will have to make do with Frozen. And look at their DVDs of Cinderella, Snow White, and Tangled.
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Hand Wringing

It seems to be a standard theme in Indian media.

Why Indian animation is still a distant dream

... [T]he Indian film industry, touted as one of the largest in the world, still treats animation as an orphaned child. ...

"At $350 million, this is a good number to settle with for Indian animation industry. I don't see scope for fancy forecasting of the industry becoming $1 billion in 2014, when the turnover of most successful Indian animation companies with different business models is as low as Rs300 crore (over $55,000,000)," Rudra Masta, CEO RME, a company, known for making Indian animation television series "Little Pandavas", "Baba" and "Garuda", told IANS.

"The lack of good storytellers like John Lasseter, producers with market intelligence and taste like Walt Disney and writers with good hold over animation storytelling techniques are further making Indian animation a distant dream," he added.

The state of animation films is obvious from the fact that Nikhil Advani's "Delhi Safari" was the only known title from the genre that came out last year. ...

The Indian animation industry is as it ever was:

Trained personnel. Hardware and software in place. Ability to subcontract work from higher-level studios.

But being a job shop isn't the same as going out into the wider world as a full-bore animation studio that is creating original work that competes with Pixar, Disney DreamWorks, Blue Sky Studios and (relatively new) Illumination Entertainment/MacGuff.

The lamentations highlighted above are nothing new. Two years ago, it was this:

... "[T]his could be really a chicken and egg situation. Probably we don't have the right animation movie so it didn't work yet. It is a very, very tough job to release an animation film in India because of the fact that the cost of animations is higher. To make a great animation film, you should be able to invest that amount of money and time. Secondly, you should be able to market it because you don't have stars to market it,' said [Siddharth Roy Kapur, chief executive officer of UTV motion pictures] ...

The conundrum is the same as ever: When studios are focused on doing sub-contract work that's cost-competitive, energetic employees wanting to do more than just grind out product leave for other companies where they can fulfill their soaring ambitions (and make more money.)

So the next John Lasseter, now working hard in some Mumbai studio, will likely move to Europe or the United States to get his shot at immortality. Because remaining at a job shop on the sub-continent will lower his chances. (Sooner or later she/he will figure this out.)

Poring through old posts, I see that Indian animation has been in the process of becoming for awhile now. Five years ago, it was on its way to be a $26 billion industry, growing 9% a year. ...
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Monday, January 21, 2013

The Croods

As the tub-thumping increases ...

Echoes of campaigns past ...

DreamWorks' 3D animated feature The Croods, from How to Train Your Dragon director Chris Sanders and Space Chimps' helmer Kirk De Micco and featuring voice work from Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone, will have its world premiere out of competition in Berlin.

The initial screening happens early February.

The Croods was in development a long time, like before How to Train Your Dragon was wrapped and released. Story work went on longer than most DWA features, and swung into production slowly while sequences held back for more polishing. The initial release date was changed.

But the picture -- from what I've seen on computer screens -- looks terrific. And the comedy is bright and in the foreground, propelled forward by spunky characters. More of a piece, I think, with recent DWA features that don't contain Santa and the Easter Bunny.

The flick has a high "want to see" rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and Chris Sanders directing, so with good reviews and a launch on the right weekend, it could do mice business.
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Animation Domination

Fox runs a lot of animation each Sunday night. What's amazing is the oldest show -- the one that's two decades old -- is also Domination's highest rated show.

Bob's Burgers (R) -- 1.5/4 (rating/share)
The Cleveland Show (R) -- 1.3/3
The Simpsons (R) -- 1.8/4
Bob's Burgers (R) -- 1.5/3
Family Guy (R) -- 1.6/4
American Dad -- 1.6/4

Of late, the animation block has been doing well for News Corp.

Ratings, of course, bounce around, but the month of January has been a winning one:

January 8 -- Fox won Sunday night's ratings in both the 18-49 demographic and total viewers.

The Simpsons benefited from an NFL lead-in at 8pm, rising from 3.4 for its previous December episode to a 4.2 demo rating to win the night (8.97 m viewers).

Bob's Burgers was up a massive 48% from its last episode to 3.1 (6.40m) at 8.30pm. Family Guy also experienced a large leap to 3.6 (7.21m) at 9pm, while American Dad climbed 40% to 2.8 (5.65m) at 9.30pm. ...

Gunsmoke was another network show that was on for twenty years, but this far in, Matt and Kitty weren't winning the night the way Homer and Marge win Sundays for Fox.
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Sunday, January 20, 2013

New Chinese Feature

The People's Daily tells us ...

Chinese animation films getting stronger

The Chinese animation industry generally lags behind foreign producers in presenting memorable characters, images and telling good stories.

Domestic filmmakers are trying to catch up and "Jungle Master" from Hippo Animation is expected to boost confidence in China's animation industry.

Released nationally tomorrow, the film in 2D and 3D is the latest offering from the company that released the 3D superhero animation feature "Animen" in 2010 and the second 3D installment of "Animen" last year. ...

Here's a demo from the feature:

Methinks the People's Daily is ... ahm ... thinking wishfully.

Jungle Master might be an okay video game from ... I donno ... nine or twelve years ago? But it has a ways to travel before it could be a significant player on the world market.

There remains, I'm afraid, a wee bit of a lag.
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Foreign Box Office

Animation is still doing business, but there are no new cartoons of late so the attention has swung to live-action.

Django opened 30% ahead of Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which generated slightly more than $200 million in total overseas box office, about 60% of its worldwide take.

Django opened No. 1 in at least 23 markets including the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Poland “even with much of Europe buried under snow this weekend,” ...

As for animated features, here are the stats:

Hotel Transylvania -- $2.8 million foreign gross -- $173.8 million foreign cume -- Worldwide Total: $319,502,512

Rise of the Guardians -- $2.5 million -- $191.7 million foreign total -- Worldwide Cume: $290.1 million

Wreck-It Ralph -- $156.9 million foreign total -- Worldwide total: $337.7 million

The Mojo highlights that Life of Pi and Rise of the Guardians now run neck and neck domestically. Where Pi has really stepped out ahead of Guardians is in the foreign arena. There it owns a $181 million advantage.
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Retirement Moolah Accumulation

From the New York Times.

If you're perfectly capable of running your own retirement savings, selecting the right mix of low-cost investments, rebalancing at the right time and not buying and selling out of fear or greed, then good for you.

But the majority of people — maybe the vast majority — are not like that. They may be smart enough to do the right thing, in theory, but they forget or slip up or are taken in by well-meaning friends bearing stock tips or annuity-peddling scoundrels who make nice to them over free steak dinners. ...

According to the Department of Labor, the professionals who run pension plans earned an 8.3 percent annual return from 1991 to 2010. People fending for themselves in 401(k) and similar plans earned 7.2 percent. Nationwide I.R.A. performance figures are more scarce, though one 2006 study by the Center for Retirement Research put the figure for 1998 to 2003 at 3.8 percent annually, roughly 2 to 3 percentage points worse than pension fund managers and 401(k) investors did during that same period.

These numbers are a bit squishy, given that pensions often make bets in markets that 401(k) investors can't access and the high fees that many 401(k) participants pay that pension managers don't. Still, there are about a thousand reasons plenty of do-it-yourselfers (who, after all, did not volunteer to manage their retirement money) would be likely to get worse returns than, say, pension managers.

I've been involved with the TAG 401(k) Plan for seventeen years, and based on day-to-day experience, I think it's possible for individuals to handle their own investments without a huge store of investment knowledge, or spending a boatload of money.

What 401(k) participants need are some basic facts and discipline. They also need to know that passive investing with low-cost index funds has been proven to be a winner.

When Investing Remember That
1) Time is Your Friend
2) Broad diversification is beneficial (both stock AND bonds)
3) Low costs are important.
4) "Chasing performance" is a no-no.

After years of doing not-smart things, I've settled on investment guru Larry Swedroe's approach to investing.

1) Short term/intermediate term treasury and investment grade bonds.
2) Small cap value equity funds

As Mr. Swedroe says:

In years like 2011 when Small Value equities do poorly (not relatively poorly but negative returns) that is when bonds likely do very well and if you do it my way (lowering beta and increasing bonds) you lose more on your full value tilt but make more on your larger bond portfolio!!!!

Never think of these things in isolation. So in 2011, the full tilt really hurt the [small cap] equity side, but full tilt allows for very low equity exposure and bonds did very well, so portfolio did not do so poorly ...

The Mrs. and I now own a bond-weighted portfolio (We're of an age where it's prudent to do that anyway) with a strong tilt to small-cap value stocks. Research has shown that SCV provides higher returns over time than large cap stocks. And we've minimized our costs by investing in bargain-priced index funds.

The main point I've learned? Anyone investing for retirement needs to develop a plan and stick with it.

Weighting to large company stocks in a Total Stock Market of Large Cap index is perfectly fine.

Weighting to small and mid-size stock indexes is also good.

What's important is to map an approach that's palatable for you and commit to it. (This is harder to do than it sounds. Too many folks -- and I've known several -- chase after the latest hot trend and live to regret it. Tech stocks in the nineties would be one good example of this. They had HUGE returns for most of the nineties, then lost 80% of their value in 2001-2003.)

The big take-away:

There is no perfect. Just map out a good plan and stick with it. You'll beat ninety percent of investors.

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Weekend Moolah Chase

Now with Add-Ons!

Animation has disappeared from the top of the movie list.

Friday Box Office
1 MAMA (Universal) -- $10,000,000
2 ZERO DARK THIRTY (Columbia) -- $4,550,000 ($42,895,000)
3 BROKEN CITY (Fox) -- $3,000,000 ($3,000,000)
4 SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -- $2,954,000 ($46,913,000)
5 GANGSTER SQUAD (Warner Bros.) -- $2,665,000 ($25,775,000) ...

Rise of the Guardians has pretty much run its course. And Wreck-It Ralph is ready for video. But recent domestic totals:

Domestic Accumulations
Rise of the Guardians -- $98,936,363
Wreck-It Ralph -- $179,507,304
Frankenweenie -- $35,074,948

An animation veteran who went to Cal Arts with Tim told me he thinks Frankenweenie is a terrific film, but has suffered at the box office because it's black-and-white.

The black-and-white is terrific, but a lot of my friends won't go to a movie in black-and-white. They accept old features in B & W, but not new ones. ...

And there might be other reasons: general audiences don't want to see the corpse of a beloved pet raised from the dead, no matter how entertaining that might be. Creeps them out.

Add On: The Weekend Tally --

1. Mama 1/2,647, Universal, $33 million

2. *Zero Dark Thirty, 5/2,946, Sony/Annapurna, $18.7 million, $57 million

3. *Silver Linings Playbook, 10/2,523, The Weinstein Co., $13 million, $57 million

4. Gangster Squad, 2/3,103, Warner Bros., $10.3 million, $33.4 million

5. A Haunted House, 2/2,160, Open Road Films/IM Global, $9.7 million, $31.3 million

6. Broken City, 1/2,620, Fox/New Regency, $9.5 million.

7. *Les Miserables, 4/2,579, Universal, $9.25 million, $131.8 million

8. *Django Unchained, 4/3,012, The Weinstein Co., $9.23 million, $139.4 million

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 6/2,323, Warner Bros./New Line, $7.7 million, $288.7 million

10. The Last Stand, 10/2,027, Lionsgate, $7.2 million.
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Like a Rock Star

As the Nikkster's site tells us.

... The [Disney] Compensation Committee’s assessment that Mr. Iger’s performance as chief executive officer has been excellent.” Disney shares appreciated 76% in the fiscal year that ended September 30, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 was up 30%. ...

Still, Disney paid Iger like a rock star: He made 6.3 times the median pay for the four other executives named in the proxy. Corporate governance watchdogs say that CEO pay is out of whack when it exceeds three times the average for other top officers. The second-highest-paid exec, CFO Jay Rasulo, made $12.2M, a raise of 10.2%. ...

Our fine entertainment conglomerates usually pay their Top Dogs handsomely.

I remember several years ago when a Disney lawyer told me that then CEO Michael Eisner and Robert Iger got bonuses in the millions even as Disney Co. stock was declining. At the time, he sounded a tad disgruntled about it, but you know lawyers. They are seldom happy about anything.

But it only makes sense that if you get millions in bonuses when the stock is going down, that you should get more bonus money when the stock is going up.

So congratulation to Mr. Iger and the runner-up, Jay Rasulo. I'm not a Disney shareholder, but my wife is. And she just now said: "How nice for them."

I'm certain quite certain her sentiment was heartfelt.
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Pix of the part-ay

Our distinguished president.
Below the fold, a full portfolio of snapshots of last Friday's annual party, courtesy of ENRIQUE MAY, our official party photographer.

Mircea Mantta and Tom Tataranowicz.
Go here for the full collection.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Inside the Hat

A morning stroll through the Walt Disney Animation Studios on fabled Riverside Drive, handing out TAG Calendars and 401(k) books.

There's not much to report except that animators are now getting two sequences of Frozen to animate, and story tweaks continue.

"They're fine-tuning the first act, getting character relationships set up right and getting the characters as empathetic as possible. Acts two and three are pretty well together. They just want to make sure everytning is set up so that it pays off ...

I saw some rough animation on a "comedy relief" character who looks as though he's going to be hysterically funny. There's lot of work to do, and as one artist said to me, for they next nine or ten months everybody will be "very focused."

Nine month production schedules are good fun, aren't they?
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More Hollywood Players Plunge Into Global Animation

The former head of Fox, he likes the sub-continent.

Peter Chernin's investment arm, CA Media, is leaping into the business of super heroes and animated goddesses from India.

The company announced Thursday that it had acquired a minority stake in Graphic India, a year-old comic book and animation company ...

Graphic India was launched last year by India-based media entrepreneurs. ... It was a subsidiary of U.S. comic book company Liquid Comics, but now Graphic India will be jointly owned by Liquid Comics and the Chernin Group's CA Media. ...

Lessee. What's the hotter parts of the entertainment industry? Why, Super Heroes and Animation!

Peter Chernin is one of the savvier movie execs of the past couple decades, and he no doubt knows a buy when he sees one. Outside of Brad Bird's The Incredibles and the Fleischer Superman cartoons, there has not been a lot of super hero animation for the large screen. Perhaps Mr. Chernin intends to rectify that.
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Best Place

So says Fortune.

Hollywood studios aren't known as easy places to work. But DreamWorks Animation once again has made Fortune magazine's list of the 100 best employers.
The Glendale studio behind the "Shrek," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar" movies ranked 12th in the 2013 list, just above Quicken Loans (which ranked 13th) and semiconductor company Qualcomm (14th). Google once again was ranked No. 1.

DreamWorks, with 2,350 employees, was the only Hollywood studio to make the list

When I was a tot, I remember Walt Disney Productions as being the DreamWorks Animation of its day. There were ball fields, ping pon tables, a low-cost commissary, comfortable rooms and a laid-back atmosphere.

I've been around long enough to take these things with a shaker or two of salt. In my experience, animation studios have one thing in common:

There's a group of employees that thinks the studio sucks. There's a group that thinks the studio is semi-okay. And there's a group that thinks the studio is great, just a fabulous place to work.

The group that's the largest provides a pretty good indicator of what the workplace is actually like.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chasing After Socialism

There are many who think Socialism is a horrid thing. Happily, movie conglomerates are not among them.

The B.C. government is working on ways to hold onto movie, TV and video game production, as Hollywood shifts work to other provinces and countries that attract them with generous subsidies and tax breaks. ...

The search for Free Money never ends, particularly if you're a hungry motion picture producer. However, some British Columbia officials are growing weary of throwing tax payer cash at movie makers.

... [British Columbia] won't involve [itself in] matching generous tax credits offered by Ontario and Quebec, said Bill Bennett, B.C.'s minister of community, sport and cultural development. ...

The fact that a government person thinks it's a bad idea to match other Canadian provinces' hot lust for socialistic largesse has caused a bit of consternation in B.C.

[There is] a petition sponsored by a group called Save B.C. Film, and its pitch for support underlines the industry’s need for the provincial government’s “enthusiasm for maintaining an attractive taxation scheme.” That is, bigger subsidies. ...

“We need your support,” the petition continues. “Without it, you jeopardize not only our industry standards, but our livelihoods as well ...

Subsidies are a grand old tradition, going back centuries. Transcontinental railroads were once built with them; today sports franchises (plus stadiums!) are supported with taxpayer millions, which the tax payers then get to watch after providing another large fee. (Everybody wins!)

But subsidies are, all too often, a self-defeating exercise. And the exercise is often short-lived and counter-productive. As VFX Soldier notes:

... US studios fall in love with a government that gives them free money. Governments runs out of money. US studios leave for the next sucker. ...

So you might ask why so many state entities pursue this madness? Quite simple. We live in the age of the corporatist nation-state, where the state's principle job is to aid and abet large, globe-straddling conglomerates. And if that damages everything and everybody who ain't a large corporation, well ... that's the price of liberty and "free enterprise" in the 21st century.

Visual effects entrepreneur Scott Ross sees the current reality clearly:

Subsidies are bad. They’re bad for the VFX industry, bad for the govt that is offering the subsidies, bad for the VFX worker that has to constantly uproot their families, bad for the VFX facility which has to chase the subsidy. The only group that these subsidies are good for is the Motion Picture Studio/producer.

Ross, of course, nails it. The conglomerates make out like bandits, which is the point. They're the ones with the juice, so they're the ones governments cater to.

Call it win-lose-lose-lose on the taxpayer dime.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Disney Video Games

The "Wreck-It Ralph" type environment hasn't been Diz Co.'s strong suit.

... Since industry veteran John Pleasants was named head of Disney’s games business in late 2010, the company has cut hundreds of jobs ...

"The games business for Disney has not been profitable and not met the same level of excellence we have in ABC or our parks or Pixar," Pleasants said in an interview. "If we’re going to be here, we want to make high quality stuff and keep doubling and tripling down.

There have been various runs at the video game brass ring over the years.

Eighteen years ago, Disney had a video game division that TAG was dragged into sideways. The company had a division in Glendale that was cutting jobs like mad. Trouble was, most of the staff had term contracts, and management was bullying employees into taking small, lump sum buyouts.

A dozen staffers contacted us and we strategized with them, helping the group to fight back. We talked most of the artists into pushing for more money, and it worked.

Management doubled their original offer. I guess we had more leverage than we knew. ...

What they owned were contracts with date-certain completion dates. And the House of Mouse wasn't keen on having its employees hire lawyers and go to court, which some were threatening to do. Amazing what a term services agreement can get you when you refuse the first, low-ball offer.

So now it's decade and a half later, and Disney has retrenched yet again. Maybe this time its video games will take flight.
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One Newer Studio

President Emeritus Tom Sito once pointed out that the only union studio that's still around from the time TAG was founded (1952) is Disney*, and Disney (of course) has morphed into other entities (Disney Toon Studios, Disney Television Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, etc.) in the course of its long, long life.

Labor Unions have to keep organizing new companies as they come into existence. Here's one that is doing pretty well.

... Bento Box next month will open its third location in the Burbank area, moving into a 25,000-square-foot facility. Bento also has a studio in Marina del Rey that handles interactive projects, including the one with Keys, and last year opened a studio in Atlanta to take advantage of that state's film tax credit. Bento expects to add 50 to 80 workers to its Los Angeles workforce of 150 by March. The Atlanta studio employs 80. ...

The Animation Guild signed a deal with Bento Box (California edition) in the early days of its existence. We reached out to the company, and instead of going to war, they agreed to negotiate a contract.

(It can be done.)

BB and TAG have had a pretty good relationship over the last few years. It's never totally rainbows and lollipops between a labor union and company, but Bento has execs that we've known for a long time and a lengthy association has been helpful in the marriage. (Like any marriage, there are ups and downs, still ...)

But it's nice to see a smaller studio succeeding in a time when our fine entertainment conglomerates control so much. Diversity is a good thing, especially when there are union contracts in the mix.

* There's also Warner Bros. Animation, but WBA has come ... and gone ... and come back again in the course of TAG's sixty-year run.

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Cash Flow!

Conglomerates adapt to new delivery systems. Sadly, the little silver disk -- with its tall margins -- didn't last forever.

... Starting this spring, a variety of titles from Cartoon Network and Adult Swim will become available to subscribers [on Netflix], while a deal with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. will bring seasons one and two of TNT's "Dallas" reboot to the streaming service in January 2014. ...

Our fine conglomerates have had to rejigger things as profit geysers they liked (DVDs and BluRay disks) have declined, giving way to delivery systems over the internet. (These mainly have smaller profits, so of course they don't like them much.)

But businesses don't always have big choices in the matter. Technical change happens, and they have to deal with it. Studios didn't like sound films in the 1920s, either. But they adapted.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

Moving View Master Spirals Down

... as the 3D craze slackens.

... Following weak box office performances for re-releases of "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "Beauty and the Beast" in 3-D, Walt Disney Studios has canceled plans for a 3-D "The Little Mermaid" in September. ...

"The Lion King" proved a surprise hit in the format, grossing nearly $100 million in the U.S. and Canada. But "The Lion King" turned out to be an anomaly ...

Some pictures have done okay after they got refurbished in three dimensions. Titanic, for instance. But at bottom 3D is a gimmick, which isn't particularly easy on goggled eyes, and the public is gradually tiring of it. The public is also (mostly?) growing weary of inflated ticket prices.

The other problem? If a movie is a witless dud, having objects float off the screen at you won't make it less dud-like.
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Post-Holiday Holiday Party

The Animation Guild's "not exactly a holiday party" get-together happened again this year at the Autry Western Heritage Museum on Friday last, and most everyone who attended seemed to have a good time. ...

TAG has held holiday parties since forever. In the early days, they happened at the union hall, and if we got thirty people to show up it was considered a wild success.

A couple of decades back, the Guild began hosting the event at the Beverly Garland hotel in North Hollywood, and attendance sky-rocketed. Eventually we outgrew the venue, and moved (again) to the Pickwick Center in Burbank.

The crowds continued to grow, and we moved the festivities twice more: first to The Castaways restaurant high in the Verdugo Mountains (this was a qualified disaster -- nice place for a party but horrible parking) and lastly to the Autry.

Which was a success. Plenty of room inside and more than enough parking (at last!)

Once again the venue was crowded, but the total number of celebrants seemed a touch smaller than last year, probably due to frigid weather. If you attended, we hope you had a good time. If you missed it, there will hopefully be another year where you can make an appearance and mingle with many of the pillars of the animation industry.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Empire Builders

It's not just Seth McFarlane and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

... Taking after the Gnomes on the animated series who ardently practice American capitalism, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have wooed investors and raised money to form their own production studio, which they plan to announce on Monday.

The new company is to be called Important Studios and hopes to be just that. With an estimated value of $300 million built on revenue from “South Park,” now in its 16th season on Comedy Central, and the Broadway megahit “The Book of Mormon,” the studio will have the power and money to approve television, movie and theater projects, including a big-screen version of “The Book of Mormon.” ...

“We want to have a little control over our life,” [Matt Stone] explained. “We used to walk into a studio and try to become an employee. We’re done with that. We are too grown up for that.” ...

Government regulations at one time required that distributors could not also create their own product. That's why studios like Hanna-Barbera and DePatie-Freleng flourished. They could own their shows, even as NBC and ABC broadcast them. But the regulations restricting "vertical integration" ended years ago, and independent studios making and owning their own television series and theatrical movies pretty much ended with them.

DreamWorks Animation is, of course, one exception to this rule. Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone might end up being another. There are always, despite the stacked decks in our fine, corporatist state, a chosen few with the leverage, clout and money to be Owners rather than Employees.
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The Globes

You know, the big brass ones.

‘Brave’ was the big winner this year and director Marc Andrews was on hand to accept the award on behalf of Disney-Pixar. He did make sure to thank Brenda Chapman, the original director of the film who was replaced midway through production. ...

So I wonder if Diz Co. will buy Brenda a ticket to the Oscars. Click here to read entire post

Overseas Horse Race

Animation accumulates coin beyond American shores.

... Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s 3D family animation title, boosted its total foreign take past the $150-million mark ($156.9 million) thanks to a $11.6 million weekend in 59 territories. It has been playing for 11 stanzas on the foreign circuit. Worldwide, the film has grossed $336.3 million. ...

DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians grossed $3.9 million at 4,252 venues in 54 markets in its ninth weekend offshore, raising the foreign cume via Paramount to $187.7 million. ..

Guardians has now grossed $98,685,000 stateside, which brings it to a worldwide total of $286,385,000, far below DWA's usual grosses for its features.

DreamWorks Animation's recent batting average has been amazingly high, but even Babe Ruth didn't hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate.

Meanwhile, the animated hybrid Life of Pi has made a worldwide total of $357.4 million.
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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Stock/Bond Indexes

The TAG 401(k) Plan has a lot of index funds in it. There are also a lot of actively managed funds, but the longer I trundle down the Great Highway of Life, the less enamored with pricey-managed funds I become. Here's why.

... Merrill Lynch research show[s] only 39% of fund managers beat the S&P500 last year.

This morning, the WSJ references Goldman Sachs research — it shows something similar. Their data showed 65% of U.S. large-cap stock funds trailed the benchmark index net of fees. (5 year average = 66%).

When they looked for funds that beat the index two consecutive years, they came up with an astounding number: A mere 10% of nearly 2000 U.S. stock funds beat their benchmark in both 2011 and 2012 (Source: Morningstar research).

This is why most people are better off putting money into inexpensive passive index funds. ...

TAG 401(k) trustees have been grappling with under-performing managed stock funds of late. For the past year, they've watched a mid-sized company value fund struggle to match its benchmark index ... and fail.

So two months ago, the trustees finally pulled the trigger and got rid of it. They didn't replace it with another managed fund because none of those were doing particularly well, either. In the end, the trustees mapped participants' investments in mid-cap stocks to the mid-cap index, which has been performing better than most of the more expensive managed mid-cap funds over longer blocks of time.

Index funds are the best way for most investors to go, and the reasons are simple: Few managers beat the market over five and ten-year spans. (It would be great if it were otherwise, but it's not.) A large part of the reason? When you're charging 1.34% for your expertise, but the index you're attempting to beat charges .34%, you've got to beat Mr. Market by 1% year in and year out or you're going to lose.

Most managers lose. The stats tell us so.
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A Non-Represented Corner of Animation

The game biz didn't have its greatest year.

Sales of video game discs and consoles plummeted 22% last year, as consumers flocked to new digital devices and cut their spending, while publishers released fewer games.

The drop was much sharper than 2011's 9% decline from 2010.

Total spending in the U.S. on physical game products was $13.26 billion, according to NPD Group. The research firm did not estimate the annual total including other avenues for game spending, but did say that used games, rentals and digital formats accounted for about half of total spending in December. ...

TAG has, off and on, made runs at the video game industry.

Several years ago, employees and TAG got together when a unit of animators and tech directors from the west coast studio of Electronic Arts called us up and asked for a meeting, then asked for another meeting. (For some reason they weren't enchanted with working seven days a week, as they were then doing.)

Sadly, the face time never grew into a full-blown organizing drive.

The game industry is like other areas of the animation biz. Managers want product "better, faster, cheaper" as time rolls on. This usually means getting 22-year-olds straight out of college, working them hard and then moving on to the next group of 22-year-olds. And the older, discarded crop of game employees? It often migrates to the organized part of the business: feature and television animation.

It's been this way, more or less, since the now-distant '90s. During that time, the video game industry has grown, then retrenched, then rocketed to big business status. EA, one of the major players, has a rep for eating smaller companies and dominating the market, along with a history of abusing employees. But the game industry is like every other part of entertainment: its reliance on the little silver disks has faltered in recent times as online games (both fee and free) have taken a larger bite of the pie.

Technology can be a bitch when it's working against you instead of for you. Just about every major media/entertainment company has found this out, often to their sorrow. So have the artists and techies working in corporate cubicles.
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Weekend Box Office

Animation, it is gone from the Top Ten.

1. Zero Dark Thirty (Annapurna/Sony) Week 4 (Runs 2,937) R
Friday $9.0M, Weekend $25.5M, Cume $31.0M

2. A Haunted House (Open Road) NEW [Runs 2,160] R
Friday $6.7M, Weekend $17.5M

3. Gangster Squad (Village Roadshow/Warner Bros) NEW (Runs 3,103) R
Friday $6.6M, Weekend $18.7M

4. Django Unchained (Weinsteiin) Week 3 [Runs 3,012] R
Friday $3.4M, Weekend $11.0M, Cume $125.3M

5. Les Miserables (Working Title/Universal) Week 3 [Runs 2,928] PG13
Friday $2.8M, Weekend $9.5M, Cume $118.6M

6. The Hobbit 3D (MGM/Warner Bros) Week 5 [Runs 3,012] PG13
Friday $2.3M, Weekend $8.0M, Cume $277.0M

7. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 10 [Runs 2,027] PG13
Friday $1.8M, Weekend $6.3M, Cume $152.6M

8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D (Lionsgate) Week 2 [Runs 2,659] R
Friday $1.8M (-82%), Weekend $5.5M, Cume $31.6M

7. Parental Guidance (Fox) Week 3 [Runs 2,957] PG
Friday $1.7M, Weekend $5.8M, Cume $60.4M

10. Jack Reacher (Skydance/Paramount) Week 4 [Runs 2,707] PG13
Friday $1.5M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $72.8M ...

Monsters, Inc. 3D has slowed way down with a cume that now totals $29,165,000. Rise of the Guardians (with its screenplay here) remains a couple of million below the $100 million marker, but should reach trip digits before its domestic run ends. Click here to read entire post

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fox Re-Up

The man who helped bring DreamWorks Animation into the Murdoch empire signs a new deal.

Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Gianopulos is closing in on a new long-term contract at the News Corp.-owned studio ...

He has been instrumental in recent deals to bring Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation films to Fox and to greenlight two Avatar sequels from filmmaker James Cameron. ...

If the Fox-DWA distribution deal works out. I wouldn't faint dead away in surprise if Fox ultimately purchases the studio.

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At Cartoon Network

The old first floor interior -- now history.

Cartoon Network's Burbank Studio has a whole new interior. Every floor has been redecorated, and lots of the floor space owns new configurations.

The first floor now resembles a large, classy living room, with a billiard table, new couches and lots of glass and stone. (I should have taken a picture of it ... oh well. At least there's the older version, seen above.)

Upstairs, there are new stairways, new floor coverings, and lots of new paint. But why the hell not? The CN has been on a roll ...

hAcross the first week of January 2013, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network for Total Day delivery of boys 6-11, & 9-14, and #1 in Early Prime (7-9 p.m.) delivery of boys 9-14. Scoring double-digit delivery gains compared the same week in 2012, Total Day delivery of kids 2-11 grew by 20%, kids 6-11 by 33% and kids 9-14 by 33%.

Ranking #1 for boys 6-11 & 9-14 vs. all other networks on Monday, Thursday and Friday Night (7-9 p.m.), Cartoon Network’s Friday night programming line-up grew target kids/boys demos by double digits across the board, ranging between 19% and 96% vs. the same week last year.

Saturday Morning (7-11 a.m.) animated action-adventure programming was up double digits across all key kids and boys vs. last year, ranging between 12% and 36%. Premiere episodes of original series Ben 10: Omniverse (9 a.m.), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (9:30 a.m.), Green Lantern (10 a.m.) and Young Justice: Invasion (10:30 a.m.) grew by double and triple digits across kids/boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14, ranging between 33% and 119%. ...

The net has a bunch of new shows coming into the rotation. Talking to staffers, they include the following:

Uncle Grandpa
Steven's Universe

With several new pilots also in development. (If I've missed something, somebody can chime in below.) Shows with orders for new episodes include Ben 10, Regular Show and Adventure Time.

The place is cooking.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sofia Uno ... and Other TVA Projects

Today I bopped around Disney TVA (Empire Center) where this show is in production.

... [T]he high ratings that Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess got back in November (This new TV movie wound up being the No. 1 cable telecast of all time among Kids 2-5. Not to mention being No. 1 preschool cable TV telecast among Women 18-49), it's looking increasingly likely that "First" is going to be the type of show that lasts. ...

And given that The Walt Disney Company has so heavily merchandised the other Disney Princesses, would it really surprise you to learn -- earlier this week -- the Disney Store debuted its Sofia the First product line? ...

Princess Sofia was in development a long time. I remember when it was in script and production board phase in Glendale. The project was in the process of becoming for what seemed like forever. The crew working on it now is talented, tight-knit ... and happy the tv movie broke records when it aired last Fall.

But like most television projects, staffing and scheduling for Sofia are tight, so artists work like demons to hit deadlines. As one said today:

I don't get out for long lunches, I can tell you. The show's demanding. There are music sequences, action sequences. And the environments are complex. ...

As noted elsewhere, the new series The 7D is up and rolling out of the station:

Disney Television Animation started production on its new animated series, The 7D; a comedy version of the Seven Dwarfs, this time, set in a modern-day fairytale land, aimed at kids between 2 and 7 years of age.

The series' debut is expected to take place in 2014 through Disney Junior across the world. The announcement was made by Nancy Kanter, SVP original programming and GM at Disney Junior Worldwide.

The 7D's executive producer is Emmy-winner Tom Ruegger (Animaniacs). Alfred Gimeno (Tiny Toon Adventures) is in charge of directing and Sherri Stoner (Pinky and the Brain) is story editor. In addition, the characters are designed by Noah Z. Jones (Pecezuelos).

Early episodes are testing well and management is happy with the direction of the series. Walking through the unit. I noted a lot of talent from WB Animation on board. This seems natural, given Tom R.'s long tenure at Warners.
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Your Nominations!

No doubt everyone and his auntie and uncle are already out and up with these. Nevertheless ...

Best animated feature film of the year
•“Brave” Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
•“Frankenweenie” Tim Burton
•“ParaNorman” Sam Fell and Chris Butler
•“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” Peter Lord
•“Wreck-It Ralph” Rich Moore

Best animated short film
•“Adam and Dog” Minkyu Lee
•“Fresh Guacamole” PES
•“Head over Heels” Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly
•“Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” David Silverman
•“Paperman” John Kahrs

No big surprises here, except that DramWorks Animation didn't get a nomination.

The Academy wanted to spread the kudos around ... to our fine entertainment conglomerates and smaller studios alike.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Blue Umbrella

... meet ...

Johnny Fedora ....

... where everything old is new again!

The six-minute film, directed by Pixar technical artist Saschka Unseld, is about a blue umbrella who falls for a red umbrella and weathers a storm while following that crush. The clip reveals a photorealistic style and a gorgeous, rain-inspired soundtrack ...

Which is different, you know, from a cartoon style circa 1954 1946.
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That's Opera, Mick

Operat librettos can be created from many things.

A British-designed and directed opera about Walt Disney which premieres in Spain this month before coming to London has been forced to tell the great cartoonist's story without any of the images of the characters that made him a household name. ...

The Perfect American, the latest work by the acclaimed composer Philip Glass, concentrates on the last years of Disney's life, when he lay dying of lung cancer while planning to have his body frozen. It portrays Disney as a megalomaniac with McCarthyite, racist and misogynist tendencies, so it is clear why the global entertainment corporation has denied rights. Yet, ironically, the most damaging charge the new opera levels at a man whose vision continues to dominate children's culture is probably the claim that he did little actual work on the drawings

All of us have light and dark qualities. Mr. Disney undoubtedly had a combination of both, just like ... everybody else.

This work is (apparently) going in the "Disney Version" direction. "Walt was a toad" seems to be the theme. Revisionist history certainly has its place, but I'm not sure this will revise our rememberance of the past to many people's satisfaction.
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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Boosting DWA

DreamWorks Animation's current release is not doing robust business. But Seeking Alpha believes its future is bright.

Don't Bet Aginst DreamWorks Animation

... If we look at the top 20 CG animated films ranked by domestic gross revenue, we see that DreamWorks makes up almost half that list.

The main problem that I have is with the company's limited release schedule, a box-office flop could significantly impair annual earnings and cash flows. ...

DWA has created some of the most commercial animated features in the business. One blockbuster after another ... with the occasional non-blockbuster.

The company has always kept me on the edge of my seat because it has long performed a circus high-wire act: Employing a lot of people, and doing it with lots of high-grossing features.

But a couple of misses, and DreamWorks is hanging from that high wire by its pinky. Sweaty palms time, wouldn't you say?
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Foxy Animation

Hey, better one t.v. network interested in animation than none at all.

Fox will launch Animation Domination High-Def, a late-night offshoot of its Sunday night Animation Domination comedy block, on July 27, the network said. ...

During a panel on the new animation block on Tuesday, Animation Domination High-Def head Nick Weidenfeld, formerly the head of development for the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, said that the block will provide a forum for "experimental and more interesting forms of animation." He also noted that it's possible that some of the projects could end up transitioning to the network's primetime Animation Domination block. ...

And we, of course, hope that much of this work will benefit from union representation. But hey. Whether it is or not, it's good that Fox is adding more animation to their entertainment mix.

Now let's see ABC, NBC, CBS and various cable networks step up to the plate. There's talent aplenty out there, and it needs more platforms on which to strut its stuff.
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Cut to the Bone

... and beyond.

... Walt Disney Co. started an internal cost-cutting review several weeks ago that may include layoffs at its studio and other units ...

Cuts are most likely at the studio, said two of the three sources, where the strategy has changed to focus on fewer films and rely more on outside producers such as Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio, which finances its own films and pays Disney a fee to market and distribute them.

It is also looking at redundant operations that could be eliminated following a string of major acquisitions over the past few years, said one of the sources. ...

I don't think that there will be big cuts (if any) at Disney's animation units, but you never know. (We'll dredge up Disney animation employment stats for the last three years tomorrow, and see if my thoughts are in line with reality.)

Earnings growth has stalled out at a lot of our fine, American companies. Over the past four years, corporate America has been able to goose profit margins by slashing payrolls and containing other costs, but those efforts are no longer bearing a great deal of fruit.

So, absent more expansion on the demand side (you know, more jobs and more money in the pockets of working stiffs?), we might be seeing more austerity on the private side of the economy.

(Walt Disney Animation Studios did have several rounds of layoffs a few years ago. When I told a reporter from Bloomberg about the downsizing and he wrote about it, management did not look on me and my big yap favorably.

Oh well ...)
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Monday, January 07, 2013

Brain Trust

(Now with major media Add On ...)

... by another name.

Warner Bros. doesn't want rivals like Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox to have a stranglehold on the lucrative animation market.

But the studio is trying a different approach in an effort to bolster its animated efforts. Instead of unveiling a new division, it's announcing an animation creative consortium, featuring the likes of John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” “Cats & Dogs”) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”) that will help it develop its family offerings. Also on the team will be Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”) and Jared Stern (“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”). ...

It's really fairly simple.

When you have a number of creative types who seem to know what they're doing, you put them together and let them brainstorm. Create. Cross pollinate.

John Lasseter figured it out a while ago; the Pixar "brain trust" has been operating for years.

What's usually death to these things is: people spin off into their own orbits (i.e., go to other companies), too many large egos get in the way, and the suits stick their noses in and try to grab credit (even while lousing things up.)

But it's a fine idea. Now, if they can only get some (as they say) synergy going and insure that one party doesn't big foot another party, Warners will be cooking with gas.

Add On: From the L.A. Times:

Committing to the genre after years of fits and starts, Warner Bros. on Monday said it will produce one animated movie per year beginning in 2014.

Every other major studio in Hollywood has established an animation strategy in the past few years, with some such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Studios making the movies in-house and others like Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures relying on outside companies with which it makes deals. ...

Warner Bros., of course, DID have an animation strategy.

In the 1990s.

In television, they were partnered with Mr. Spielberg and had great success with a string of high-quality t.v. cartoons: Tiny Toons, Pink and the Brain, Animaniacs and others.

In features, Warners opened two studios on Brand Boulevard, over in sunny Glendale. Turner Feature Animation (a Time-Warner company formed by Ted) produced Cats Don't Dance. Down the boulevard in a high-rise bank building, Warner Bros. Feature Animation created Quest for Camelot, animation for the hybrid Space Jam, The Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones.

Sadly, the new Time-Warner animation divisions did not meet with the box office victories the conglomerate was looking for, and both were shuttered So now the corporation is taking a run at the feature animation business from a different direction. We wish them well.

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Overseas B.O. in January

Computer-generated animation cocooned inside live action dominates this week's box office in foreign lands.

Ang Lee's top-grossing film Life of Pi has jumped the $300 million mark at the international box office for a worldwide total of $393 million through Sunday. ...

Much of the animated effects work (the tiger was animated) was done in Southern California. ...

And other box office collections?

The Hobbit took in $57.1 million from 65 markets for an international cume of $561 million and worldwide total of $824.8 million. ...

Wreck-It Ralph boosted its total foreign take well past the $100 million mark ($132.7 million) thanks to a $19.5 million weekend in 56 territories. It has been playing for 10 stanzas on the foreign circuit. Worldwide, the film has grossed $311.2 million. ...

Meantime, Rise of the Guardians has a global accumulation of $278,502,000 ($32.7 million behind Ralph as it wends its way to $300 million. (Domestically, it's dropped from the Top Ten, landing at #17 after seven weeks in release. The Christmas holidays appear to be over.)

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Animation Subset

Twenty years ago, when hand-drawn animation was skyrocketing at the box office, hand-drawn cels were a nice little niche market where tidy sums could be made. Then it crashed and burned. But now?

... [T]he market for animation art keeps bouncing back.

Since animation studios sold a glut of reprints in the mid-1990s, prices for hand-drawn animation cels—celluloid squares inked with characters—have been weak. Lately, however, the market has strengthened, spurring more sales by auction houses this winter.

"The market was dormant for so long, so now people are coming out of the woodwork with great collections," says Joseph Maddalena, president of Profiles in History auction house in Calabasas, Calif., which began holding auctions of animation art two years ago. ...

Theatrical hand-drawn animation has been left for dead, but not the production pieces that are again collectibles.

Funny thing, but the things that upended the market two decades ago were the studio factories that cranked out hand-painted cels to meet the (then) insatiable demand.

And TAG represented some of the work.

Disney had a stripped-down cel-paintg department on its main lot, in the same rooms where production work had taken place years before, cranking out sets of "Snow White" cels, "Sleeping Beauty" set-ups, and "Beauty and the Beast" collectibles (among others.) (And "B and B" never had production cels to start with. When made, the picture had been painted digitally.)

The flood of freshly-created cels ultimately tanked demand, and prices plummeted. And the union-repped department of cel painters was disbanded. I could see the down-sizing coming, but I was still sorry when it happened.
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Saturday, January 05, 2013

January Box Office Derby

Wherein older animation titles are declining, even as they're made ready for digital downloads and little silver disks.

Monsters, Inc. 3D -- $25.1 million
Rise of the Guardians -- $95.4 million
Wreck-It Ralph -- $177.7 million

Wreck-It is the most recent animation release that's scored big domestically. Guardians will float over the $100 million road marker in the next week, and DWA's next big release -- The Croods -- rolls out in a few months.

Then, of course, there are the home video releases:

Disney is the latest studio to jump on the emerging trend of releasing a key title in Digital HD before becoming available on disc and on-demand. Wreck-It-Ralph, which has made $175.5 million domestically and $275M-plus globally to date, will get that treatment February 12, while its Blu-ray, DVD and VOD offerings will come available March 5. ...

In 2013, there are many technology and money waves to ride when squeezing the full potential out of your movie. Our fine entertainment conglomerates don't like to leave any stones unturned. ...
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