Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bob Hoskins, RIP

Not very old, surprisingly.

Bob Hoskins, the bullet-shaped British film star who brought a singular mix of charm, menace and cockney accent to a variety of roles, including the bemused live-action hero of the largely animated “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” has died. He was 71.

A spokeswoman, Clair Dobbs, released a statement by his family on Wednesday saying that he had died in a hospital, where he had been treated for pneumonia. No other details were given. A much-honored, Oscar-nominated actor, Mr. Hoskins had announced his retirement in August 2012 after learning he had Parkinson’s disease. ...

He'll be remembered for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But his trunk was pretty full. There was also the original Pennies from Heaven, Hook, and Mona Lisa. But there was always the Rabbit.

“I think I went a bit mad while working on [Who Framed Roger Rabbit], lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time. You had to know where the rabbit would be at every angle. Then there was Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had learnt how to hallucinate.” ...

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Stocks go up, stocks go down.

... DreamWorks Animation shares have slid sharply after the company took a $57 million impairment charge against earnings due to disappointing box office results for “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.”

Shares were down 8.8% on Wednesday, falling $2.34 to $24.03. It was the lowest trading level of 2014.

After the market closed Tuesday, the company reported a first-quarter loss of $42.9 million — or 51 cents a share — on revenues of $147.2 million. DreamWorks Animation posted earnings of $5.6 million — or 7 cents a share — on revenues of $134.6 million during first quarter of 2013. ...

I was over at DreamWorks Animation today. Everyone is working away on a plethora of different features. Croods 2, Boo, Home, so on and so on. Nobody seems to be worrying. And as a DreamWorker told me:

The new model is "get the movies completed with a lower budget." If Mr. Peabody and Sherman had been made at the new budget level of $125 million instead of the old budget of $145 million, it would have made money.

Twenty million dollars doesn't sound like a big difference, but it was the difference between the movie being profitable and being a loss. ...

DWA did have sixteen consecutive movies in the profit column. But nobody rides a hot streak forever.

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TAG 401(k) Switchover

The last few weeks, we've gotten a number of inquiries about oncoming changes for the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan*.

Are we changing the Plan? The Plan Administrator? Why are we changing? Answers below the fold: ...

To begin, Vanguard Mutual Funds will be taking over administration duties from Mass Mutual Insurance in the next few months. Here are a few specifics about the change-over: ...

* Participants' account balances will transfer from MassMutual to Vanguard on August 1, 2014.

* Beginning the first week in June, participants will receive a number of details about the transfer. Current account balances will automatically be invested at Vanguard into the Target Retirement Fund based on the year in which the participant turns 65.

* Participants who prefer to construct their own asset allocations will have a two-week window in late July to create a different account balance when funds are transferred to Vanguard. There will be a core line-up of mutual funds similar to what is currently available on the MassMutual platform. (There will be some changes made in several of asset classes to improve on our current selections.)

* The number of Target Date Retirement Funds will increase, changing from ten-year increments ("Vanguard Retirement 2010 ... 2020 ... 2030") to five-year increments ("Vanguard Retirement 2010 ... 2015 ... 2020 ... 2025").

So why are the Plan trustees changing administrators? To improve service and bring down costs. Moving to Vanguard is the next step in a process that has been ongoing for more than two years. Lower costs mean more money in participants' pockets. And service should be more robust and transparent, with more online investment management and financial planning tools.

Why Vanguard? The company is structured as a “mutual” mutual fund company, owned by the Vanguard family of mutual funds. The Vanguard funds, in turn, are owned by their shareholders — or client - owners. This unique mutual structure is intended to align the interests of Vanguard with those of their clients (otherwise known as TAG 401(k) participants.) Overall, this should mean lower fees and costs in coming years.

Moves from one administrator to another is seldom 100% glitch free. This will be our second adminstrator change in nineteen years, and hopefully our last for a long while. Over the next few months, we'll be working diligently to make it as smooth and painless as possible, but please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

* The TAG 401(k) Plan is the third pension of three offered to members of the Animation Guild. The other two are The Motion Picture Industry Defined Benefit Plan and the Motion Picture Industry Individual Account Plan.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Broader Appeal

While we're on the subject of DreamWorks Animation.

... The DreamWorks Animation chief[Jeffrey Katzenberg] sounded like he’d prefer to have a root canal than talk to analysts about how his studio hopes to avoid another failure like Mr. Peabody & Sherman — which just resulted in a $57M write-down for Q1. Three of the studio’s past four films failed to deliver, Jeffrey Katzenberg noted, which he blamed on “inconsistent execution” and other factors tied to marketing and scheduling.

As the market for kids’ films becomes more competitive, ”we have to focus on the creative side of the business” to find “ideas that have the broadest global appeal” and stand out as must-see experiences. “Playability honestly is just not enough today. … We feel a different level of criteria in terms of the ideas we’re picking and the marketing of the ideas.” He’s hot on sequels and says DWA has more in the pipeline than ever, with plans to release at least one a year. ...

Hot on sequels? Every studio is hot on sequels. They make lots of money, so of course our fine entertainment conglomerates are hot. ...

DWA's problem is that, after a long winning streak where DreamWorks' animated films routinely made big money domestically and good money overseas (and often more than good), their bats have gone cold. Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, and now Mr. Peabody and Sherman have all under-performed at the global box office.

And when the viability of your company is tied to creating hit movies, flop movies can be a problem.

Happily, DreamWorks Animation recognizes that it needs to diversify. A feature (or three) that posts a loss can cause this recognition to come sooner rather than later.

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DWA Diversification

Jeffrey notes where the company's future will be.

... “Diversity is essential for us if we want to grow the business.” He added, “It can’t come fast enough” of the need to seek new platforms and outlets like TV, streaming and on-location entertainment." ...

For a long time, DreamWorks Animation had a high-risk, Pixar-style business model: Make a smash hit theatrical feature, make another smash-hit theatrical feature, then make another smash-hit theatrical feature.

The problem with this strategy is, over long stretches of time it's Un. Su. Stainable. And Jeffrey K. is right with his analysis of the Big Picture.

... “TV is a growth business. Short form content is a growth business. Movies are not a growth business." ...

Domestically, movies haven't been a growth industry since 1946. The rest of the globe took up a lot of the slack after that, but people began staying home for most of their entertainment when Truman was on his way out, and it's never changed. Now, of course, kids and twenty-somethings watch most entertainment on their phones, iPads and computers, and flat-screens are a second thought.

Movie screens? Great if you have yourself a blockbuster. Otherwise, not. Jeffrey is going in the direction Walt did in 1954, and his instincts are right.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Bob Tyler Art Exhibit opens this Friday!

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The TAG Interview -- Nik Ranieri (Part III)

TAG Interview with Nick Ranieri

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

As the 21st century dawned, and Disney hand-drawn animation gave way to its CG cousin, Nik found himself in a quandary. Should he stick with pencil and paper? Or move on to the land of computers and pixels? ...

In this final installment of Mr. Ranieri's TAG interview, Nik talks about animating on Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, then returning to hand-drawn animation with Princess and the Frog. On later CG features, Nick created hand-drawn test animation like the example below.

(Note: The video above the fold is only half of the entire interview, the first half. The damn camera ran out of memory, a problem which has now been rectified with a larger memory card.)
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, April 27, 2014

WB Animation

Of late, WB Animation has created its share of direct-to-video features with the D.C. characters.

... 2014 will see two releases from WB’s animation studios in the form of Son of Batman and Batman: Arkham Asylum, and while the latter will be a standalone project based on the popular Arkham Asylum video game series, it turns out that Son of Batman will be just the latest chapter in a series of animated films all set within the same DC universe, consciously similar to DC’s “New 52″ reboot of their comic book continuity.

James Tucker, supervising producer for Son of Batman and many other DC animated features, recently spoke to Comic Book Resources about the development of the title, which introduces Bruce Wayne’s biological son Damian, who was raised by his mother Talia al Ghul to be an assassin, and eventually becomes the new Robin. ...

James Tucker was asked about the possibility of heroes like Aquaman getting their own animated feature (there was a rumor that he was left out of War specifically for that reason). And while Tucker wouldn’t name any future characters with a film in the works, he did suggest that plenty of thought has gone into this continuity, saying:

"We have a lot of plans, I can say that. The world’s wide open. We don’t really have a lot of restrictions on that. I mean, I just wish we could do 10 a year because – no, I don’t, because that’s a lot of work. But there are ideas we want to do and characters I want to tap into. It takes time to get to them. We only do two a year that are in continuity, so it takes a while to get around to everyone. So as long as each movie has something or somebody in it that no one’s seen on DVD before, I think we’ll be accomplishing our goals." ...

Warner Bros. Animation turns out a steady stream of direct-to-video features. And it's not just super heroes in capes. There's the usual spate of Scooby Doo long-forms (since you can never have too many Scoobs) and Looney Tunes features. (There's one of those in work now.) And the Tom and Jerry features. (Joe and Bill might have moved on, but their creations still generate cash flow.)

The direct-to-video market keeps shrinking, but there's always streaming and downloads, so there's still money to be made. (Just not as much as ten or fifteen years ago.)

Click here to read entire post

World Box Office

The cartoons still make money in foreign lands.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Rio 2 -- $27,500,000 -- ($346,158,443)

Frozen -- $7,200,000 -- ($1,143,737,000)

The LEGO Movie -- $5,400,000 -- ($452,442,478)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $2,400,000 -- ($261,940,595)

Last week, Rio 2 was at the top of international box office. This week?

Since launching in a handful of international markets this month, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" had collected an impressive $132 million, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures. The movie is currently playing in roughly 40 foreign markets ...

Rio 2 is tracking pretty closely to its predecessor (the global take of which totaled $484,635,760). The sequel should parachute into the same territory, money-wise.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Our American Box Office

There's only one animated feature in the current Top Ten.

Weekend Box Office -- U.S. and Canada

1). The Other Woman (FOX), 3,204 theaters / $9.6 million Fri / 3-day cume: $25.4 million/ Wk 1

2). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,620 theaters (-205) / $4.4 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $14 million (-42%) / Total cume: $223 million/ Wk 4

3). Heaven Is For Real (SONY), 2,705 theaters (+288) / $4 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.8 million (-39%) / Total cume: $51.9 million /Wk 2

4). Rio 2 (FOX), 3,703 theaters (-272) / $3.3 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $13 million (-41%) / Total cume: $95.5 million / Wk 3

5). Brick Mansions (REL), 2,647 theaters / $3.2 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.9 million / Wk 1

6). Transcendence (WB), 3,455 theaters (-0) / $1.5 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.7 million (57-%) / Wk 2

7). The Quiet Ones (LGF), 2,027 theaters / $1.5 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.8 / Wk 1

8). Bears (DIS), 1,720 theaters (-0) / 1.3 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.4 million / Wk 2

9). Divergent (LGF), 2,066 theaters (-420) / $1 million Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.3 million (-40%) / Total cume: $139M / Wk 6

10). A Haunted House 2 (OPRD), 2,310 theaters (-0) / $930,000 Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.7 (-69%) / Wk 2 ...

Meantime, Mr. Peabody and Sherman now occupies the Second Ten and has taken in $108 million. The LEGO Movie, in less than 340 theaters as it nears Little Silver Disk time, stands at $252.7 million

Click here to read entire post

Our World, Part IV

See, it's the unions that are lousing things up.

Unions Are Biggest Obstacle In Indie Film Production, Film Execs Say

Foreign film sales execs took aim at Hollywood guilds and unions at the Independent Film & Television Alliance Production Conference today, citing them as the biggest roadblocks in getting indie films made. “I get it that stars like Bruce Willis are getting paid the big money, they are the driving force behind these films getting made, but I don’t get the guys who pull cables that make $100,000 a year,” said Voltage Pictures president and CEO Nicolas Chartier ...

Do we find this surprising? The goddamn unions are bleeding the country dry. Just ask the co-president of Voltage Pictures. Because, as we all know, American workers are horribly overpaid. And American executives are chronically underpaid.

... American executives argue—conveniently enough—that their compensation should be compared to what other American executives are paid. This argument has tended to be persuasive to American boards, which—conveniently enough—are made up primarily of American corporate executives. And big American investment management firms—also led by American corporate executives—likewise think this makes sense. Which is all quite nice, but if you tried convincing one of these very same executives that he shouldn’t replace an American factory worker with a cheaper Chinese one, he would laugh you out of the room. ...

The thing of it is, the whole deal comes down to how much leverage you've got. And currently, the Chartiers of the world have a whole lot of juice to get what they want, which is more money for them and less for the cable pullers and others who don't really matter.

Clearly, they've been successful.

American workers who previously made up the wealthiest middle class in the world have lost that distinction, according to new research that attributes the economic stagnation on rising income inequality in the US.

Economic growth in the US continues to be as strong if not stronger than other developed nations, although fewer Americans are reaping the benefit of their hard work. An analysis of income and spending numbers published Tuesday by the New York Times indicated that the wealthiest tax brackets are enjoying more financial growth, while the lower and middle income tiers are now lagging behind their counterparts throughout the world.

Median income in Canada tied with median income in the US in 2010 and has likely surpassed that number since, according to the Times. Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and a number of Western European countries still trail US median income, although the margin is much narrower than any forecasters had previously predicted. ...

This "lag of income" thing. Could it have anything to do with our tax policies, corporate culture, and ... oh yeah ... the decline of labor unions?


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Friday, April 25, 2014

The TAG Interview -- Nik Ranieri (Part II)

Some Ranieri animation from "Beauty and the Beast". (Ignore the irritating commercial.)

TAG Interview with Nick Ranieri

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

When Mr. Ranieri made his way to Burbank after finishing work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, he had to prove himself as an animator all over again. Which in a short time he did. ...

Nik here discusses the challenges working on the Disney blockbusters of the nineties, and how it took awhile to gain the confidence of different directors as he moved from one animated feature to another. (Working his way to Supervising Animator was not always a smooth journey.) Click here to read entire post

The 7D

A new Disney TVA series is close to launch.

Disney's "The 7D," a contemporary, comedic take on the WORLD of the Seven Dwarfs, will premiere MONDAY, JULY 7 (10:00 a.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD and will debut on Disney Channel and Disney Junior later this year.

Joining The Voice cast are Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg in the recurring roles of Crystal Ball and Magic Mirror, respectively. The series' previously announced voice cast includes Kelly Osbourne as the comically evil villain Hildy Gloom. ...

The 7D has been in work at the Yahoo building near Bobo Hope airport for awhile now. Over a year ago, production top-kick Tom Reugger told me about all the testing and focus groups the show (and other Disney TVA shows) went through. (The Channel believes devoutly in lots of focus groupings among target audiences.)

The artists have found the board-work challenging; I have yet to meet a director or storyboard artist on the project who doesn't think it's a funny show. As we've mentioned before, many Warner Bros. Animation veterans are working on this project, so it will be interesting to see how it fares in the Disney universe. Certainly Diz Co. and the channel are pulling out the various marketing stops.

... This June, Disney Publishing Worldwide will release "The 7D Mine Train" app, a side-scrolling adventure that introduces users to the re-imagined Seven Dwarfs and allows them to choose one of the characters to pilot a mine cart through a variety of Jollywood locales including the 7D's mine, the Gloom's Grotto and the Queen's Treasure Room ...

If a Disney Channel/TVA animated series makes it to air, that means the Channel is confident they have a winning show on its hands.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The TAG Interview -- Nik Ranieri (Part I)

TAG Interview with Nick Ranieri

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Nik Ranieri has had a long, fruitful career as a top-flight animator on hit cartoon features that reach back twenty-five years ....

Nik developed an interest in drawing at a tender age. His older brother liked to draw, and Nik liked to emulate his older brother. Although his sibling moved on to other pursuits, Nike stayed with the drawing thing, which led him to Sheridan College's animation program, and then to Canadian production houses. From there, it was on to employment with animator Richard Williams on a film entitled Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ...

This is the first of a three-part interview with Mr. Ranieri. The first section goes up today, the next two will be heard (and seen) Friday and Monday. (We'll be skipping over the low-traffic weekend.)

A fine Ranieri interview from the Animation Podcast, recorded in 2005, can be found here.

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The Bonus Thing

The trades have picked up Disney's bonus story.

Steve Hulett, business representative at IATSE Local 839, told The Hollywood Reporter that he has received complaints from animators who reported that Disney handed out bonuses to those currently working in the division -- whether or not they had worked on Frozen. A Disney Animation employee told THR that the bonuses arrived on Thursday, amounting to 10 weeks pay.

The complaints arrive at a time when visual effects and animation artists are fighting for better working conditions. Frozen is now the top-grossing animated film of all time, having surpassed $1.1 billion worldwide.

Hulett acknowledged that bonuses are discretionary, but added, "my issue is philosophical" and that it's "morally bankrupt" to not give the bonus to those who worked on the entire picture. ...

To be clear, Diz Co. can do what it wants with this. It's under no obligation to divide part of the cash flow up with employees or ex-employees. But it seems to me that to share some of the good fortune with the people who worked long hours on a tight schedule helping to make the movie a record-breaker is the most enlightened course to take.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The Tinsel press reports:

... In a far-ranging conversation, [Disney Studio chairman Alan] Horn touched upon a number of Disney’s most prized franchises. At the top of that list was Disney’s breakout Frozen, now the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Horn told his audience that Disney’s sole focus at the moment was getting the Frozen musical ready for Broadway and that a sequel hadn’t even been discussed. ...

But it will be discussed. And reasonably soon.

However ...

... [Chris] Buck claims there's been no talk of a follow-up, despite the film's massive popularity and worldwide profits. "Everyone's asking if there will be a 'Frozen 2', but at the Studio there's actually been no talk about it!" Whether we will see more of Elsa and Anna is, according to the Oscar-winner, totally in the hands of the directors. "John Lasseter has always said it's up to the filmmakers. If they feel there's another story to tell and one that's equal to the first, then the Studio will support it, as will John. It has to be our passion to do another, seeing as they take three or four years! If there's a story we feel passionate about, then they (Disney) would support us." ...

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Moving On Up

Mr. Register climbs northward.

Warner Bros Animation’s EVP Creative Affairs Sam Register has been promoted to President, Warner Bros Animation and Warner Digital Series. The second part of the title refers to Register’s role as head of a newly formed live-action digital content production unit where he will oversee the development and production of original live-action digital series, working with both Warner Bros TV-based creative talent as well as outside writers and producers. The studio already has such a division in Studio 2.0, which has spawned series like Childrens Hospital, which migrated to TV via Adult Swim.

Conglomerates are getting more involved all the time with digital content and internet delivery.

Warner Bros. has been expanding in the animation area. Warners Animation Group (WAG) is creating theatrical animated features on the main Warner lot, following the Chris Meledandri model of Develop-Projects-In-Southern-California-And-Produce-Them-Elsewhere.

Mr. Register, it appears, will continue to concentrate on home screen venues, expanding into live-action. While it would be good if he spends most of his time developing new animation, we wish him well in his added responsibilities.

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Our World, Part III

Corporatism now, corporatism tomorrow, corporatism FOREVAH.

Open-Internet advocates are calling foul on new rules that would allow broadband companies to strike special deals for preferential treatment

The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new rules that would allow Internet service providers to charge content companies for preferential treatment over the “last mile” to users, according to multiple reports, in a blow for advocates of “Net neutrality,” the principle that consumers should have equal access to content available on the Internet. ...

If our fine corporations can't monetize what was previously low-cost or free, what is the point of being U.S. of A., Inc.?

Not too much, I should think. (The Golden Rule: Those that have the gold, make the rules.)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At DreamWorks Animation, TV Division

Today I spent part of my morning in the Unum Insurance skyscraper in Glendale, where DreamWorks Animation's television group continues to expand, grown from one floor to two. And next week three. ...

DWA TV has taken over a total of four floors in the building, two near the top and two near the mid-section. One floor is filled to the brim with artists and tech directors working on the previously announced King Julien (a Madagascar spin-off), Puss in Boots (from Shrek) and Veggie Tales in the House.

There's also a bunch of other series and pilots happening, but since they haven't (so far as I know) been announced, and I've got no desire to get angry phone calls from DWA managers, I will keep the titles and subject matter to myself.

As for the physical plant, one floor is bursting at the seams with execs, techies and artists, one floor is beginning to fill up (although it's still pretty empty) with newer shows I don't think have been announced yet, and yet another floor will have crew from Dragons, Defenders of Berk coming over from their Ventura Boulevard digs in Studio City. (I'm told that starts to happen next week. The crew has a bunch of new episodes to produce, and will be continuing at full speed.)

Elsewhere in and around DWA:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is just a few months away from its release and DreamWorks Animation has released the first five minutes of the most awaited animation movie during a special presentation at Wonder Con.

The first five minutes of the forthcoming sequel reintroduces Hiccup and his dragon friend Toothless in breathtaking scenes including delightful dragons racing and some dangerous skydives.

The first instalment of the 3D animation movie was the highest earner for Dreamworks and its sequel has created enough buzz already. ...

The t.v. series Dragons: Defenders of Berk is designed to mesh with the theatrical versions of the continuing story.

Click here to read entire post


This has the earmarks of a hybrid animated feature.

... Disney has hired Jon Turteltaub to direct a feature based on the venerable family film ride "Small World", [the Disneyland attraction] with the catchy tune.

Jared Stern pitched Small World and will write the script. He, Turteltaub and The Lego Movie‘s Dan Lin will be the producers. This one will take awhile to come together but it is envisioned as a potential franchise for the studio. ...

"Family film ride"? Aren't we getting a little ahead of ourselves? ...

I would love to see what the plot line is on this baby. But if Warners can make a movie based on Legos and get themselves a hit, Diz Co. should be able to conjure something with "Small World."

And look on the bright side. If they can't create a blockbuster, maybe we won't have to endure eight sequels.

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Union Station Opening, Shot by Ward Kimball

The celebratory parade for the opening of the last major train station in the U.S. of A.

Union Station opened in 1939 in downtown L.A. Then, it was a major railroad hub. Today, it's a railroad station and a focal point for Los Angeles's urban transit system. It now contains trolleys, subways, and the ever-popular choo-choo trains. ...

The footage shows downtown L.A. on May 3, 1939 when Union station opened for business. Photographed by Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men (long before they were nine old men.)

Ward was twenty-five-years-old at the time, and already a train buff. He was working on Pinocchio.

H/t to the Wise Old Animation Producer.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Our World, Part II

Bonus Fun

Over the past several days there have been complaints from some laid-off Disney feature employees who are a little chapped. Their story goes like this:

They worked on the animated feature known as Frozen (and many of them on earlier features), and now they're at liberty. (The company's choice, not theirs.)

So they've now discovered that everyone who's labored on the picture, and is still a Disney employee, gets a nice fat bonus check. But they get nada because they no longer work for the company.

For some reason I've received a few e-mails and phone calls about it. ...

And I, good union rep that I am, have (in turn) called the company on their behalf. And said this:

I understand these bonuses Diz Co. is handing out to Frozen staffers are discretionary, and totally within the corporation's purview. But look at the situation from these separated employees' perspectives. They worked alongside everybody else, worked their tails off the get the picture done, worked to the best of their abilities, and then the company laid them off.

I get how someone who resigned and went somewhere else, maybe left in the middle of the picture, deserves nothing. They walked out, so the hell with them. But these people wanted to stay. And they worked hard. And the company used their work. And Frozen ended up making a billion-plus dollars.

I understand that the Walt Disney Company is under no obligation to pay a separated employee more of anything (or a non-separated employee, for that matter), but the crew-members were doing pretty much the same job on the same movie, and now months later, some get a big extra check and some don't rate so much as an all-day sucker.

You okay with that? ...

The answer (paraphrased) was, "The company's policy is to pay bonuses to current division employees, whether they worked on a given picture or not, and that's what the company does."

Our world, Disney style.

Click here to read entire post

Our World

As we slide back toward the level of unionization we last saw ... oh ... a century ago, there is this.

The United Automobile Workers union unexpectedly announced Monday that it was dropping its effort to force a new unionization vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Bob King, the U.A.W.'s president, said his union was basing its decision on the belief that the National Labor Relations Board’s adjudication process in the dispute “could drag on for months or even years.”

The union lost a vote at the plant in February, 712 to 626, and soon afterward it asked the labor board to order a new election, asserting that anti-union statements and threats by Tennessee lawmakers had prevented a fair election. ...

As noted here a couple of days ago, we live in a time of the New Oligarchs, those lucky duckies who live in their own plush, parallel universe. And want to keep it that way, while paying less for the privilege.

... The median pay for the top 100 highest-paid CEOs at America’s publicly traded companies was a handsome $13.9 million in 2013. That’s a 9 percent increase from the previous year, according to a new Equilar pay study for The New York Times.

These types of jumps in executive compensation may have more of an effect on our widening income inequality than previously thought. A new book that’s the talk of academia and the media, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, shows that two-thirds of America’s increase in income inequality over the past four decades is the result of steep raises given to the country’s highest earners. ...

“What Piketty’s really done now is he said, ‘Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on.’ He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth.” ...

The rich will always be with us. I get that. But American taxes have become less progressive over time, so you now have the folks in the Top Tier, who make most of their money from the stock market, paying an effective tax rate of 15%, while poor working slobs (you and me) shell out 18% ... 22% ... 25%.

If we just went back to the tax rates Ronald Reagan signed into laws in 1987, we would have a more progressive tax system, and the bottom 30% of the population would catch a better break.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Eggs

This being Easter Sunday ...

Charles Solomon narrates a short history (or longer history, if you pick the right tab(s) at the left of the linked screen) of insider caricatures in animated features, featurettes and shorts.

... For animators, an Easter egg is an in-joke, a caricature, or some other surprise hidden in a movie. Disney animator Eric Goldberg says the practice goes back at least to the 1930s: "You can look at 'Ferdinand the Bull,' for example, from 1938, and there’s a scene where all the characters are caricatures of staffers. There’s Ward Kimball, there’s Art Babbitt, there’s Freddie Moore, and at the end, the matador himself is Walt Disney. If Walt can take a joke, then so can we." ...

H/t: President Emeritus Tom Sito.

Click here to read entire post

Your World Box Office

The Cartoons keep accumulating.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Grosses)

Rio 2 -- $48,000,000 -- ($276,863,098)

Frozen -- $7,600,000 -- ($1,129,173,000)

The Lego Movie -- $7,600,000 -- ($441,259,672)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $2,200,000 -- ($258,682,777)

Rio 2 has outgrossed Mr. Peabody after three weeks in the world marketplace. ...

And Deadline tells us:

... Disney is having a fantastic run overseas with both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Frozen. The Marvel sequel has passed the $500M while Frozen has broken more records, becoming the highest international animated grosser of all time. Frozen is No. 1 in Japan where it is skating past the $100M market. ...

Rio 2 had a stupendous $48M gross from 65 markets this weekend with its biggest hold in China where it earned another $7.5M and raising its overall cume in the market to $23M. The animated Fox feature opened to No. 1 in Italy with $2.4M and among most holdover markets, the bird was sitting pretty at either the No. 1 post or a close 2nd among the new openers. ...

The Lego Movie built another $7.6M from roughly 2,980 screens (657K) admissions to bring its overall international cume to $189.4M. ...

People sometimes sneer at Fox/Blue Sky making all the sequels, but it shouldn't be a mystery. Blue Sky in particular has a sterling track record with blockbuster foreign returns with its franchises, so it's guaranteed the company will do more of them.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Of, By and For the Incorporateds

As if we didn't know it before, but it's always good to be reminded.

Writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels discusses a forthcoming study in Perspectives in Politics by fellow poli-sci acedemics Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. Their research provides stunning new evidence of the hegemonic dominance of the rich in our democracy.

Looking at 1,779 national policy outcomes in the United States over a period of over twenty years, Gilens and Page found that:

... economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. ...

The differences between the influence of average people and moneyed elites on the policy-making process were not small, either. Bartels says that the preferences of economic elites (defined here as citizens at the 90th percentile or above of the income distribution) were fifteen times as important in affecting the government policies that were enacted on the national level.

I don't know what's "stunning" about it. Anybody with half a brain can see that the Top Tiers pretty much get their own way. ...

Just a few examples from the recent past:

* In California, entertainment labor unions are fighting hard for a tax incentive bill that will largely benefit (wait for it) ... large entertainment conglomerates.

* The Affordable Care Act subsidizers private insurance plans and is pilloried by Republicans, even as they work to turn the government's single page plan (Medicare) into a version of ... the Affordable Care Act.

* The Federal Government bails out General Motors and Chrysler when they teeter on bankruptcy.

* The Federal Government bails out the Large Banks when they're sliding into insolvency. (And also fails to criminally prosecute bank officers for money laundering and fraud.

I concluded long ago that we are, like it or not, the United States of America, Inc. The Republicans want to remove the crumbs the riff raff consume at the dinner table, while the Democrats want to add a few crumbs. (Which is why I'm a Democrat.)

But face it: By and large, it's the same. We're a corporatist state, so live with it.

Click here to read entire post

Your American Box Office

With Rio 2 right behind Captain America 2.

U.S. - Canadian Box Office

). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,825 theaters (-113) / $9.8M to $10.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $24.5M to $25.4M (-38% to 40%) / Per screen average: $6,650 / Total cume: $200M / Wk 3

2). Rio 2 (FOX), 3,975 theaters (+27) / $9.2M to $9.5M Fri. /3-day cume: $23M+ (-41%) / Per screen: $5,700 / Total cume: 75.9M / Wk 2

3). Heaven Is For Real (SONY), 2,417 theaters / $7.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $18.9M to $20.1M / Per screen: $8,000 / Total cume: $26.8M to $27M+ (5-day) / Wk 1

4). Transcendence (WB), 3,455 theaters / $4.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11.5M to $11.8M / Per screen: $3,300 / Wk 1

5). A Haunted House 2 (OPRD), 2,310 / $3.8M to $4.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9M to $9.4M / Per screen: $4,000/ Wk 1

6). Draft Day (LGF), 2,781 theaters (0) / $2.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6M (-37%) / Total cume: $19.5M to $19.7M / Wk 2

7). Divergent (LGF), 2,486 theaters (-624) / $2.15M to $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.5M to $6M (-18%) / Total cume: $$133.6M to $134.2M / Wk 5

8). Oculus (REL), 2,648 theaters (0) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M (-53%) / Total cume: $21.3M / Wk 2

9). Bears (DIS), 1,720 theaters / $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5M / Per screen: $2,900 / Wk 1

10). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,796 theaters (-64) / $1.6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M to $4.9M (-11% to 14%) / Total cume: $47.5M to $48.4M / Wk 5

Mr. Peabody and Sherman, now out of the Top Ten, plays on 780 screens and has a total accumulation of $106,743,000. This is much higher than last summer's Turbo but far from DreamWorks Animation's high-grossing best.

Click here to read entire post

Investment Basics

The longer I invest for retirement, the more I realize that most people (me included) should make the program as simple, easy and stress-free as possible, then stick with the program.

Toward that end:

Doesn’t Matter: Your theories on tax policy.
Does Matter: Taking advantage of tax sheltered retirement accounts.

Doesn’t Matter: Developing tactics for every short-term market move or geopolitical risk.
Does Matter: Crafting long-term principles that can guide your actions through multiple scenarios.

Doesn’t Matter: Your political views.
Does Matter: Creating a comprehensive financial plan.

Doesn’t Matter: How cheap your trading commissions are.
Does Matter: Keeping your overall investment costs in check.

Doesn’t Matter: The inevitable market correction.
Does Matter: How you react when stocks fall. ...

Many artists I talk to would rather eat Vaseline sandwiches than spend time researching stocks and bonds. But the dirty little secret is, smart investing is simple and easy to implement. The difficult part is overcoming your lizard-brain emotions and fleeing from a sinking market at precisely the wrong time.

Which is why for many people, the Three-Fund portfolio -- Total Stock Market, Total International Stock Market, Total Bond Market -- is the best solution:

Does the Three-Fund portfolio seem overly simplistic, even amateurish? Get over it. Over the next few decades, the overwhelming majority of all professional investors will not be able to beat it."

-- Dr. William Bernstein, financial author, advisor

Many have a tendency to over-worry investments. But think about it. The fewer moving parts, the less time needed to think about what should be done. Three funds equal three choices. Easy.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, April 18, 2014

B.O. Forecast

... has the movie with macaws on top.

The Mojo's Forecast (April 18-20)

1. Rio 2 - $25.1 million (-36%)

2. Captain America - $22.7 million (-45%)

3. Transcendence - $20.9 million

4. Heaven is for Real - $15.3 million ($21.8 million five-day)

5. A Haunted House 2 - $11.9 million

6. Bears - $7.4 million

For those keeping score at home, as of Thursday Mr. Peabody and Sherman was just out of the Top Ten with $106,383,000 (domestic), The Lego Movie had $251,860,000 (domestic), and Frozen was an eyelash shy of $400,000,000. (Also domestic.)

Click here to read entire post

Running Out of Dresses

It's not just about a billion-plus in theatrical grosses.

... Toys, dolls, and clothes have always been a big part of strategy at Disney, the world’s largest licensing company. Even so, it’s hit an unexpected merchandise jackpot with Elsa, the Snow Queen of Arendelle, and her ice gown. “It took everyone by surprise worldwide,” says Stephen Berman, chief executive officer at Jakks Pacific (JAKK), a manufacturer that sells to chains such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Target (TGT). “This is a new Disney princess franchise. It happens maybe once or twice in a business career.” In January, stores sold out of Jakks’s version—price, $20—and some retailers are ponying up to airlift reinforcements from Chinese factories.

Buyers stocked only about as many of the ice gowns as they did Rapunzel outfits from Disney’s 2010 Tangled. But since its Nov. 22 opening, Frozen has become the top-grossing animated film of all time, with worldwide theater receipts of $1.1 billion When shipments do come in, Disney stores limit customers to two dresses to curb black market sales.

Tasia Filippatos, a Disney spokesperson, declined to comment on the size of the Frozen merchandise market. ...

The market is BIG, but retailers initially got faked out.

Early on, Elsa dress sales were slow and stores thought they’d over-ordered. “There was big uh-oh moment at the beginning,” O’Loughlin said.

Then kids fell in love with the movie princess, who has a kingdom trapped in ice and a sister, Anna, who searches for her across the tundra.

As sales began to climb and orders poured in after the Christmas holiday, Jakks had trouble restocking because of Chinese New Year, which shut down manufacturing in that country for a month until mid-February. Much of the “Frozen” merchandise is made in China. ...

So Diz Co. has played catch up with the merchandise thingie ... and shy about saying how lucrative it is. However, we know one thing for certain sure. If all those people inside the Hat Building hadn't made the movie, then the dresses wouldn't be flying off the shelves.

Click here to read entire post

Mychal Simka -- TAG Interview

TAG Interview with Mychal Symka

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link
Mychal Simka resides in a somewhat different space than many animation creators. He rewrites and reconfigures animated features, turning them into different movies ...

Mychal was raised in Anaheim, and his mother worked at Disneyland for a lot of years. (Mr. Simka went to the park a lot as a kid, and continues to visit regularly.) With that background, you might expect he would have ended up animating at Disney Feature animation ... or maybe storyboarding.

Nope. Instead, he became a casting director, and then found his way into animated features as a writer and voice director. He talks about both those things, plus the world marketplace for lower budget CG features in this TAG pocast.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meanwhile Overseas

The Macaws zoom right along.

Rio 2, now in 65 markets, had its biggest weekend yet with $63.5 million, bringing the animation’s total to $125.6 million internationally. That’s definitely on the right track for both Blue Sky and Fox with already $171.8 million worldwide, just about doubling the sequel’s $103 million production budget.

Rio 2 had its best debut in China, in 2nd place with $12.6 million. Among the last big markets that have yet to open the animation, we have South Korea, Poland and Japan, all coming in May. Ultimately Rio 2 should end up somewhere between $450 and $500 million worldwide, more or less around the final tally of Rio, $484.6 million. ...

If Fox can continue making $500 million on a $100 million budget, then Fox will continue in the theatrical animation business. Click here to read entire post

Middle Kingdom Partnership

The Mouse dives into a LARGE market.

Walt Disney Studios and Shanghai Media Group Pictures will co-develop stories with Chinese elements, says an executive of the Magic Kingdom.

"The deal focuses on the weakest point in the Chinese film industry, the storytelling," says Stanley Cheung, managing director of The Walt Disney Company, China.

Under the deal, US-based action, adventure and fantasy writers will team with locally based Chinese writers and filmmakers to develop stories and scripts that bear all the hallmarks of Disney films and feature authentic Chinese elements fit for local co-production and aimed at the international market. ...

Diz Co.'s partnership mirrors DreamWorks Animation's (earlier announced) partnership. And both appear to have the same "weak point" issue. Like Disney, DreamWorks has more direct control of story development.

But are these Chinese-centric features going to find a wider global audience? And how profitable will they ultimately be?

Click here to read entire post

Ending the Fox Late-Night Block

But ordering up new prime-time candidates.

Fox will end its late-night Saturday cartoon block, Animation Domination High-Def, after less than a year, but it is continuing its commitment to the animation initiative.

The network has ordered two half-hour series from the Animation Domination production unit that it plans to air in prime time, most likely on Sunday, in the next year. It has not announced the names of the series.

"We're as enthusiastic as ever about investing in this growing initiative to be able to incubate our way into the next Sunday night animation hit," says Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who oversees multi-platform programming for Fox. The Simpsons and Family Guy are two long-running Sunday successes for the network.

Regarding the above, questions come to mind:

* Why is Fox discontinuing it's late night cartoon experiment? Too raunchy? Too unprofitable? If it's one or both of these things, why move ADHD product to prime viewing hours on Sunday nights?

* What shows, animated or otherwise, will give way for the newer Animation Domination High-Def offerings?

* Is the WGAw going to be covering these new shows? ADHD specializes in low-rent animated half-hours that are non-union top to bottom. Will that change now that ADHD's product is shifting to the Fox network in prime-time? Will the Animation Guild, which has a contract with Fox TV Animation, have a contract for this work?

* Is ADHD, with low wages and no benefits, going to become the new cartoon business model for Fox?

I don't have any answers to the questions above. But I sure as hell would like to.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

French Animation Hub

Illumination Entertainment uses a Paris animation studio for much of its production work, but there are other cartoon hotspots in France:

The French town of Angouleme already has an international reputation for its Comic book Festival, but now it’s also gaining a reputation for animation. Dozens of studios have opened there over the past 15 years creating around a thousand jobs in the town.

France is the top animated film producer in Europe, and third worldwide behind the US and Japan. Thanks to government support and funding, animation is a growth sector in France, now employing around 5,000 people.

The town of Angouleme, in the west of France, is making a name for itself as a hub for animation, even attracting studios away from Paris.

You will note that France uses "government support and funding" to juice up its animation sector. You can also see here how Angouleme does indeed have a cluster of animation studios.

(Exactly how big they are, the Google map doesn't say.)

Click here to read entire post


Rupert's minions have apparently upset some people.

Fox’s NSFW Easter cartoon is drawing some holiday heat. The animated short on the network’s Animation Domination High-Def (ADHD) online channel is a raunchy (and quite catchy) music video titled “The Easter Bunny’s Coming” (video below).

The Parents Television Council, an independent watchdog group that monitors network programming and frequently protests content, called the video “X rated” and crowned it “the most explicit material we’ve ever seen produced by a broadcast television network.”

“We thought we had seen the worst of ‘ADHD’ when Fox aired a segment several months ago with high school characters gleefully taking cell phone pictures of their genitals and texting the photos to other students,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “That content pales in comparison to the material in this new video.” ...

Genitals? On the INTERNET!?

Tim Winter doesn't get around much, does he? ...

Meantime, I was over at the Fox Animation studios, today, where a table read was in progress for the first episode of Family Guy's new season. A staffer clued me:

"Seth doesn't come to table reads anymore. He hasn't come in a couple of years. They put a big speaker phone in the middle of the table and he he does his parts over that."

Another artist said Mr. Macfarlane spends a lot more time in his new headquarters in Beverly Hills. And that he doesn't review every facet of the show like he used to, but delegates a lot more. (Smart, in my opinion.) He's got live-action projects, animated projects, and a movie coming out the end of May. Who's got time to look at every design, set of dailies, and storyboard?

Across the hall at American Dad, work goes on for the series' new, fifteen-episode season on TBS. Artists are hoping that TBS will pick up yet another fifteen episodes as early as May, when the writers will get word of new installments.

"When Fox canceled the show last year, the American Dad writers went elsewhere and Fox couldn't get many of them back when TBS picked up the series for another season. Don't think they want to make that mistake twice."

On the subject of episode orders, at one time there was talk of Family Guy having a few less half-hours in the new season, but now it appears there will be twenty. (Or so I'm told.)

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cable Cartoons

The Time-Warner family of cable networks does well with the animations.

... Across the second week of April, and with a full primetime programming scheduled (8 – 11 p.m.), Adult Swim ranked #1 in Primetime delivery of adults 18-34 among all basic cable networks. Adult Swim’s Total Day weekly averages also ranked #1 on basic cable among adults 18-34, 18-49 & 18-24 as well as men 18-34, 18-49, & 18-24. Total Day delivery also grew +3% among men 18-49 vs. the same time period last year. ...

Across the second week of April 2014, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network among boys 6-11 & 9-14 on Thursday Night (6-8 p.m.), and the #1 network among boys 9-14 on Monday Night (6-8 p.m.). ...

But there's confusing this:

For the week of April 7, 2014, Disney Channel ranked as TV’s #1 Total Day network for the 148th-consecutive week among Tweens 9-14 (379,000/1.6 rating) and for the 147th time in the previous 148 weeks in Kids 6-11 (440,000/1.9 rating) – dates back to week of 6/13/11.

Disney Channel defeated Nickelodeon by 23% in Kids 6-11 (440,000 vs. 358,000) and by 56% in Tweens 9-14 (379,000 vs. 243,000).

In Prime, Disney Channel stood as cable TV’s #1 network for the 464th-consecutive week among Kids 6-11 (735,000/3.1 rating – 8+ years) and 201st-straight week among Tweens 9-14 (659,000/2.7 rating – 3+ years).

You will note how everybody is Number One, except the demos in each press release are a teensy bit different from one conglomerate to the next. (18-34 is NOT 15-17, not even close.) On the other hand, Adult Swim is a success by any measure.

... What started nearly 15 years ago as a two-hour programming experiment has emerged as the biggest success story in late-night television: an irreverent, disruptive anti-channel that blends live action and animated original series to the delight of 18-35 year old males across the country. While the press clamored over the network talk show hosts’ game of musical chairs, culminating with David Letterman’s recent retirement announcement, Adult Swim quietly swept ratings among the covetable young male demo across 2013. ...

Adult Swim underwrites a lot of non-union animation. TAG aims to change that as time goes on. The rest of the network is Animation Guild oriented. No reason AS can't be the same.

Click here to read entire post

Maybe Write Down Time?

The Street isn't sure about the economic health of Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

... Analysts are divided over whether the MPAS will force DreamWorks Animation to take a write-down. Analyst Ben Mogil of Stifel Nicolaus predicted “Peabody” would cost DreamWorks Animation $41 million in a note Monday while Morgan Stanley forecast the company would break-even or take a modest write-down.

DreamWorks Animation will report its quarterly earnings at the end of this month, and Mogil posited, ”the question now becomes whether the company writes the film off with this quarter results, as was the case with “Rise of the Guardians” or waits to see how DVD fares, which was the case with ‘Turbo.'” “Turbo” cost DreamWorks Animation $13.5 million in its most recent quarter.

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” has already topped “Turbo” in the United States, grossing $105 million to the $83 million “Turbo” made. “Peabody” has lagged overseas, however, grossing $143 million thus far with South Korea the only new market left.

“We estimate that the international box office will be in the $155mn range (was $255mn), triggering a loss of $41mn,” Mogil wrote. ...

I'm guessing that we won't be seeing Mr. Peabody and Sherman 2: When Time Travelers Attack anytime this century.

But I'm betting that, come summer, How to Train Your Dragon II is a major winner for the company.
Click here to read entire post

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Joys of Like-O-Meters

Lauren Davis writes:

How useful are animation focus groups when deciding whether to re-tool a cartoon series? According to this behind-the-scenes comic by Green Lantern: The Animated Series showrunner Giancarlo Volpe, the answer is: not very. ...

And Mr. Volpe draws. ...

I wouldn't say that testing and focus groups provide no information or guidance, but corporate entities rely on them way too much.

Disney TVA/Disney Channel (to use but one example) religiously focus group and test animated shows long before they ever make it to air. If the test scores are high enough, then the half-hour pilots/animatics/whatever get green-lit to series. If it bombs or under-performs with the tots and their "Like-O-Meters", the half-hour ends up in the ash can of failed pilots.

The tyranny of five-year-olds. It's wonderful that artists' destinies and livelihoods rest in their grimy little hands.

Click here to read entire post

Mining the Vault

Nobody likes sequels. But everybody loves remakes.

Cinderella -- This one started out as a project directed by Mark Romanek, previously responsible for One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go. He's been replaced by Kenneth Branagh, and the film will be in cinemas in March next year.

Pete's Dragon -- The 1977 live-action/animation hybrid, about an orphan boy and his big cartoon dragon, is set for a remake.

The Jungle Book -- Disney's version already has a release date pencilled in for October next year, with Jon Favreau directing the live-action/CGI hybrid. We also have some encouraging casting news, with Idris Elba having signed up to lend his dulcet tones to Shere Khan. ...

Then, of course:

Originality. It's a good thing. But not in Hollywood.

Click here to read entire post

Animation Predominates

The Fox block, it does well. Particularly the Griffins.

... Fox's "Family Guy" and ABC's "Resurrection" were Sunday night's highest-rated network shows among key young adults, though it appears that golf-boosted CBS had the best ratings overall.

"Family Guy" scored a rating of 2.1 among key 18- to 49-year-old viewers, according to early numbers from Nielsen. Though Peter Griffin et al were down 9% from last week, the animated comedy was the top nonsports program on the major networks in the advertiser-coveted age group. ...

Fox continues to cash in on prime time animation. I've got no idea why every other broadcast network avoids animation between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. The only thing that occurs to me is that they don't want to cozy up to the WGAw.

But maybe that's not it. Maybe they just don't want to rain on Rupert's parade.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The East Coast Feature Animation Studio

It's based in Connecticut, and doing well.

... More than any other U.S. filmmaking operation today, Blue Sky is demonstrating the enormous power and sway the international market can have on Hollywood. But judging by the coverage (or lack thereof) of Blue Sky’s films from most stateside media outlets, you could be forgiven for thinking of the studio as the RC Cola of feature animation, a third-tier operation without the cultural and commercial heft of Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney. (Or, for that matter, the upstart Illumination Entertainment, which has basically only the Despicable Me movies and The Lorax to its name.)

The things you need to know about Blue Sky studios is

1) Fox tried to sell Blue Sky ... before the company realized Ice Age was going to be a big hit.

2) Blue Sky pioneered the use of tax subsidies, moving from White Plains, New York to Connecticut to get money from the state.

3) Blue Sky's features cost less than Pixar's and DreamWorks's, but more than Illumination Entertainment's. A Blue Sky features costs in $95-110 million range, while Illumination Entertainment products run $75-$80 million. Blue Sky brings in temporary staffers during crunch time and puts them up in corporate apartments. The company isn't unionized but pays competitively. Chris Meledandri, a specialist in keeping budgets low, ran both Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment at different times.

4) Blue Sky's core staff has been on board for years.

5) Blue Sky's animated features are (mostly) profitable.

Click here to read entire post

World Box Office

The Cartoons, they continue to do well around the globe.

Foreign Box Office -- (World Accumulations)

Rio 2 -- $62,300,000 -- ($164,200,000)

The Lego Movie -- $9,500,000 -- ($424,718,771)

Frozen -- $8,000,000 -- ($1,112,532,000)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $3,800,000 -- ($249,214,979)

The rundown as described by Deadline:

Warner Bros’ The Lego Movie continues building its overseas cume with an additional $9.5M this weekend on over 3,100 screens. The total international tally now stands at $173.3M. Lego clicked in Germany with a No. 1 bow – ahead of newcomer Divergent and holdovers Rio 2 and Noah. ...

Frozen, meanwhile, has glided up a notch on the all-time box office chart, now standing at No. 8 with $1,113M. Disney is confident Frozen will soon pass Ice Age 4 to become the highest grossing international animated release of all time. It added $8M this weekend. ...

Rio 2 dropped 20% in its second outing in the UK, earning $2.9M from 1,100 dates. ...

Click here to read entire post

The Jobs Boost From Free Money

This isn't much of a surprise.

British cartoons boom as industry is reanimated by tax relief deal -- Tax credits tipped the balance, says CBeebies boss who has commissioned six new series from homegrown studios ...

The creative surge comes after a helping hand from George Osborne, who has introduced a tax break for the animation industry, amounting to around 20% of production costs. Announcing the measure in his 2012 budget, Osborne said he wanted to ensure that Wallace and Gromit stayed at the top of the global animation game.

The effect has been to revive an industry that had been down in the dumps, with even the production of Thomas the Tank Engine being shifted in 2010 from Britain to Canada. Kay Benbow, head of CBeebies, said the tax credits had "tipped the balance", with more and more projects that had been pre-ordered by the channel suddenly going ahead. ...

Productions that had been outsourced overseas are being repatriated, he said, and there are signs of inward investment as foreign producers start to place work with UK animators. Blue-Zoo is adapting one animation for a Japanese client. ...

It has, of course, become a buyers' market.

Companies and conglomerates now look around for the biggest subsidies, and set up shop where the money spigot is biggest. And when the cash flow gets turned off, they move on to a new locale with a generous dole.

Robust and unfettered free enterprise is truly a wonder to behold. Now, let's get the lazy moochers off of food stamps so we can make room for bigger farm subsidies.

Click here to read entire post

Retirement Theft

The past few weeks I've talked to various fifty-something members who have a lot of years and cash in Guild retirement accounts, but aren't old enough to cash in. Some are still employed and hanging on to their long-time profession, and some are encountering longer stretches of down-time and wondering what they're going to do for the next fifteen years of their working lives. But no matter where somebody is in their career, they should be aware of this:

... A new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees — adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year — would erase $70,000 from an average worker's account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options. To compensate for the higher fees, someone would have to work an extra three years before retiring.

The study comes from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Its analysis, backed by industry and government data, suggests that U.S. workers, already struggling to save enough for retirement, are being further held back by fund costs.

"The corrosive effect of high fees in many of these retirement accounts forces many Americans to work years longer than necessary or than planned," the report, being released Friday, concludes.

Most savers have only a vague idea how much they're paying in 401(k) fees or what alternatives exist, though the information is provided in often dense and complex fund statements. High fees seldom lead to high returns. And critics say they hurt ordinary investors — much more so than, say, Wall Street's high-speed trading systems, which benefit pros and have increasingly drawn the eye of regulators.

Consider what would happen to a 25-year-old worker, earning the U.S. median income of $30,500, who puts 5 percent of his or her pay in a 401(k) account and whose employer chips in another 5 percent:

— If the plan charged 0.25 percent in annual fees, a widely available low-cost option, and the investment return averaged 6.8 percent a year, the account would equal $476,745 when the worker turned 67 (the age he or she could retire with full Social Security benefits).

— If the plan charged the typical 1 percent, the account would reach only $405,454 — a $71,000 shortfall.

— If the plan charged 1.3 percent — common for 401 (k) plans at small companies — the account would reach $380,649, a $96,000 shortfall. The worker would have to work four more years to make up the gap. (The analysis assumes the worker's pay rises 3.6 percent a year.) ...

Over the past two years, trustees of the TAG 401(k) Plan have pushed to get fees down. As of August 1st, the TAG 401(k) Plan will be administered by Vanguard Mutual Funds. Our fund selection won't change very much, but overall costs will be lower.

Long term, this will mean participants have more folding money in their wallets when they step off the work merry-go-round and spend more time on the front porch, thinking deep thoughts.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sequels for a Popular Hybrid Animated Feature

From the trades.

In a Reddit AMA this morning, Avatar director James Cameron expounded on the [Avatar] franchise’s timetable in regards to the screenplays, writing, “The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They’re essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks. There’s always pressure, whether it’s a new film or whether it’s a sequel, to entertain and amaze an audience. I’ve felt that pressure my entire career, so there’s nothing new there. The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable. There hasn’t been a problem finding new and wonderful things to include in the movie.” ...

Avatar is a lot like Gravity. Sure, it's got some live action in it, but mostly it's an animated feature, tricked up to look like a live-action, sci fi pic.

So. These days, James Cameron is a director of animated features as much as anything else. Which gives you an idea of how mainstream animated features have become.

Add On: "Why Saying Animation is for Kids is Bullshit."

(They're speaking -- mostly -- about traditional animation, but the rule applies to all kinds of animation ... even animation that passes for live-action but really isn't.)

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Box Office Animation Bookends

... with two animated features in The List.

Add On: But as Saturday gives way to Sunday, Rio fades a bit and Captain America WS regains the top spot.

U.S. - Canadian Box Office (revised)

1). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,938 theaters (0) / $11.7M Fri. / $17.8M Sat. (+49%) / $11.4M to $11.7M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $40.5M to $41.4M (-57%) / Total Cume: $157. 9M to $158.4M / Wk 2

2). Rio 2 (FOX), 3,948 theaters / $11.9M Fri. / $15.2M Sat. (+28%) / $11.6M Sun. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $37.6M to $38.7M / Wk 1

3). Oculus (REL), 2,648 theaters / $4.9M Fri. / $4.3M Sat. (-12%) / $2.8 Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $11.8M to $12M / Wk 1

4). Draft Day (LGF), 2,781 theaters / $3.57M Fri. / $3.8M Sat. (+75) / $2.4M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $9.75M / Wk 1

5). Divergent (LGF), 3,110 theaters (-521) / $2.3M Fri. / $3.26M Sat. (+41%) / $1.8M Sun. (-45%) / 3-day cume: $7.48M (-42%) / Total cume: $124.87M / Wk 4

6). Noah (PAR), 3,282 theaters (-289) / $2M Fri./ $3.18M Sat. (+55%) / $2.2M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $7.3M (-57%) / Total cume: $84.7M / Wk 3

7). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,860 theaters (+102) / $1.56M Fri. / $2.1M Sat. (+35%) / $1.79M Sun. (-15%) / 3-day cume: $5.46M (-30%) / Total cume: $40.8M / Wk 4

8). The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 1,467 theaters (+204) / $1.17M Fri. / $1.8M Sat. (+54%) / $1M Sun. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $4M (-33%) / Total cume: $39.4M / Wk 6

9). Muppets Most Wanted (DIS), 2,261 theaters (-791) / $565K Fri. / $975K Sat. (+73%) / $635K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $2.1M (-65%) / Total Cume: $45.6M / Wk 4

10). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 2,001 theaters (-930) / $445K Fri. / $790K Sat. (+76%) / $510K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $1.7M (-65%) / Total cume: $105M+ / Wk 6

As Deadline noted:

The animated family film Rio 2 from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios has soared to the top spot this weekend, besting Disney/Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is expected to drop roughly 59% in its sophomore frame. The budget for Rio 2 is said to be about $103M and internationally it has already taken in over $55M (as of last weekend).Rio-2 It will have made roughly $100M worldwide after its debut this weekend here in the states.

A huge force for the picture on social media, of course, is Bruno Mars who is on a world tour right now in Japan. “He’s feeding the Rio 2 fans across his 51 million Facebook and 18 million Twitter followers,” said RelishMix CEO Marc Karzen who also noted, “YouTube views are climbing and on par for animated (films), but fan reposted clips to owned studio trailers are soaring at a healthy 8 to 1 ratio.” The first Rio opened in 2011 to $39M so the sequel is performing about 10% better. The sequel received an A CinemaScore.

We did an interview with Rio 2's director Carlos Saldanha two years back. Find it here.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Predictions of B.O.

Rio 2 near the top.

Animated sequel Rio 2 could cruise to around $40 million this weekend, which would put it in a close race for first place against Captain America: The Winter Soldier. ...

Playing at 3,948 locations, Rio 2 could give the Captain a run for its money. The first Rio opened to $39.2 million around the same time in 2011, and ultimately closed with a solid $143.6 million. While it was well-liked enough, its reputation doesn't seem to suggest a huge bump for the sequel. ...

Regardless of how Rio 2 performs at the domestic box office, its sure to be a big hit internationally. The first one earned $341 million, and this one seems well on its way to matching that number (it has already earned over $55 million). ...

Rio 2 will likely perform ahead of the original. If not here, then in the wider world. Click here to read entire post

Nik Ranieri

A week and a half from now, we'll be running an expansive interview with veteran Disney animator Nick Ranieri. Nik talks in detail about his long career, from Roger Rabbit to Wreck-It Ralph, but I wish I had asked him about this:

On Working With Chuck Jones

I didn't like to do freelance but I couldn't pass up the chance to work with Chuck Jones [on a a Roadrunner short called "Chariots of Fur".] I remember as he was going through the scene with me in his office, I was geeking out in my mind about how amazing the experience was. "I'm getting pitched a scene by Chuck Jones, this is awesome", I thought as I nodded with professional restraint.

A bunch of us from Disney worked on the short and used aliases so as to avoid any conflicts. Eric Goldberg, Will Finn, Joe Haidar, Raul Garcia were some who freelanced. All used aliases.

I thought I'd be clever and spell my name backwards. So I submitted my credit as " Irein Arkin". Unfortunately, Chuck didn't like the spelling and changed it to Irene...the big dope! Oh well, still a great experience....

Interesting side note to the above: In the mid-nineties, Disney Feature had personal service contracts with the studio which tied them exclusively to Diz Co.

But funny thing: Chuck Jones was doing one of his last shorts, and lots of Disney animators wanted to work with him. And one day I got a phone call from Chuck Jones Producctions:

CJP: Hello, is this the union?

Hulett: It is.

CJP: Well, we have a problem over here. We've got a bunch of animators from another studio free-lancing on a short, and they have contracts that say they can't work for other companies.

Hulett: These are Disney animators, right?

CJP: Yeah. How did you know?

Hulett: Because they're the only group in town with exclusive contracts.

CJP: Yeah. So they're ... a little nervous. We want to give them screen credit, but they want to know if they can use fake names in the credits.

Hulett: If it's fine with them, it's fine with the union. Just be sure you have letters from each of them saying they want to use fake names. It wouldn't be good if they change their minds later and file grievances. ...

I was never clear on the title of the short where animators used phoney names. But I guess Chariots of Fur would be it. (Happily, the statue of limitations has long-since run out.)

Nik did an interview with Animation Podcast back in 2005. You can listen to it here.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Next Release

Which should do well.

The picture is DWA's summer release, and Scott Mendelson at Forbes is bullish:

... The original How To Train Your Dragon earned $494 million in 2010, a fine sum but less than even the likes of The Croods ($587m). Ten years ago Shrek 2, a well-liked sequel to a popular and leggy original, shocked pretty much every box office pundit and grossed $440 million in America and $916 million worldwide, or basically double the original film’s $440m gross.

Last year Universal’s Despicable Me 2 pulled the same trick, earning $970m off of the original’s $543m. Of course, it’s possible that the film will play like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 and earn just a little over the original’s worldwide gross (think $550m), which would still make it a hit compared to its $165m budget. ...

I'll go wild here and say that Dragons 2 will do way better than Meatballs 2.

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One More In The Mix

DoubleNeg goes where others -- with results both good and bad -- have gone before.

Says Matt Holben, DNeg co-founder and CEO:

'Animated Feature Films are an exciting next step in the development of Double Negative. We recognise that whilst there are synergies wtih VFX it requires a different approach. We are thrilled that Tom Jacomb has joined us to develop our new division. We are excited by the long-term potential of feature animation and are determined to build a sustainable pipeline of work.'

So Double Negative is jumping into the feature animation game, hoping to replicate Pixar, Illumination Entertainment, Dreamworks, etc. I say good luck to them.

But the thing of it is, pipelines don't matter very much. Having a team with story chops is really most of the game. If you don't own that, great surfacers, lighters, animators and a manager with a long resume but short talent for molding an entertaining story with compelling characters buys you little.

Maybe Tom Jacomb is the right guy. I hope he is, because another successful animation studio means more jobs for more cartoon people. But the field is crowded, and making second-rate product is a good way to end up in the remainder bins at Toys R Us.

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The movie might be out of theaters, but the soundtrack goes on ... and on ... and on.


DISNEY’S SOUNDTRACK TO FROZEN refuses to budge from the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200. The set spends its ninth nonconsecutive week atop the list, having sold 149,000 copies in the week ending April 6 (down 8 percent), according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The album is one week away from tying Disney’s The Lion King for the longest run at No. 1 by an animated film soundtrack.
Lion King roared for 10 nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 in 1994 and 1995.

Frozen has now sold 1.9 million units. It has been among the top three bestselling albums every week for the past 14 consecutive weeks. ...

-- Keith Caulfield, Billboard

And ... I donno ... the performance of the movie and associated products might have something to do with this:

Shares in The Walt Disney Company (DIS) have been outstanding performers in recent quarters, even when you consider how strong this five year bull market has been. The stock price of this bluest of the blue chips have been red hot, outperforming the S&P500 by nearly thirty percentage points since January 1, 2013. ...

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Ending a Productive Ten-Year Run

Twenty years further on, Kim Masters recalls the unraveling of a Diz Co. management team.

[Disney President Frank] Wells' death stunned the industry and instantly created a vacuum in the Hollywood hierarchy. Ambitions were inflamed and dominoes began to fall. By August, just weeks after The Lion King had opened as the latest and greatest in a string of hits from a revitalized animation unit, Disney's chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner, then 52, would fire his studio chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then 43.

After Katzenberg's dismissal, Spielberg publicly denounced Eisner as "Machiavellian," while Disney board member Stanley Gold -- who would later turn on Eisner and lead a shareholder revolt with Roy Disney -- said Katzenberg had been brought low by "his ego and almost pathological need to be important."

Eisner told the Los Angeles Times, "This is not a Shakespearean tragedy," but it did have its Shakespearean qualities. I had quoted a source in my Vanity Fair story describing Geffen as "the Iago" of the Disney drama -- a reference to the whispering villain in Othello. The idea was that Geffen had been behind the scenes, pushing Katzenberg to push Eisner, and the strategy had backfired spectacularly. The insult drove Geffen wild, and he set out to discover who had said it. (Among his guesses: Eisner and Diller.) He failed.

I'll tell you who said it now, but only because he's dead and left no wife or children. It was Don Simpson, who knew the players well and had watched the whole spectacle with fascination. ...

It was weird, watching all the above unfold from just outside the studios gates.

Disney animation directors told me how, in Jeffrey's last weeks at the studio, he went from being ferociously hands on to laid back and aloof. Artists said that at a story session for Hunchback of Notre Dame, Eisner and Katzenberg sat side by side, with Jeffrey scrunched as far away from Michael as possible. At the time, there were lots of gag drawings of what Jeffrey would be doing after leaving the studio: Car salesman, real estate agent in a blazer, you name it.

Nobody then could have predicted how events played out: Eisner ultimately knocked off the high perch by a vengeful Roy Disney, and Jeffrey running his own animation studio.

That helicopter crash in the snowy Sierras two decades ago started a lot of changes at Disney and the wider movie industry.

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Selling Original Property

Variety tells us:

Cyril Pedrosa, who launched his career in Disney animation, has sold movie rights to his French graphic novel “Three Shadows” to FilmNation Entertainment.

“Three Shadows,” published in 2008, centers on a father who takes his son on an epic journey in order to cheat death.

Based in France, Pedrosa began his career in animation by working on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules.”

It’s the latest high-profile book adaptation set up at FilmNation — a key player in the independent sales-financing-producing world. ...

There are a number of artists in animation who create graphic novels. Some of them do them after hours when they're working at Disney or DreamWorks. We often tell them to make sure the company doesn't claim ownership, make sure you've done a carve out of rights, say you had the project in hand BEFORE you went to work at the House of Mouse or wherever. And if possible, go out and pitch the property to other companies AFTER employment ends.

It usually isn't an issue, but you never know. Studios can be ... quirky. Of course, for Mr. Pedrosa, this wasn't a problem. He's no longer at Disney.
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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Joanna Romersa -- The TAG Interview

TAG Interview with Joanna Romersa

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Joanna Romersa has clear memories of working on the Disney lot in the first weeks of her animation career. She was training to be an inker, and the studio had Lady and the Tramp in production. But Disney's had more than its first Cinemascope cartoon feature going on back then. ...

Jack Webb's Dragnet was shooting on one of the newly-built sound stages and a mockup for "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" for some new amusement park down in Anaheim was laid out on yet another stage.

Joanna recalls the Disney studio of the mid-fifties as "enchanting," but it was only the beginning of an animation career spanning decades. Ms. Romersa is one of the few female animator/directors who has worked in almost every facet of the cartoon business. From inking on Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty, Joanna moved on to assistant work in the '60s and '70s (ultimately supervising a department of assistants at Hanna-Barbera) to animating in the '70s and '80s. She's been an animation director for three decades, and has worked on almost every kind of cartoon product, from theatrical features to direct-to-video features, from episodic series to commercials. (There aren't many Hanna-Barbera characters with which Joanna hasn't been involved.)

She today works as an animation director on Disney's upcoming The 7D. We spoke at the Animation Guild on March 28th.

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