Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014

What better way to depart the year '14 than reviewing what happened over the last twelve months ... as we watch an animator in action? ...

A lot of creative (and employment) ferment went on inside the animation industry during the year.

The L.A. cartoon business hit an all-time high in employment
. The Animation Guild had 3400 artists, writers and technicians working under its jurisdiction. Feature employment was up and down (Disney hired more people as Frozen rocketed into the stratosphere, while DreamWorks Animation continued laying off artists as some of its features under-performed)*. TV animation was percolating merrily with lots of new and continuing series.

Yet while cartoon work was up overall, wages were remarkably stagnant. (This is in sharp contrast to the 1990s, when wages marched upward in lock-step with rising employment. Hmmm. It couldn't be that there's some kind of collusion going on or something?) Our corporate overlords are nothing if not honest, upright, and law-abiding. So banish thoughts of conspiracy from your suspicious mind.

Inside the Guild, President Nathan Loofbourrow departed (due to a new job in Montreal) and TAG started upgrading its website. We successfully organized some of L.A.'s non-union animation work and continued campaigns to organize other shows. We started planning for 2015 contract negotiations.

Globally, lots of animation was happening. In Japan (to cite but one example) the animation industry rose to new heights:

... [T]he market for domestic and foreign animation in Japan reached 242.8 billion yen (about US$2.03 billion) over the course of the year 2013. According to the Media Development Research Institute, this is a record high for the industry, topping 2006's 241.5 billion yen (about US$2.02 billion at current exchange rate).

The market increased for the second year in a row, up by 4.2% from 2012. ...

There were over 100 features produced in the far-flung corners of the globe, and animation continues to be a strong profit center around the world. California passed its own movie and visual effects wage subsidies, the better to compete with the hand-outs of Free Money taking place in Canada, Britain, France and other places.

It's hard to predict what 2015 will bring, but maybe we can forecast that:

1) Television animation will continue to prosper.

2) Animated features will go on getting made in large numbers (because many make money), and

3) Employment will remain robust, even as studios strive to pay as little as possible.

Lastly. We wish all of you a happy and prosperous New Year. If your 2014 was rocky, we hope you enjoy nothing but smooth sailing in 2015. And if the year now departing was great, we want the new one to be even better.


* DreamWorks Animation is a study in contrasts. The feature division laid off hundreds of employees after "Rise of the Guardians" failed to turn a profit, and laid off more feature employees in the second half of 2014. At the same time, DreamWorks Animation TV continues to expand and hire personnel as it increases production on its huge Netflix slate of shows.

Click here to read entire post

Edward Herrmann, RIP

Long ago, I interviewed character actor Edward Herrmann for the Disney Publicity Department (I was moonlighting from Disney Feature Animation). Edward H. was promoting two features: Take Down, an indie that the company had picked up for distribution, and The North Avenue Irregulars, an in-house Disney comedy, mildly amusing and moderately competent, as many Disney live-action comedies were in the late seventies.

I still remember how Eward Herrmann talked about lunching with Laurence Olivier (when they were making The Betsy) and asking Olivier about the actor's "inspired strategy" of doing plays, followed by films, followed by more plays thereby brilliantly shaping his long and distinguished career. Laurence O. set Mr. Herrmann straight:

"Dear boy, I didn't plan ANY of it. I finished one thing and then looked around desperately for what was available to do next. There was no strategy, no master plan."

That anecdote has stayed with me for thirty-five years. Herrmann was then a young, rising actor. But now ...

Edward Herrmann, the versatile, honey-voiced actor whose roles included patricians and politicians such as "Gilmore Girls" father Richard Gilmore, "The Practice" law professor Anderson Pearson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, has died. He was 71. ...

"Besides being an accomplished actor, was also a true gentleman and a scholar, as well as being an incredibly kind and decent man. He will be sorely missed," Robbie Kass, Herrmann's manager told CNN.

"My friend Ed Herrmann was the kindest, classiest, most talented man. It was an honor and a joy to know him, a devastating blow to lose him," tweeted Lauren Graham, who starred as Lorelai Gilmore in "Gilmore Girls."

Over a career that stretched over more than four decades, Herrmann was rarely the star but always a standout. ... He was nominated twice for Emmys for his portrayal of FDR, first in the TV movie "Eleanor and Franklin" (1976) and then in the next year's "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years." (He also played Roosevelt in the 1982 movie version of "Annie.")

He won a Tony for his performance in a 1976 revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession." His performance in "The Practice" led to his only Emmy win. ...

Edward Herrmann didn't do, so far as I know, any voice work in cartoon land. However ...

He was an iron man of voiceover work and narration, doing everything from Dodge commercials to the History docu “Giganto: The Real King Kong.” He even lent his resonant pipes to voicing Rick Blaine in the 1998 audiobook rendition of “Casablanca” prequel novel “As Time Goes By.” Lynn Redgrave was his Elsa. ...

Sleep well, Mr. Herrmann. You had a long, illustrious career.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christine Cavanaugh, RIP

A veteran voice actress departs.

Christine Cavanaugh -- the original voice of "Babe" the pig and Dexter from "Dexter's Laboratory" -- has died at the age of 51. Cavanaugh passed away on December 22nd.

Christine's work is legendary ... providing the voice of countless iconic cartoon characters including Chuckie the red-headed baby from "Rugrats."

She also voiced characters from "Darkwing Duck," "Aladdin," "The Critic," "The Powerpuff Girls" and "The Wild Thornberrys."

Cavanaugh retired from voice acting in 2001. Her character in "Rugrats" was replaced by Nancy Cartwright...

A long and prolific voice career, but 51? Way too early to go.

Add on: Tad Stones, producer of Darkwing Duck, said this about Ms. Cavanaugh:

Christine Cavanaugh was the heart of my most popular series. Without Gosalyn, Darkwing Duck would not have sold. And without Chrissy, Gosalyn wouldn't have had the balance of sweet and mischievous that made her such a memorable character.

Click here to read entire post

Celebrating Laika Artistry

Sharing news of Laika's features screenings that came our way this morning. CalArts and Focus Films are sponsoring screenings of Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls at the Silver Screen Theater at the Pacific Design Center on Sunday, January 4.

Tickets are available by emailing the addresses listed in the image above. Be sure to arrive early, as the fine print states the screenings are overbooked to compensate for no-shows and seating is granted to those who are on the list on a first-come, first served bases.

Click here to read entire post

Top Ten TV

The highest rated shows of the season, with one animated half-hour on the list:

7. Family Guy

Thanks in no small part to that gargantuan season opener, a one-hour crossover episode with The Simpsons, Family Guy is one of the most-improved series of the 2014-15 season and continues to find much of its exceptionally young audience online. The Seth MacFarlane toon, and only animated entry in the top 10, is up 18 percent from last season in the key demo and jumps to 11.7 million viewers per episode with 30 days of multiplatform eyeballs. ...

Fox continues to be the only broadcast network that programs prime-time animation, with the other three ceding the territory to Rupert's minions.

Meantime, FG continues to attract its key demographic in significant numbers, even as Mr. MacFarlane spreads his empire in new directions and absents himself from Fox Animation's studios. Staffers told me that Seth wasn't reviewing designs, scripts and boards with the same close scrutiny of earlier seasons. (It's sort of hard to do that when you're on the east coast shooting Ted 2.) When he's not on location shooting, he spends a lot of his time at his Beverly Hills office.

But delegating more authority to directors, story supervisors and others is a good thing. The show has been in production a long time, and the fact that ratings still rock, even without Mr. MacFarlane topside in the wheelhouse every day, reflects well on the strength of the FG staff.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 29, 2014

Tech Meister

Diz Co. prez, pushing envelopes?

CEO Bob Iger's empire of tech

Bob Iger has spent much of his near decade at Disney wearing an additional corporate hat: CTO. The result? He has brought the coolest innovations from Lucasfilm, Pixar, Marvel, and ESPN into a single galaxy.

“Blue sky” experimentation has always been part of Disney’s ethos, going back to the days of multiplane cameras (to add visual depth to the background in the 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and early use of lifelike robots (Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, which features electromechanical singing birds, pioneered the concept in 1963). But more than six decades ago, when founder Walt Disney first created Imagineering as the company’s innovative arm, virtual reality chambers were almost as far-fetched as talking animals.

Fast-forward to today, and not only is virtual reality an actual reality, but the flirtation between technology and entertainment has evolved into an insoluble—albeit sometimes contentious—marriage. ...

Fortune Magazine notes that Diz Co has, under Iger, become a tech company in a major way. I see it when I drive to Glendale and see its newer campus on Flower Street, a stone's throw from DreamWorks. The place is focused on internet entertainment and technical innovations.

But the unspoken reality? Entertainment companies have to own big tech components if they intend to grow and thrive. The marketplace is dragging them along whether they want to be "tech companies" or not. It's not like there's a major choice. Having technology officers is what a company today has to do to prosper.

The smarter conglomerates get that.

Click here to read entire post

Foreign Levies Extended

Fees and taxes collected in foreign lands for writers and directors has been going on for decades. Some of this money gets remitted to American creators, and animation people are included in the mix. And it seems the current formula will get stretched out another thirty-six months.

The multimillion-dollar Foreign Levies Agreement between the MPAA and the WGA and DGA, which had been set to expire on December 31, has been extended for another three years. The pact covers monies payable under foreign laws to writers and directors of copyrighted works in the U.S.

Since 1990, the DGA has collected more than $160 million under the agreement on behalf of directors, and the WGA has collected more than $152 million for writers. Production companies have received well north of $350 million. During the fiscal year ended March 31, the DGA disbursed $14.3 million and the WGA $13.3 million, while the companies received more than $60 million. The extension of the agreement keeps in place the 50-50 split between the unions and the studios, with each guild receiving a 25% share of the foreign levies. ...

Years ago, the Writers Guild negotiated a lesser deal where our fine entertainment conglomerates got the lion's share of the money. (Don't know how the Directors Guild made out, but we assume it was the same.)

In more recent times, the division of levies money has become a 50/50 proposition. The reason this deal is important to cartoon workers is that the DGA and WGA administer cartoon money and send out checks to Animation Guild members; the Animation Guild works with both organizations to insure that FL checks get into the hands that they're supposed to.

If you're an animation writer or director and believe that you have foreign levy cash coming, check the DGA list or the WGA FAQ page and see what you need to do to receive foreign levies.

(As you can see, we've had a few issues regarding foreign levies with one of our sister guilds over the years.)

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adapting to a Changing Business

Artists have to do it as much as anyone, here in the 21st century.

... AS THE BUSINESS of comics syndication has changed, tethered as much as it is to the fate and fortunes of newspapers, it has been especially great to see cartoonists enjoy opportunities in other creative realms in 2014.

“Doonesbury’s” Garry Trudeau (“Alpha House”) and “La Cucaracha’s” Lalo Alcaraz (the forthcoming “Bordertown”) are largely writing for the screen these days.

“Pearls Before Swine’s” Stephan Pastis has turned his kids’ “Timmy Failure” books into a successful franchise. Robb Armstrong is developing “Jump Start” as a sitcom for Fox, and “Grand Avenue” creator Steve Breen sold the film rights to Universal (with “Dodgeball” director Rawson Thurber attached) to adapt his new book, “Unicorn Executions and Other Crazy Stuff My Kids Make Me Draw.” ...

Here’s to ever-increasing creative opportunities (and revenue streams) for comic strippers in 2015. ...

Read the Post article, and it's quickly evident that the newspaper comics page ain't what it used to be ... nor supplying the cash flow that successful comic strips used to pull in.

With changing technologies and narrowing profit margins, comic strip artists have the same issues artists in animation have had over the past decade and a half: New technologies are upending older professions, so how to ink and pencil artists adapt to the new realities? Do they dig in and try to hang on, or move into another line of work?

For animators, that has meant pivoting away from the light board and plunging into storyboard work, or retraining as a rigger or CG animator. In the case of comic strip artists, it's meant transferring story skills to script writing, or adapting work now appearing in the dying medium of newsprint to TV series and feature films. Sometimes that's meant live-action, other times animation. For some artists, it's been both.

Adapt ... or live in genteel poverty. Many artists are opting for the first choice, because the second one is a wee bit grim.

Click here to read entire post

The Minions' Serial

The later installment:

The continuation (now several days old) of this: ...

The question is, will Illumination Entertainment's second bananas perform better than DreamWorks Animation's second bananas?

Frankly, I haven't the foggiest. Because I thought that Penguins would have performed better than it has until now.

Click here to read entire post

World Box Office

It's worth noting the large number of High-Grossing Pictures that are dependent on CGI/CG animation.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Hobbit: Five Armies -- $89,200,000 -- ($573,621,968)

Night at the Museum 3 -- $30,300,000 -- ($103,907,357)

Exodus: Gods and Kings -- $31,000,000 -- ($149,516,909)

Unbroken -- $2,700,000 -- ($50,040,720)

Into the Woods -- $1,600,000 -- ($48,805,000)

Big Hero 6 -- $24,700,000 -- ($320,833,000)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $16,100,000 -- ($227,553,796)

Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- $7,900,000 -- ($669,655,981)

Paddington -- $12,000,000 -- ($75,000,000)

And as the trade journals tell us:

... The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies marched out to an $89.2M weekend internationally with about 11.6M admissions on 17,100 screens in 62 markets. ... Exodus: Gods And Kings earned $31M on 6,671 screens in 39 markets this holiday frame. [T]he international cume is a burning bush away from the $100M mark with $97.03M. ... Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb dug up $30.3M from 6,467 screens in 40 markets in its second international session. The 10-day offshore cume is $48.6M. ...

Big Hero 6 bounded into Australia, Brazil and a handful of other markets in time for the holidays with a fantastic $24.7M weekend in 51 territories. The international cume is now $120.9M after 10 weeks in release. ... The Penguins Of Madagascar are still on a mission with a further $16.1M from 7,201 screens in 43 markets. The international cume on the Fox release has been lifted to $160.6M. ...

Penguins has made almost three times as much overseas as it has in the U.S. and Canada. That's a wide difference, but then, Madagascar 3 made 71% of its $746,921,274 global take beyond American shores.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Year in Box Office

The Times tells us that 2014 was sucky.

... After setting a record level of ticket sales in 2013, the industry experienced one of its worst summer seasons in years and struggled to rebound in the fall. Rentrak estimates that the 2014 movies will end up grossing $10.4 billion in the U.S. and Canada, about 5% less than last year’s $10.9 billion.

“July really hurt the industry,” said Tim Warner, chief executive of Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest theater chain. “We never really recovered.” ...

Nonetheless, Fox had a strong year with such films as “Gone Girl,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and DreamWorks Animation’s summer movie “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Analysts, however, were disappointed by DreamWorks’ latest animated movie, “Penguins of Madagascar.” ...

“If a movie like ‘Transformers’ doesn’t go over the top in surpassing the previous installment, people are tweeting about it immediately and not bothering to come see it,” said David Passman, chief executive of Carmike Cinemas. ...

DreamWorks Animation calculated that a comedic spin-off from a major franchise would pack them in, but the calculation turned out to be wrong. It's not that audiences won't turn out for animated features, or that there's too much animated product out there. Audiences simply won't buy tickets to product they find non-compelling. Based on current evidence DWA has under-achieved of late in the "want-to-see" category.

But studios' successes and failures generally happen in waves. When a feature animation brand is hot, the momentum often lasts for several pictures. And when a company is mired in a ditch, it usually stays there an uncomfortably long time. It took years for Disney features to make a comeback. The same may end up being true for DreamWorks Animation.

Click here to read entire post

"Is It All Going To ..."

The British Isles?

... [ILM London] was set up in double-quick time in order to make sure ILM, originally set up in California by Lucas to produce the groundbreaking effects for the Star Wars films, is on hand to work closely with the rest of the production this time. ...

Already though, the studio is looking for a second site nearby to house almost as many staff again [as the initial 180], as the Star Wars workload increases and it takes on more work, including the forthcoming sequel to the Marvel superhero blockbuster Avengers Assemble.

Soon, ILM London will aim to handle three to five films at different stages of production simultaneously. ... The next 12 months finishing Star Wars will be high pressure for ILM London, but the studio must pitch for more work, including from the non-Disney sources that will be required to ensure its investment pays off....

What's left unsaid here, as it is left unsaid about lots of articles regarding CG studios around the globe: If the Free Government Money and/or Really Low Wages go away, so does the work.

It will be interesting to see how much CG work the oncoming Free California Money attracts. My bet is that it will be some, but certainly not a ton, because there are taller stacks of Free Money being offered in London, Vancouver, Montreal and several other places.

Click here to read entire post

Pakistan Jumps In

... to the CG feature biz.

Animation Scoop explains:

Pakistan's fist ever CG animated feature 3 Bahadur ("Three Brave") will be released in 2015. Directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, an acclaimed journalist and documentary filmmaker, winner of an Academy Award for her documentary, Saving Face in 2012 - as well as an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. This is her first animated film. ...

The trailer emphasizes action, suspense, and dramatic angles. And clockworks reminiscent of The Great Mouse Detective.

It's amazing to me that a country getting ripped apart by sectarian strife is making animation, but then, parts of Pakistan are probably tranquil. It's just that the tranquility is difficult to discern from half a world away.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Long Way From Bill Melendez

Bill Melendez Productions had a lock on Charles M. Schulz's comic creation, but not anymore:

... Welcome to the new television Peanuts series, en francais. (Translation: "We're going to have a good doctor-patient relationship, or I'm going to slug you! Do you understand?") Debuting last month, these 500 cartoon shorts featuring the iconic American characters are being scripted, animated and broadcast only in France.

While that might seem like a puzzling choice to American audiences, the move is part of an ambitious business strategy to bring Peanuts to new generations of children around the world. Those plans also include a computer-animated feature film scheduled to open in 2015. ...

Bill Melendez Studios, south of Paramount Pictures in Parchment, was headquartered for decades in three small residential houses that sat side-by-side a half block from the business district.

Bill Melendez, owner and operator of BMS, animated and directed scores of Peanuts specials, commercials and television half-hours. There were also Garfield specials and Cathy specials. (Bill also made a pitch to adapt Calvin and Hobbes, but creator Bill Watterson said no.)

Charles Schulz liked the way that Bill Melendez drew his characters, but Bill and Mr. Schulz are dead. Time grinds on, and the Normaal Studios in France now create television shows with Linus, Lucy and Charlie Brown.

Click here to read entire post

Box Office Forecast

The trades make their predictions for ...

American Box Office

1). Unbroken (UNI), 3,131 theaters /$15.6M Thurs.*/ Total cume: $15.6M /Wk 1
*includes Christmas Eve previews of $850K

2). Into the Woods (DIS), 2,440 theaters /$13.6M Thurs./ Total cume:$13.6M /Wk 1
includes Christmas Eve previews of $1.1M

3). The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (WB), 3,875 theaters /$12.7M Thurs.(+112%)/ Total cume: $126.66M/Wk 2

4). Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (FOX), 3,914 theaters (+129) /$6.8M Thurs.(+145%)/ Total cume: $34.2M /Wk 1

5). The Gambler (Par), 2,478 theaters /$4.6M Thurs.*/ Total cume: $4.6M /Wk 1

6). Annie (Sony), 3,197 theaters (+81) /$4.4M Thurs. (+117%)/ Total cume: $29M /Wk 1

7.) The Imitation Game (TWC), 747 theaters (+713) / $2.95M Thurs.(+1791%) / Total cume: $6.4M/ Wk 4

8). Exodus: Gods and Kings (FOX), 3,002 theaters (-501)/$2.77M Thurs.(+190%)/ Total cume: $45.5M/Wk 2

9). The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (LGF),2,793 theaters (-381) /$2.48M Thurs. (+154%) /Total cume: $296.4M/Wk 5

10). Wild (FSL), 1,285 theaters (+224) / $1.56M Thurs. (+166%) / Total cume: $10.8M /Wk 3

Without, sadly, a cartoon occupying the Top Ten list. Big Hero 6 is now at #13 and closing in on $200 million, while Penguins of Madagascar, down at #16 (yes, Virginia, it's fallen past Big Hero) creeps toward $70 million.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, December 25, 2014


We're not talking Andy Devine's sidekick (and you have to be of a certain age to understand that reference) but a cartoon of renown.

Dec 25, 1955- Chuck Jone's 'One Froggy Evening' premiered. Director Steven Spielberg called it the "Citizen Kane of Cartoons."

If you wonder why you never heard the old-time ditty 'The Michigan Rag' anywhere else but here, was because Chuck Jones & Mike Maltese wrote it specifically for the cartoon.

-- Tom Sito

The Frog himself (in a somber mood):

Click here to read entire post

Merry Christmas

To wrap up the blog's oh-so-short Christmas card festival, may we present

Country ...

City ...

Forest ...

And church ...

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Entertainer of the Year?

Isn't that usually, like, a person? Guess not.

... In 47 ballots submitted by members and subscribers of the AP [for Entertainer of the Year], “Frozen” won 12 votes. Taylor Swift had 8. Matthew McConaughey and Jimmy Fallon were tied for third with 7 votes each. Voters were asked to consider who had the most influence on entertainment and culture in 2014. ...

Poor Taylor. Edged out by a cartoon.

Well, she still has her magazine covers and bajillion dollar concert tours. And the $250,000,000 in the bank. ...

But here's a hint why a non-person is the Big Winner for EoY:

... The film’s gravitational pull has now supplanted Barbie as No. 1 on the holiday wish lists of girls, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Barbie had been the queen for 11 years in a row, but felt a chill this year from the kingdom of Arendelle. ...

It is, after all, when all the pixie dust and other glitter has floated back to earth, about the $$$$.

Click here to read entire post

Guild Website Refresh

For the past few months, we've been working with OPM Design Group at putting a fresh face on the Guild website. The biggest design change was implementing a Responsive Web Design scheme which should give visitors the same experience on the site regardless of the device they use (from mobile to desktop computer).

We've also taken the opportunity to add some functionality to the site we hope you'll enjoy:
  • A Member Profile section exclusive to Guild members that lists contact points, features artwork and indicates if they're available for work
  • A Discussion Forum that will be open to the animation community, yet also have a "Members Only" section
  • An Online Store where clothing and other items featuring the Guild logo will be sold.

We hope to see the new site deployed within the first quarter of next year.

The Animation Guild Blog has been an ongoing project for the past eight-plus years. With the redesign, we'll be putting the blog more directly onto the union website. This means that, for awhile, there will be a blog under Wordpress and a blog under BlogSpot ... in two different internet locations. Don't know how long things will continue that way, but expect tweaks and changes as we travel along.

We now return you to your holiday activities.

-- Steve Hulett

Click here to read entire post

Christmas Eve

And St. Nick gets ready to depart with Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph, etc.

Everyone here at the Guild office wishes you the merriest of holidays, and that you have a safe and happy Christmas Eve.

Click here to read entire post

TV Dominance

Apparently some CG cartoons triumph on the small screen.

ABC’s one-two punch of Shrek the Halls and a Toy Story That Time Forgot encore topped Tuesday night, besting an uberpopular boy band along the way.

Shrek opened ABC’s slate with 5.3 million total viewers and a 1.2 demo rating, while Toy Story did 4.7 mil/1.2 — with the animated features tying for the nightly demo win. ...

Maybe ... since the spin-off pictures aren't doing it for DreamWorks Animation, the studio should go back to the root of all blockbusters and do another Shrek feature.

This is corporate well-being we're talking about here. If Universal can make Jurassic Park IV, isn't it time to bring back the green ogre?

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ralph H. Christmas

You might be wondering what happened to these:

Funny thing.

We've run a couple of hundred Christmas cards from the brush of Ralph Hulett (my artist father) over the years, but seem to be pretty well out of new designs. There might be a handful that we've missed, but we run this one from a few years ago because it's ... pretty.

So instead of running none, we offer a few golden oldies. Hope they please you.

Click here to read entire post

Joyous Noel

From the crew at BB.

As a fine trade paper relates:

... Animated by the team behind the show, The National star in the video as ornaments hanging from the Belcher Christmas tree. The song is a sobering message about the plight of the homeless, with the song’s narrator singing about how he and his family “will be warm tonight,” while there are hungry people dying in the streets.

The short piece offers no solutions to the problem, rather serving simply as a think piece. It’s also another reminder that The National clearly love “Bob’s Burgers.” ...

Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 22, 2014

Non-Photographic Directors of Photography

I'm sorry, but I find this a bit odd.

The key live-action title has gaining traction in the animation business after years of being seen as a largely live-action only task.

This year the field of computer animation passed a milestone when Pixar’s Sharon Calahan became the first director of photography whose work has been purely on computer-generated movies to be invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers. Calahan has received director of photography credits since 1998’s A Bug’s Life, and she’s still one of very few working in animation with that title.

“It’s weird that it’s not widely recognized,” says Pixar President Jim Morris, who championed Calahan to the ASC. “Because the fact is — to use the stop-motion analogy, where you’re lighting puppets and miniature sets — in CG, you’re doing the same thing in virtual space. Over time, we found people who were like-minded, and believed that computer graphics was just another arm of cinematography. It’s just another set of tools to create imagery.” ...

I mean it's fine and all that. You've got your computer-generated light sources, your computer-generated compositions, your computer-generated people, objects, and landscapes.

But none of the objects or light sources are real. Any more than the objects, landscapes and lighting of this 77-year-old chunk of movie-making are real:

So I need to ask: Where's the Director of Photography on The Old Mill?

Same deal, isn't it? Artificial images made to imitate the illusion of realness on the silver screen? Slightly different, but not by much. And there was a good sixty years (or more) where nobody asked of Snow White, Pinocchio, Lady and the Tramp or Sleeping Beauty: "Hey! Where's the director of photography?!"

It was taken for granted with these cartoon features that the images people were watching were created by people not wielding a camera, that to be a director of photography you had to be out in the real world, capturing real images and putting them on film. Like for instance:

Ben Hur's chariot race was shot on a set with flesh-and-blood actors over six months. Which the clip below, despite strong similarities to the scene above, definitely was not:

The pod race is built in a computer (mostly) with non-real elements (mostly). And the director of cinematography? In this instance, bent over a computer constructing shots.

But technology rolls on, upending much of what's gone before. And if studios want to call artists in front of computer screens cinematographers, I guess there's no harm in it. Everything changes. Nobody is following D. W. Griffith and John Ford around anymore, setting up the hand-cranked Bell and Howell on the wooden tripod for the latest shot.

But it ain't the same.

Click here to read entire post

Union Friendly

For the moment, anyway.

... The National Labor Relations Board and the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division ... spent the past decade largely crippled by congressional obstruction, first from Democratic majorities and then from Republican ones. Now freed from those obstacles — at least for the moment — and operating under Democratic leadership impatient to make up for lost time, these agencies are promoting workers’ and unions’ rights more aggressively than Washington has witnessed in a generation.

The changes seem part of a more general shift for the Obama administration — extending diplomatic recognition to Cuba being another — toward more progressive policies as it heads into its final two years. ...

I'm glad to see the NLRB more union friendly, also to have our idiotic Cuba policy die the death it so richly deserved decades ago. We trade with China, we trade with Vietnam, but Cuba is off the table because the Castro brothers suppress people (and Saudi Arabia doesn't?)

Happily, the older Miami Cubans who froth at the mouth at the mention of Fidel's name are dying off, and their children and grandchildren don't give two shits about Mr. Castro one way or the other.

Click here to read entire post

LAIKA Feature

Laika of Portland announces their latest animated feature:

LAIKA and Focus Features today announced production on their fourth collaboration, Kubo and the Two Strings. LAIKA President & CEO Travis Knight and Focus CEO Peter Schlessel made the announcement today. Mr. Knight, an Annie Award-winning animator, is making his directorial debut on Kubo and the Two Strings.

The new movie, from an original screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (ParaNorman) is a sweeping, swashbuckling adventure set in a mythical ancient Japan. It is being brought to life at LAIKA’s Oregon studios via the company’s innovative 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid technique. In addition to directing, Mr. Knight is producing Kubo and the Two Strings with Arianne Sutner (ParaNorman). The all-star voice cast includes Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron; Academy Award nominees Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, and Brenda Vaccaro; and Art Parkinson, who plays Rickon Stark on Game of Thrones and who is providing the voice for the title character of Kubo.

In the epic fantasy, scruffy, kindhearted Kubo ekes out a humble living while devotedly caring for his mother in their sleepy shoreside village. It is a quiet existence – until a spirit from the past catches up with him to enforce an age-old vendetta. Suddenly on the run from gods and monsters, Kubo’s chance for survival rests on finding the magical suit of armor once worn by his fallen father, the greatest samurai the world has ever known. Summoning courage, Kubo embarks on a thrilling odyssey as he faces his family’s history, navigates the elements, and bravely fights for the earth and the stars.

The movie will open in theaters nationwide domestically on August 19th, 2016; as with the three previous LAIKA movies, Focus will release Kubo and the Two Strings in the United States and Universal Pictures International will release the movie internationally. It is the first movie in the new three-picture partnership between LAIKA and Focus. ...

We've been aware of the new LAIKA production for a while now; they've been staffing up and we've been reviewing a number of immigration visas for various non-citizens soon-to-be-working on the picture.

Boxtrolls, LAIKA's latest film, remains in release with a worldwide gross of $107,678,836.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend Foreign Box Office

Two animated features in the Big List ... and lots of live-action heavy with animated effects.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

The Hobbit #3 -- $105,500,000 -- ($355,627,210)

Night At The Museum -- $10,800,000 -- ($28,100,000)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $16,500,000 -- ($199,772,461)

Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- $9,300,000 -- ($639,726,689)

Exodus: Gods and Kings -- $7,600,000 -- ($100,801,511)

Big Hero 6 -- $11,500,000 -- ($272,041,423)

Paddington -- $10,000,000 -- ($60,000,000)

Interstellar -- $4,500,000 -- ($635,433,242)

Big Hero 6 has raked in close to $200 million domestically but is rolling out slowly beyond domestic shores. The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies has raked in $105.5 million from 59 foreign markets. Meantime Penguins has made almost 70% of its $200 million global take in foreign lands.

Click here to read entire post

On This Date ... A Long Time Ago

Since I've lately been on a trip aboard the wayback machine anyway, let's have Prez Emeritus Sito remind us:

Dec 21,1937 - Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" had its grand premiere at the Cathay Circle Theater. The first feature length American cartoon, it became the box office champ of 1938, earning 4 times more than any other film that year, mostly with kiddie half-price matinee tickets. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and the Warner team attended the premiere, and were inspired later to create the character Sniffles.

My favorite story was that of animator Shamus Culhane. As he walked up the red carpet he passed two autograph hounds behind the rope line. They pointed at him" Hey, is that somebody? Nah, that's nobody." This bugged him as he watched the show, but after the film ended to a thunderous standing ovation, he thought "Screw you bastards. I just did something that will be around long after you both are dead. I AM SOMEBODY!"

A bunch of years ago, I picked the brains of Disney old-timers about that momentous night. They told me:

"I was plenty nervous when 'Snow White' started that night at the Carthay Circle. All I could see was the mistakes in our animation. That opening sequence had been one of the first ones complete. But the audience was caught up by Snow White and the birds right away, and I relaxed." -- Ollie Johnston

"In the year and a half we worked on the picture, the advances in animation were phenomenal. Some of the first animation of the girl has never looked good to me. Her eyes squeegee all over her face. She moves badly. But by the time we did the last stuff, for instance the scene where she's baking the pie at the dwarfs' cottage, the animation is great" -- Frank Thomas

"[The audience] even applauded background and layouts when no animation was on the screen. I was sitting near John Barrymore when the shot of the queen's castle above the mist came on, with the queen poling across the marsh in a little boat. He was bouncing up and down in his seat, he was so excited. Barrymore was an artist as well as an actor, and he knew the kind of work that went into something like that." -- Ken O'Connor

Final thought: Tom doesn't mention it above, but Shamus Culhane (for whom Mr. Sito worked) is the only animator who animated on the first three "Golden Age" features. Shamus animated on Snow White, Pinocchio and Gulliver's Travels.

Pretty nifty hat trick.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"a ended up the highest grossing feature on 1938. The film collected $9 million at the box office, which was then a record. t held the title for nineteen months, until "Gone With the Wind" filled houses at roadshow prices in 1940 and 1941, pulling down $22 million in the process. The Civil War picture remains the highest grossing movie of all time, when box office dollars are adjusted for inflation.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Your American Box Office

The Peter Jackson movie seems to be doing well.

Weekend Domestic Box Office

1). The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (WB), 3,875 theaters /$16.1M Fri./ 3-day cume: $52M / Total cume: $86.4M/Wk 1 (Bowed Wednesday)

2). Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (FOX), 3,785 theaters /$5.9M Fri./ 3-day cume: $19.6M /Wk 1

3). Annie (Sony), 3,116 theaters /$6M Fri./ 3-day cume: $19.1M /Wk 1

4). Exodus: Gods and Kings (FOX), 3,053 theaters (0)/$2.3M Fri. (-74%)/ 3-day cume: $8M(-67%) / Total cume: $38.6M/Wk 2

5). The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (LGF), 3,174 theaters (-557) /$2.2M Fri. (-41%)/ 3-day cume: $7.9M (-38%) / Total cume: $289.4M/Wk 5

6). Wild (FSL), 1061 theaters (+945) / $1.15M Fri. (+141%) / 3-day cume: $4M (+167%) / Total cume: $7M /Wk 3

7). The Penguins Of Madagascar (FOX), 2,717 theaters (-595)/ $944K Fri. (-37%)/ 3-day cume: $3.8M (-47%) / Total cume: $M / Wk 4

8). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 2,407 theaters (-369) / $929K Fri. (-29%) / 3-day cume: $3.5M (-41%)/ Total cume: $190.5M /Wk 7

9). Top Five (PAR), 1,307 theaters (+328) /$931K Fri. (-63%)/ 3-day cume: $2.9M (-57%)/ Total cume: $11.9M /Wk 2

10). Interstellar (PAR), 1,550 theaters (-701) / $720K Fri. (-52%) / 3-day cume: $2.7M (-51%) / Total cume: $171.6M / Wk 7

Penguins of Madagascar and Big Hero 6 appear to be neck and neck, except that BH6 has been out three weeks longer and has accumulated $187.8 million, while PoM has collected $62 million.

Click here to read entire post

This Date in Sixtiness

Prez Emeritus Tom Sito, who is the fount of most useful knowledge, says:

Dec 20, 1968- "My Pooh Bear, it certainly is a blustery day..."

Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day premiered on a bill with The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit. It won the oscar for best animated short, which was awarded posthumously to Walt Disney, who had died the year before. ...

This first of the Pooh featureless follows the Milne books closely, and is generally considered the best of the first three featureless, which were later combined into a feature.

Wooly Reitherman directs, and scripted by Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Julius Svendson and Vance Gerry. The Nine Old Men animate Winnie and his cohorts with their usual skill and aplomb.

Click here to read entire post

The Newest Golden Age

There was the thirties and early forties version ... then there was the Disney Renaissance in the first half of the nineties.

And now directors Millers and Lord, directors of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie (among others), talk about the latest incarnation. ...

There are a lot more players in the animation game since the medium went to CGI. They talk about technical nuts and bolts of creating TLM after a short break and the start of a newer video. Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 19, 2014


I motored to Glendale this morning and talked to staffers on three floors of the 'scraper that DreamWorks now occupies. There is a LOT of production (or should I say pre-production) going on. ...

All three floors re busy hives of activity. As one of the employees explained to me:

"It took awhile to get DreamWorks executives used to doing television. They had to adjust to not tweaking and micro-managing, there isn't time. But they get it now." ...

Another employee gave me a heads up about this new rollout ... that happened today:

... The Netflix series [All Hail King Julien] is a prequel, set at the time of Prince Julien's ascension to the lemur throne after his Uncle King Julien (Henry Winkler, continuing his productive late period) suddenly abdicates. In fact, he is throwing his nephew into the jaws of what he believes is a fatal prophecy, and planning to take back the crown after that dust settles.

As in the film, the lemurs are threatened by the fossa — the island's predatory cats. Although it's common enough in animated feature films, this is the rare short-form cartoon series in which the threat of violent death underlies the action.

It also makes for philosophy. Under Julien's uncle, the lemurs live in a state of soul-crushing silence, so as not to become targets; but once Julien takes over, he fires up the boom box, cranks up the bass and lets the rave begin. ...

I talked to a director who said it's been a challenge to find seasoned storyboard artists and storyboard supervisors because (as was related to me) "anybody with experience, and who's any good, is already working."

I confirmed that this was true, that things are tight all over, and I had visited a studio the day before where the supervising director said he was going to have "to build a crew from scratch" and he was dreading it. "Because the pickings beyond the studio walls are pretty slim."

This is a good thing for newer artists, because it makes it easier to break into the business. Lots of shows are getting produced, and lots more opportunities for a paycheck present themselves.

On the other hand (and there is always one of those), DreamWorks Animation's feature division continues to lay off artists as production schedules are rejiggered. An under-performing feature hurts. But (happily) the television product will be getting made for the next three to four years and should produce income streams far into the future.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, December 18, 2014

When Nick Toons Got Its Start

It commenced with one woman.

[Vanessa] Coffey began by producing an [animated] Thanksgiving special for Nick. At that point, the studio had only done animation once before, in the form of a Christmas special led by Ralph Bakshi. Soon, she started a dialogue with then-president Geraldine Laybourne and her team about recruiting original content.

Executives at the time were hesitant due to the fact that they didn't have the budget for bigger animation projects. Months of conversations and brainstorming later, Nick hired Vanessa as a consultant to look for original, creator-driven ideas. After testing pilots, they made Coffey vice president of animation, and assigned her to fill a 90-minute slot with three shows. ...

"Rugrats," "Ren & Stimpy" and "Doug" were each major successes, which can be fully credited with beginning Nick's golden age of cartoons. But not one of them came to her as a fully-formed idea. ...

But then, unpleasantness came. ...

... "That was the most amazing time in my life working on 'Ren & Stimpy,'" Coffey said, "But the situation with John was the most painful situation of my career."

The first six months came with playful disagreements regarding notes. As Coffey recalls, it was only after "Ren & Stimpy" aired with great ratings and garnered a college audience that Kricfalusi became difficult. "He turned," she said. "He said this on the phone: 'I'm the star. I'm making your network. It's all me.'"

Back in August, Kricfalusi expressed his frustrations. "I told her to think of it as though she got to play Santa. You don't give the kids presents that you want for yourself, do you? Kids don't want socks and underwear, they want toys and silly stuff," he said. "I thought to myself, 'Have you ever met a kid?' Who doesn't know that kids think rude things are funny?"

Coffey insists she was just doing what needed to be done to get the show to air. "I wasn't being a big bad executive," she said. "It was my job."

... Kricfalusi's behavior spiraled out of the realm of her patience and the legal terms of his deal with Nick. "Frankly, John was out of control," she said. In September of 1992, he and Nickelodeon parted ways. Kricfalusi insists he was not fired, though Coffey says simply, "He was in breach of contract for not delivering on time, disturbing content and not [being] within the budget." ...

I remember when the John K. kerfuffle went down. There were screams of outrage and anguish when Mr. Kricfalusi was dismissed from the show, but the series went on without him.

And John Kricfalusi went his own professional way. The lesson I draw from this? In conglomerateland, almost all cartoon creators are fungible. Unless your Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay, an executive can Deep Six you on forty hours notice.

I often tell newbies, "Learn to play well with others" (learned from cold, first-hand experience). Artists seldom get their way all or even three-quarters of the time, and it's useful to know this fact of life right out of the gate. If John Kricfalusi had owned the knowledge at the beginning of his Ren and Stempy career, perhaps he would have remained on board to supervise all of the R & S episodes, instead of just some of them.

Then again, maybe not.

Click here to read entire post

Hackery III

Or IV, or whatever. TAG's mother international says this:


As you may be aware, Sony Pictures Entertainment ("SPE") experienced a significant IT systems disruption on Monday, November 24, 2014. The IATSE has been in discussions with the company since then to determine what risk our members may face regarding the potential disclosure of personal information and data.

SPE has determined that the cause of the disruption was a cyber attack. After identifying the disruption, SPE took prompt action to contain the cyber attack, engaged recognized security consultants and contacted law enforcement. SPE learned on December 1, 2014, that the security of certain personally identifiable information about its current and former employees may have been compromised.

SPE has made arrangements with a third-party service provider, AIIClear ID, to offer 12 months of identity protection services at no charge to potentially impacted current and former production employees of SPE or an SPE-affiliated company.

IATSE members should contact AIIClear ID directly to initiate the enrollment process and/or learn more about their services. ...

More info up there at the link. ...

In other hacking news, the terrorists win (again):

Paramount Cancels ‘Team America’ Showings, Theaters Say

Forget those plans by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and other theaters to run Team America: World Police in place of The Interview. The Austin-based chain says that Paramount has now decided not to offer South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s 2004 satire that focuses on Kim Jong-il, the late father of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Alamo says that the cancellation at its Dallas theater is “due to circumstances beyond our control” and says it will offer refunds to those who have already bought tickets. Cleveland’s Capitol Theater also tweeted that Team America “has been canceled by Paramount Pictures.”

Yesterday Sony pulled The Interview, which depicts an assassination of Kim Jong-un, after hackers threatened theaters that showed the film. ...

And there seems to be some teeth-gnashing at all this. Also teenaged girl type fear. (All due respect to teenaged girls).

As we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand. Now, I say this is a situation we are going to have to come to terms with, a new paradigm and a new way of handling our business. Because this could happen to an electric company, a car company, a newsroom. It could happen to anybody. ...

The truth is, you’re going to have a much harder time finding distribution [for controversial movies] now. And that’s a chilling effect. We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. ...

So says George Clooney.

Nothing against Mr. Clooney, but Hollywood has always been cowardly. As novelist Raymond Chandler said seventy years ago, "The Hollywood big shots, they're terrified of losing all that fairy gold." Which of course explains why, in the fifties, studios and labor unions could be bullied by the House of Un-American Activities Committee and Red Channels into black-listing artists and writers who didn't toe the "True American" line as defined by HUAC and Red Channels.

The fear of losing big bucks; it's a fabulous motivator, no? What's one movie, more or less? What's a pack of lousy movie actors and writers?

North Korea and/or its agents are simply the latest bully boys to show up in show business's neighborhood demanding that a movie they don't like be pulled. It's not really much different than those earlier power brokers' demands that creators with impure thoughts be banished from the creative landscape. Seeing Hollywood get rolled by thugs with brass knuckles is as old as the movies.

The only thing different this time is the newer technology being employed.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Expanding Universe of Cable Animation

More cartoons on more platforms.

FXX is moving into latenight with an original animation block anchored by “Lucas Bros. Moving Co.” and “Stone Quackers.” ...

The heightened presence of animation on FXX is no surprise as the comedy-themed cabler was turbo-charged in September by the arrival of “Simpsons” reruns. Expanding into latenight animation has been a priority for FX Networks execs, no doubt inspired by the ratings garnered by Adult Swim’s out-there toons. ...

These new productions are part of Fox-News Corp. low wage partner ADHD, located in Hollywood, and using a lot of new artists. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. ...

The bad thing is, the newbies are underpaid and Fox happily keeps feeding ADHD work. TAG's job is to convince the crew that there's a road to higher (as in livable) wages. And quality benefits, they're good too.

Because, friends and neighbors, the animation business in Los Angeles is all of a piece. If Studio X starts paying skim milk wages to the artists turning out its shows, that puts downward pressure on salaries at other studios.

This is nothing new. Years ago, a Disney TV Animation timing director was collecting union wages at her home studio while picking up freelance work at a non-signatory company that was way under going rates. I didn't think there was much point in asking her to knock the behavior off (money is money, after all, and she was out to collect as much as she could), but I told her fellow directors what she was about. They weren't happy and talked to her. She wasn't happy that I had made an issue of it, and snarled at me to "mind my own business" on the phone.

But this is simple, really. If pay unravels at one place, the odds are higher it will unravel at other places. Econ 101.

Click here to read entire post

A Brief History of Pensions

Some members have inquired about new legislation out of Washington that impacts multi-employer pension plans (these are of the Taft-Hartley variety, of which the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan is one.)

The short answers:

Yes, some multi-employer plans, particularly manufacturing pension plans centered in the mid-west, could see some payout reductions to current participants under 75.

But no, this new legislation shouldn't affect the MPIPP, because our plan has 85-90% funding. (Those mid-west plans are drastically under-funded, unlike the MPIPP.)

But let's dig a little deeper into this pension thing. ...

Bloomberg has a succinct summary about pensions in the U.S. of A.:

... The U.S. is almost unique in its reliance on private, company-sponsored pensions instead of comprehensive, government-sponsored benefits.

Private pensions emerged in the late 19th century in what was then the most important U.S. industry: railroads. In 1877, striking railroad workers protesting wage cuts brought the country to a standstill. Workers clashed with state militias; dozens died in the ensuing violence. ... And in 1880, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad instituted a private pension plan for its employees; it eventually would cover 77,000 workers. ...

In the succeeding decades, corporations in other industries followed suit. Invoking the spirit of welfare capitalism, they unilaterally introduced pensions, health and disability insurance, and other perks in a rather overt attempt to woo workers away from unions. The programs became so widespread that in the 1920s, many unions protested against such benefits. ...

Private pensions flourished until the Great Depression, when many corporations went bankrupt, as did their benefit programs. But they soon revived, along with the economy. Between 1939 and 1946, the number of U.S. private pension plans went from 659 to 9,370. ...

The growth of private pensions in the postwar era also reflected a shrewd triangulation on the part of the business community. Business leaders wanted to check the further expansion of what is now derided as "big government." They also wanted to curb the power of unions. Pensions and other benefits such as health insurance enabled employers to achieve both goals. ...

Private pensions are now a vestigial presence in American work life, replaced by defined-contribution plans such as the 401(k). In the last 15 years, the portion of the U.S.’s largest companies offering defined-benefit pensions to new workers has fallen to 24 percent from 60 percent. ...

The changes in the spending bill, which could permit cuts to multiemployer private pensions for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the 10 million workers in such plans, are framed as a necessary measure to preserve the solvency of the PBGC. But on a deeper level, this step is a harbinger of the ultimate demise of a private pension system that has outlived its usefulness to the business community.

The drumbeat today is to demonize employees who still have livable pensions ("Hey now, aren't those people greed-heads? Why should they have nice monthly checks while you don't?") so that other working stiffs are angry about it.

I look forward to the day when few have any kind of significant retirement and everyone works into their eighties ... because that's when Social Security kicks in.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When I Met Jeffrey

It was heart palpitation time.

... At two o’clock the Basil story crew stood tensely in the second-floor hallway of 2-D, waiting for Jeffrey’s arrival. At two after two he came striding down the hall, shook hands with everybody, and I launched into my spiel about a detective mouse in London, his arch enemy Ratigan, and the nefarious plot to take over all Mousedom.

Mr. Katzenberg listened with laser-like intensity. I managed to avoid mangling the plot or muddying up the characters. ...

1985. Jeffrey was the dynamo from Paramount Pictures. And I thought (silly me) that I would be going places in my Disney career.

I was so young then. And so wrong. ...

And we'll call this "Self Aggrandizement II". But it's late and I can't think of anything else to put up.

Click here to read entire post

Cartoon Ratings

For Sunday last.

Show -- 18-49 rating -- audience (millions)

8:00 p.m.

#1 -- Football Night -- 4.1 -- 12.39m
#2 -- Simpsons -- 2.0 -- 5.02m
#3 -- Undercover Boss -- 1.7 -- 8.92m

9:00 p.m.

#1 -- Family Guy -- 1.5 -- 3.15m
#2 -- Barbra Walters -- 1.4 -- 7.78m

9:30 p.m.

Bob's Burgers -- 1.3 -- 2.54m

It's always a confusion why the show with the most viewers, Barbara Walters for example, isn't the winner.

But to own the "old people" audience is almost like having corpses goggling at the flatscreen. You need to have the high-value, 18 through 49 demographic.

Add On: And then there are the cable ratings:

Compared to the same time period in 2013, [Cartoon Network's] total day delivery grew by strong double digits, with kids 2-11 up by +33%, kids 6-11 by +39% and kids 9-14 by +22%. Early prime delivery also increased among kids 2-11 & 6-11 by +10% and among kids 9-14 by +7%. ...

Adult Swim programming – including telecasts of Family Guy, American Dad! and Robot Chicken – accounted for 27 of the top 50 telecasts on basic cable for the week among adults 18-34 and 24 of the top 50 with men 18-34, both more than any other network. ...

Click here to read entire post

Elf Momentum

The trades tell us:

... Thanks to Warner Bros. Animation, “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas,” a one-hour special that airs Dec. 16 on NBC at 8 p.m., with Jim Parsons voicing the titular character originated by Ferrell in the 2003 pic.

Animation house Screen Novelties, which specializes in stop motion, created the TV version. “Warners thought doing it in stop motion would be cool, given the art’s historical ties with Christmas specials,” said co-founder Seamus Walsh (above, center).

The studio also may have been swayed by the success of 2012’s “A SpongeBob Christmas Special,” which Screen Novelties created for Nickelodeon. ...

Stop motion will never die, so long as their are television Christmas specials (and Henry Selick).

Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 15, 2014

My Miscalculation

SO today the trades say

... DreamWorks Animation shares are down about 5.9% in mid-day trading after Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil slashed his forecast for its latest film Penguins of Madagascar and projected that it will end up losing $49 million vs. his previous prediction for a $15 million loss. On Friday B. Riley’s Eric Wold also lowered his estimates, and predicted a write-off for the quarter. ...

AND Cartoon Brew goes

... Penguins of Madagascar hit an ignominious milestone: on Friday, its 17th day of release, its domestic gross was surpassed by the Rise of the Guardians, the notorious DreamWorks underperformer that was released at the same time in 2012. Adjusted for inflation, the Penguins audience is even smaller than Guardians’s audience. ...

Therefore my calculation of $105-$135 million in domestic grosses looks a teensy bit off.

The picture isn't going to hit a multiple of four (4) in the U.S. of A., which means DreamWorks Animation has some long thoughts to wade through. Penguins was shifted (in part) because wise studios heads thought it would perform better running up to Christmas than in March 2015.


Every studio has its ups and downs. Disney went through a rough patch at the turn of the century where it created very few films that connected with the public. At the same time, DreamWorks had a large and stable staff turning out one money-maker after another. And now it's Walt Disney Animation Studios that's on a roll, while DWA isn't achieving lift-off with the majority of its releases.

When you're around animation for a while, you understand that the studios in the industry are much like pistons in an engine: one of them is up while another is down, it's just the way he business seems to be. The difficulty is, DWA isn't part of a monster conglomerate like its competition. And that spells TROUBLE, right here in L.A. city.

Click here to read entire post

Christmas in December

Another day, another Oswald.

A 1927 Disney Christmas cartoon thought to be lost was discovered in Norway, Agence France reports.

"Empty Socks," Disney's first Christmas, was found during an inventory of one of the facilities of Norway's National Library. The film starred Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a precursor to Mickey Mouse. ...

Thought a rabbit, Oswald is a close cousin of Mickey.

And five will get you twenty that Diz Co. soon buys this flick for a princely sum. Then they'll add some bells and whistles and copyright it.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Goodbye, Mr. Taylor

Another major animation talent departs. From Animation Scoop:

... [A]nimator and director Robert Taylor passed away last Thursday, December 11th, from complications due to COPD. He was 70 years old. Taylor is perhaps best known for directing The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974) - a sequel to the first X-rated animated feature Fritz the Cat - as well as Hanna Barbera's Heidi's Song (1982).

Taylor began his career in 1966 co-directing Mighty Heroes and Sad Cat with Ralph Bakshi at Terrytoons. Taylor had worked with Ralph Bakshi in various capacities (layout, design, animation) on a number of his animated features, including Heavy Traffic, Hey Good Lookin' and Wizards. He went on to work in later years as an animator, story man, layout artist, producer, screenwriter and director on various animated TV shows for Disney (Bonkers, Goof Troop), Hanna Barbera (Scooby Doo, Superfriends) and Klasky Csupo (Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats).

One of his many projects was the unreleased Hanna Barbera feature Rock Odyssey (1987). It was an adult skewing history of pop music, narrated by a jukebox (Scatman Crothers). Though Hanna and Barbera get co-director credit, it's known that Taylor actually headed the project.

His daughter has released this information: "His memorial service is open to any and all that knew him or followed him in his life. His service is Saturday, December 20th at the chapel at Oakwood Cemetery in Chatsworth, CA. It is a beautiful location and he shall be buried there immediately following the service. The ceremony starts at 10:00 am. I know my father would have loved his friends and colleagues to attend this special event and celebrate his life. If you cannot attend, I thank you for knowing him and being with him there in spirit."

Our condolences to Bob's family. Three score and ten is too soon to leave.

President Emeritus Tom Sito adds:

... Bob was a mainstay of many top TV series at Hanna Barbera and Disney. Goof Troop, Rugrats, Ducktales, Flintstone Kids, GoBots, and many more. One of those solid, reliable studio artists who got your shows done. He also created the feature films Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat and Rock Odyssey. When I was freelancing storyboards for Kaye Wright at H&B in the 80s, on every show I picked up Kaye would give me a Bob Taylor and Alex Lovy storyboard as an example of what to do. ...

Click here to read entire post

The Global Box Office

For the latest three days, your animated and VFX extravaganzas:

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Cumes)

Hobbit: ... Five Armies -- $117,600,000 -- ($117,600,000)

Exodus: Gods and Kings -- $18,800,000 -- ($74,700,000)

Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- $16,000,000 -- ($611,398,249)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $14,700,000 -- ($175,538,709)

Interstellar -- $11,400,000 -- ($621,799,576)

Paddington -- $11,000,000 -- ($45,000,000)

Big Hero 6 -- $3,900,000 -- ($253,525,009)

The trades tell the tale:

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” was the one film to rule them all at the foreign box office this weekend, picking up a massive $117.6 million. ... Sliding in at number two on the foreign charts, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” earned $18.8 million from 6,096 screens in 27 markets. ...

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″ and “Penguins of Madagascar” were the third and fourth highest-grossing films overseas, picking up $16 million and $14.7 million, respectively. The “Hunger Games” sequel has earned $611.4 million worldwide, while the “Madagascar”spinoff has picked up $175.5 million. ...

Fifth place finisher “Interstellar” blasted past $600 million globally last week. The space adventure earned $11.4 million overseas, pushing its worldwide total to $621.8 million. ...

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Martha Sigall, RIP

We have lost a bright link to animation's past. Someone who was there near the beginning, when a small studio in Hollywood turned out whacky, black-and-white cartoons that are still watched ... and laughed at ... around the world.

Martha Sigall, who worked alongside Clampett, Jones and Freleng (among numerous others) went to her rest today. She was ninety-seven years old.

As I wrote three years ago when I interviewed her:

During the depths of the Depression, Martha Sigall was a neighborhood kid who ran errands for artists at a small animation shop who worked at light boards. Little did she know that it would lead to a half-century career creating cartoons. The studio was in some small buildings in Hollywood and owned by a man named Leon Schlesinger. Martha painted her first cels before she was in high school, and took a full-time job in the business when she turned nineteen.

By then, Schlesinger and his staff were headquartered in a larger building that came to be known as "Termite Terrace." ...

Martha went on from there, ending her journey today.
Click here to read entire post

The Unionizing Thing

As somebody who lives inside organized labor, this is heartening:

Federal officials unveiled new rules on Friday that will streamline and simplify the union election process, a reform long sought by labor unions and fiercely opposed by businesses.

Among other changes, the rules issued by the National Labor Relations Board will limit some of the litigation that can precede a union election, making it harder for parties to stall or drag out the process. The reforms will also allow unions to file election petitions and other documents via email, and they will require employers to provide unions with the email addresses and phone numbers of workers eligible to vote.

Many employers favor the older, slower election process, as it gives them more time to dissuade workers from unionizing. The reforms announced Friday have long been discussed and debated, and businesses have argued that they would infringe on the businesses' free speech rights and lead to "ambush" or "quickie" elections. ...

Employers favor the "slower election process" because it's a way of running out the clock ... and doing a little one-on-one with employees. (An employer can't say: "You vote to go union and we're closing the company!" But an employer can say: "Gee Bill, we know how you and the others feel about going union, but honest to Gosh, we just don't know what we're gonna do if good old Slave-Grind, Inc. has to go under a union contract.")

You may have noticed that in our charming corporatist state, the land of Socialism for Mega Banks and the rich, Free Enterprise for the poor, that unionized work-places comprise a much smaller percentage of corporate America. This trend has been going on since I graduated from college, and we now have about 14% of the work-force under the wing of guilds and unions, about the same ratio we had a century ago.

Entertainment unions are outliers here in Freedom's Land. They still represent a large part of motion picture and television workers, even as other areas of employment slip away. The Animation Guild has had some momentum on its side these past few years, as we've organized a number of non-union cartoon studios in Los Angeles.

The new rules will help TAG and other labor unions secure better wages and benefits for people they strive to represent, which is a good thing.

Click here to read entire post

Your Domestic Box Office

On Friday, there were two American animated features in the Top Seven Features in the U.S. of A. and Canada.

Domestic Top Ten -- Friday

1) Exodus: Gods and Kings -- $8,625,000

2) Hunger Games: Mockingjay Uno -- $3,790,000 ($267,988,000)

3) Top Five -- $2,500,000

4) Penguins of Madagascar -- $1,570,000 -- ($53,109,000)

5) Interstellar -- $1,570,000 -- ($162,790,000)

6) Horrible Bosses Too -- $1,475,000 -- ($40,446,000)

7) Big Hero 6 -- $1,3919,000 -- ($180,571,000)

8) Dumb and Dumber To -- $796,000 -- ($80,157,000)

9) The Theory of Everything -- $737,000 -- ($15,360,000)

10) Wild -- $475,000 -- ($1,348,000)

Penguins should waddle through the holiday season in good order, but it's going to end up with a Koch Calculator multiple of 3.7-4.2 after all is said and done. And the trade papers tell us:

The Bible epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will bring down reigning box-office champ “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” and win this weekend with a three-day opening of around $25 million. ... That easily outpaced Lionsgate’s young adult blockbuster, which has been No. 1 for the past three weekends, and DreamWorks Animation’s holdover “Penguins of Madagascar,” which took in $3.8 million and $1.5 million respectively. ...

Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 12, 2014



Sony Emails Reveal Failed Efforts to Recruit ‘Lego’ Directors to Run Animation Unit

Stolen emails from Sony Pictures reveal the studio tried and failed last summer to recruit Phil Lord and Chris Miller to take over its animation division.

The emails from the hacked documents, obtained by Variety, show studio toppers Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton looking to animation “to turn the studio around.” They hoped to install a Pixar-style “brain trust” of filmmakers at the top of Sony Pictures Animation. Lord and Miller were being courted to head that group; other names being floated included Brad Bird. ...

Michael Lynton wrote to Pascal and pointed a finger at Sony Pictures Digital president Bob Osher, who oversees Sony Animation and Imageworks. Lynton implied that Osher would have to be fired. Pascal responded that Osher’s “cost savings stuff” at Imageworks was “amazing.”

I've been going through Sony Pictures Animation and parts of Imageworks (non-union though it is) for the past decade. And I've been listening to the complaints of artists for almost as long as the studio has existed. Regarding Bob Osher:

"He's clueless." ... "Osher is not really interested in taking the division anywhere creatively, he just wants to suck up to Amy [Pascal]. ..." "We were set to have a screening on a [developing] project, and he cancelled the screening at the last minute because he hadn't gotten an e-mail he thought he should have gotten and was ticked off about it." ...

To be fair to Mr. Osher, management persons before him haven't gotten rave reviews from story artists or designers either. Bob Osher is just the latest top-kick about whom artists complained when I walked through the doors. Some of it you can chalk up to the general belly-aching that always ricochets around cartoon studios, but a lot of it was more than that.

Sony Pictures Animation started off semi-promisingly with Open Season, but things slid downhill after that. The division used to have a director on board named Chris Buck (Frozen), but he's long gone. It used to employ one of the best story persons in the business, a man named Ed Gombert, who story-directed the features Aladdin and The Croods, but SPA cut him loose. Many other talented animation veterans have also departed over the course of time.

I chatted to Lord and Miller when they were developing Cloudy With Meatballs, and immediately picked up that they were bright, funny, upbeat guys. New to animation, they were brought in to work on Cloudy after other development efforts had fallen flat. Amy Pascal (I was told) believed in the project, and thought there was a way to "lick it"; Lord and Miller found the correct route. (Pascal isn't a stranger to animation; she headed up Turner Feature Animation in the long-ago nineties.)

Talking to Lord and Miller, it was pretty clear they were iffy about hanging around after the picture was done. Other employees told me neither of them cared much for management.

More recently (and happily) Sony has brought in Genndy Tartakovsky, but is Genndy alone going to turn Sony around? Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks used to occupy the same Culver City campus; now Imageworks is a wee bit farther away in Vancouver. How that helps Sony's animated features to be better, I don't know. Certainly it will make them less expensive to produce, for the Canadians are throwing around lots of free money. But will that help them to be hits?

What amazes me most about the Variety article above is: I've been going into Sony Pictures Animation like forever, and the complaints and morale issues have smacked me in the face year in and year out. (Note the smacking here, here, here and here. And I was being diplomatic in these blog posts.)

If a union thug like me, ambling through the Spa/Imageworks campus every few months, can pick up on the general unhappiness, what drugs was management taking to miss it?

(And so you don't think I'm just a dour Sony basher, note this.)

Click here to read entire post

Your Box Office Forecast

The Mojo predicts a small drop for Penguins.

Forecast (Dec. 12-14)

1. Exodus - $29 million
2. Mockingjay - $11 million (-50%)
3. Top Five - $8.2 million
4. Penguins - $7.1 million (-35%)

To date, Penguins of Madagascar has collected $153,432,709 worldwide. It doesn't look as though it will turn into a blockbuster, and how Home performs (it's due out early next year) is anyone's guess.

DWA thought Penguins was the stronger yuletide offering; I wonder if any DreamWorks execs are second-guessing the decision?

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cashing In

DWA sells a holding at a profit.

DreamWorks Animation may have had some trouble with potential deals that leaked before completion, but the company struck one on Thursday involving AwesomenessTV, an online media company.

The Hollywood studio said that it sold a 25 percent stake in the venture to Hearst for $81.25 million.

The transaction values two-year-old AwesomenessTV at about $325 million, significantly more than the $33 million that DreamWorks Animation paid for the company last year. ...

When you pick up 100% of something for $33, and sell a quarter of it for $81.25, you have made a killing.

The trick for Jeffrey Katzenberg is to hang on to assets that increase in value, while building cash reserves to finance new hit movies. Maybe the partial sale of a hot corner of a subsidiary will enable him to do that.

Click here to read entire post

Moving To A New Location

DreamWorks Animation reconsiders the release date of a franchise.

DreamWorks Animation has moved the release of “Kung Fu Panda 3″ to March 18, 2016, leaving its previous Dec. 23, 2015 date, where “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is expected to dominate.

Disney will release “The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams, on Dec. 18, 2015. ...

The new date for “Kung Fu Panda 3″ means that DWA will need to find a new birth for “Boss Baby,” also dated for March 18, 2016.

It's always a fine idea to shift a tentpole away from a monster juggernaut, which (let's face it) this new Star Wars movie is.

Click here to read entire post

Globs of Gold

The Globe nominees are out; you'll find them here.

But let's get real about this award. The show is good fun, and the stars and big shots turn out in force to participate in the televised festivities. But the Golden Globes are a total and complete joke, chosen by stringers for the foreign press.

It's been this way since the Globes beginning during World War II. Seventy-odd years later, Hollywood likes to pretend that the little trophies are significant in some way, but they're not. Except maybe that reality doesn't matter, because if everybody acts like the Globes are a Big and Important Deal, then by grab, they ARE a big and important deal.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Comedy Spidey

The Sony hacking hasn't been a good thing for Sony ... or the nerves of its current or former employees. But some of the hacked e-mails have been interesting, especially for people in Cartoonland:

Sony Pictures has considered partnering with Marvel and producing an animated comedy as it looks to revamp its big screen strategy for “Spider-Man.”

Details of the discussions are contained in e-mails to and from Sony’s motion picture chief Amy Pascal, which were released on the Internet by hackers this week.

The e-mails reveal extensive discussions between executives at Sony and Marvel owner Walt Disney, all the way up to their respective chief executives Kaz Hirai and Robert Iger. ...

As of late November, executives were planning a “Spidey summit” for January to discuss future plans. Among projects in development are an animated Spider-Man comedy that would be produced by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the team behind “22 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie,” as well as previously disclosed Spider-Man spin-offs focused on villain team Sinister Six, super-foe Venom, and women from the webslinger’s life. ...

I fully expect months of surprises as new caches of information are put out there by the people who hacked Sony's data. I fully expect lots of news stories in the near and middle future as small, bright bombs continue to go off.

But for how long the explosives will be detonating, that's the question.

Click here to read entire post
Site Meter