Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Age Old (Idiotic) Question

Which is this:

Are there too many animated films being made now? ...

The simple, direct answer? "No."

It's like asking, "Are there too many live action movies?"

Because here's the long and short of it: Animated features come in all sizes, shapes and styles, just like live-action features do. And some of them find favor with the public, and some don't. But the number of entrees in the marketplace at any one time has nothing to do with it. The issue is, does the public like it?

If there were "too many" cartoon features being released, then the recently issued Frozen would never have made $1.2 billion, since it arrived in the middle of what some would call a "glut."

And then Big Hero 6 came out a year later, and managed to eke out $652,031,643. How did that happen? What with the crowded marketplace and all. And then Home, which didn't pick up universally sterling reviews, scooped up domestic box office receipts north of $150 million, so you can just never tell, can you?

Face it. When people want to see your movie, they go see it. Format has little to do with box office receipts.

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DreamWorks Animation Reports

(Now with red inked Add On.

And tells Wall Street how its quarter went.

DreamWorks Animation posted an adjusted net loss of $21.5M in Q1, excluding a $31.9M charge it took for restructuring, and missed on earnings for Q1 despite a revenue beat off a strong 13% gain there. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg pointed to the success of Home, the studio's only planned release for 2015, as signs that its turnaround plan is taking effect. Home has drawn $154M domestically and is just short of $300M worldwide.

Revenues were up across all operating segments: Feature films, $128M (up from $110.1M in 2014); Television Series & Specials, $18M (roughly flat); Consumer Products, $15.1M (up from $12.1M); New Media, $4.6M (up from $4.1M).

Library titles contributed heavily to the feature film revenues ($37.9M, vs. a contribution of $41.4M from How to Train Your Dragon 2 and $31.5M from Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Net cash provided by operations was $1.6M, up from the prior year's -$12.5M. ...

DreamWorks' roller coaster ride is getting slowly better, but the company needs to get the cars to roll upwards on a more permanent basis to reach robust profitability.

Whether Jeffrey and associates can achieve that is an open question, but at least, after a steep sell-off after today's report, DWA stock bounced back.

Add On: The Times tells us:

After a brutal six months marked by creative retrenchments and two failed merger attempts, DreamWorks Animation on Thursday reported a first-quarter loss of $54.8 million.

The boutique studio, based in Glendale, Calif., reported a per-share loss of 64 cents for the quarter, which ended on March 31. In the same period a year earlier, it had a loss of $42.9 million, or 51 cents a share.

Analysts expected a loss in the most recent quarter of roughly 45 cents.

Revenue climbed to $166.5 million, a 13 percent increase.

DreamWorks Animation was hurt by a hefty restructuring charge; increased costs at AwesomenessTV, a YouTube-based entertainment business aimed at teenage girls; and continuing fallout from “The Penguins of Madagascar,” which flopped late last year. The bulk of revenue came from premium television reruns of “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which was released last summer. ...

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... And Works to Close the Gap

DWA might be reporting a deficit, but they're out there finding new cash streams to close it.

Google Inc.'s video-sharing site YouTube has entered into a partnership with content creator, DreamWorks Animation's AwesomenessTV to roll out several feature films on the website over the coming two years. The films will be premiered worldwide on YouTube before they are available elsewhere. Google expects to release the first film this fall. ...

The company is working various corners of the market to monetize its product. That's a good thing, but DreamWorks still has to find a way to lower the costs of the movies.

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401(k) Stats

(Kind of a narrowcast):

The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan is celebrating its 20th birthday, and has reached robust adulthood. The stats:

* Total Plan assets: $235,742,099

* Average balance: $93,585

* Total contributions in 2014: $7,715,289

* Total number of Plan participants: 2,519

* 88% of assets reside in Target Date Funds.

TAG 401(k) got started during the term of President Sito, who circulated a petition at Diz Co. in the mid '90s asking for a cartoonist pension plan to aid and abet the half-century old Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

To many's surprise, CEO Michael Eisner said "okay," and we were launched on a journey that's taken a small, weak-kneed supplemental pension to almost a quarter billion dollars.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blue Ribbon

Te Reporter reports:

Warner Bros. is getting its digital series production unit Blue Ribbon Content (BRC) rolling.

The studio, which was founded last year with a mandate to develop and produce new live-action shortform and animated programming for digital and virtual reality platforms, announced a number of key executive appointments that will form its creative team.

Warner Bros. Animation’s (WBA) Peter Girardi is adding responsibility for creative affairs at BRC in a new role as senior vice president of creative affairs at WBA and BRC. He will spearhead the development of all new programming for the digital studio, and will also oversee all creative matters for BRC’s existing shows and alternative projects. ...

BRC’s current series orders overseen by Girardi include ... the animated Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles for Machinima; the animated Vixen for CW Seed, the digital-only studio of The CW Network; and the Batman: The Animated Series virtual reality experience, being produced in conjunction with OTOY Inc. ...

The last couple of days I've told Warners and Disney animation staffers that I've never seen the television side of the crtoon industry as busy as it is now. There are prime time series, Video on Demand series, cable series, and old-fashioned broadcast stuff.

Time-Warner now has three animation units going: Warner Animation Group (WAG), Warner Bros. Animation, and now Blue Ribbon Content. This is as big a commitment to the art form the WB has ever made.

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High End Animation

... for the Stream Video on Demand. So says a trade paper.

Netflix is taking on a Dr. Seuss classic for its biggest original children’s series bet to date, giving 13-episode order to Green Eggs and Ham from executive producers Jared Stern, Ellen DeGeneres, Jeff Kleeman, Mike Karz, David Dobkin and Warner Bros. Animation. Wreck-It-Ralph scribe Stern, who is working on The Lego Movie sequel, is writing the adaptation.

It will take three years to make the series — production is slated to begin in May for a 2018 premiere. I hear the project, netflixdistributed by Warner Bros. TV, is expected to be the highest-end, most expensive animated program ever produced for television. ...

Netflix is placing sizable wagers with a variety of L.A. animation studios. I recently talked to a Cartoon exec who knows something about Netflix interaction with Tinsel Town suppliers, who told me:

Netflix holds things pretty close to its vest. They don't share performance information about their different shows, thought they drop hints. They're not chained to ratings, but if a show isn't meeting their expectations, they stop making the show. ...

If Netflix is putting the kind of money into Green Eggs and Ham that "Deadline" says it is, the company expects it to be successful, yes?

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


And launchings. An internet magazine tells us:

FOX Predictions: 'Family Guy' Is Certain To Be Renewed, Of Course

TV By The Numbers lists Bob's Burgers and The Simpsons has having been renewed. Burgers got re-upped, but the Yellow Family, last time I checked, was still hanging fire. ...

I visited Disney Television Animation today and a director complained to me that they can't find good board artists, that everyone is working. I don't think that's completely true, but the TV side of the business is roaring.

Old shows are getting renewed. New shows are being greenlit. I came across a 26-episode order for a project that hits your home flat-screen in 2017, and until this week I didn't know it existed because it hasn't been announced (and I'm sure as hell not going to reveal it here.)

Small, non-TAG studios have projects. Independent union studios are sub-contracting from our fine entertainment conglomerates. The only thing companies don't seem willing to do is get into a bidding war for talent like they did in the 1990s. (Gee, I wonder why that is?)

It might not be the best of times for everyone, because the talent pool is larger than it was in 1995 and some folks are still unemployed. But the business ain't bad, no by a long shot.

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What Brad Said

Quite a lot, actually. At Tribeca.

Brad Bird on Learning From 'The Simpsons' and What Inspired 'Tomorrowland'

... "I worked on eight seasons of 'The Simpsons' as a consultant, I was there probably two days out of every week, sometimes three. It's kind of like that thing of 'I Love Lucy' when she has the chocolates, and she keeps shoving more chocolates down because she can't keep up with them. If you slow down in television, you will get eaten alive. I learned a hell of a lot from being on 'The Simpsons' because I saw episodes that were deeply in trouble up to two weeks before they were going to air. ... They would be almost done and things wouldn't work, and somebody would make a genius move of reediting something or re-voicing one part, and suddenly it would work beautifully. ...

"Some people don't appreciate that [computer animation] is an art form. They think that there's a button that's like 'Make Movie' and that it just gets done. ...

[Re Walt Disney:] [T]hey had to reupholster the seats in a very large movie palace in New York because little kids were peeing on the seats when the witch came on in 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' I think what I always admired that about the Walt-era Disney films is that they were not afraid to be really scary. ...

Mr. Bird brings a zest and enthusiasm to everything he does. And passion.

This is what got him in trouble at Walt Disney Productions. Management did not want passion. They wanted conformity, and every one saluting their idea of "the way Walt would have done it," except Walt had been dead for thirteen years at that point and nobody really had a clue regarding what Walt Disney would have done.

Brad refused to salute. So after awhile he was gone.

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$$$ Factoid

In other times and circumstances this would be startling:

... Advance sales for “Avengers: The Age of Ultron” are equal to those of all the other Marvel Studios movies combined, online ticket broker Fandango reported Tuesday. ...

But this is the huge sequel of a huge super hero blockbuster. ...

Which means ... let me guess ... that Disney revenues and stock will be going up. Quite a lot.

Of course, Avengers' box office performance will likely overshadow Brad Bird's Tomorrowland and Pete Docter's Inside Out, but that's the way it is in Movieland. The Super Gargantuan gets more attention than the merely successful.

But all in all, Disney looks as though it will have a lot of movies coming out that will be dandy profit and merchandise spinners.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

To the Moon

And very likely beyond.

Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) got an upgrade to buy from neutral from Guggenheim Partners, which believes the company's core operating results will continue to beat Street views and that Marvel and Lucasfilm's upcoming "Avengers" and "Star Wars" releases for Disney, respectively, among other assets, will keep the House of Mouse busy.

"We expect these assets will drive near-term earnings beats, but, more important, we are confident they should fuel incremental future media, parks and product opportunities," wrote Guggenheim Partners analyst Michael Morris, who gives the stock a 127 price target. ...

You don't suppose this has anything to do with Avengers raking in $200 million overseas this weekend, do you?

Or that a lot of civilians will be bugging out of work this Friday to go see the picture in the Land of the Free?

And that Star Wars: the New Entry is drumming of a tsunami of global enthusiasm?

Nah. Gotta be something else. Like maybe some technical chart on somebody's website.

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... and beyond the pale.

It will also very likely make a great deal of money. ...

But actually, as you watch this, you think, "Yeah, this is where the country is."

Because you can walk past any number of high schools and hear fifteen-year-old girls dropping f-bombs, using the word as a verb, as an adjective, or noun.

It's the present reality, and I neither condemn nor praise it. But simply note it. Mr. MacFarlane has gotten rich by paying attention. And being in a position to capitalize on The Way Things Are.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Time-Warner Strikes Back

Diz Co. has had a lot of the girl market to itself, cashing in with Frozen in theaters and Sofia the First on TV. Our other fine, entertainment conglomerates have been slow to respond, but Warner Bros. is not, apparently, taking the Mouse's cornering of the young female market in a recumbent position any longer.

... Time Warner-owned companies announced they would launch a new slate of animated features, books, apparel and toys for girls 6 to 12.

Dubbed DC Super Hero Girls, the brand will feature the publisher's female characters—including Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl—portrayed as teenagers who are still learning to master their superpowers and crime-fighting skills.

Our question is: What took the WB so long? ...

The conglom has had a plethora of women in capes and Spandex in their "copyrighted material" folder for a long time, but Warners also has a long record of letting others blaze new commercial trails.

As I write, Disney is gearing up to release Avengers: the Age of Ultron across the fruited plain. This weekend, Ultron pulled down over $200 million overseas, and all signs point to a boffo opening domestically.

All the commercial Whoop Dee Doo on the other side of Burbank has (at last) caused Warners to stir out of its self-induced coma. Somebody in the executives suites has noted that Time-Warner owns this conglomeration of super heroes called "The Justice League" so hey! If the Walt Disney Company can open its own mint with a comic book franchise, T-W can do the same, right?

You bet they can. But Diz Co. has a long head start out of the blocks. And it's not enough that Warners' movies with caped crusaders get made, they must also be good.

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The World B.O.

Internationally, Avengers, Age of Ultron comes out with guns blazing.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Avengers 2 -- $201,200,000 -- ($201,200,000)

Furious 7 -- $69,700,000 -- ($1,321,536,125)

Home -- $13,700,000 -- ($300,884,071)

Cinderella -- $8,500,000 -- ($474,646,000)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $860,000 -- ($310,704,000)

The trades tell us:

... At $201.2M, Disney/Marvel’s Ultron notably debuted 44% bigger than 2012’s Avengers in comparable markets. ...

[Home] earned $7.7M on 3,842 Chinese screens. Combined with the Fox territories this session, the alien-out-of-water pic took in $13.68M to bring the international cume to $147.18M. Holds were strong in France ($3.37M cume), the UK ($31.47M cume) and Brazil ($5.8M cume).

In more good news for Disney, Cinderella twirled into Japan with a No. 1 opening and the biggest first-day and weekend for a Western release of 2015. The $4.8M bow was 112% above the opening of Oz: The Great And Powerful and 19% behind the start of Maleficent.

Paramount’s The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water squeezed $860K at the weekend from 1,640 locations in 33 territories. ... The international cume is now $148.6M. ...

It's evident that animated features and their cousins are doing quite well. Clearly this is not a short-eterm trend.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

So Simple

... and so why are they even paying you?

10 things no animator wants to hear

“I don’t have any concept art or storyboards yet, but a story outline will do, right?” ...

“It must be so much fun to play around with computers all day. I bet it doesn’t even feel like a job.”

“The way you’ve rigged and animated that character is cool, but wouldn’t it be better with motion capture?” ...

“I do like the way you’ve animated it, but I’m still not quite sure what would work best. Could we try it a couple of different ways, just to see which I like better?” ...

No creative person likes wishy-washiness. Once long ago, I asked a Disney supervisor what he thought of a premise/outline I had written, and he responded with "I'd rather not say one way or the other."

(Which is INCREDIBLY useful. Better to have the Woolie Reitherman answer: "This sure leaves ME cold." At least you know where you stand.)

For most mortals, doing a job well takes work. And creating something from nothing involves skill, thought, and at least a touch of inspiration.

Outsiders are often oblivious to that. They don't understand that perspiration and planning is integral to the magic they see on the screen. For creators, that ignorance is maddening. And frustrating. The end product looks effortless, so of course it is, right?

No. Not by a long shot.

H/t, President Emeritus Tom Sito.

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Our American Box Office

... and plot exposition, good and bad. (See below.)

The big car chase movie remains on top. DreamWorks Animation's Home stays in the Top Five.

U.S./ Canada Top Ten

1). Furious 7 (UNI), 3,808 theaters (-156%) / $4.8M Fri. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $16-M17M (-42 to 45%) / Total cume: $318M-319M/ Wk 4

2). Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (SONY), 3,633 theaters (0)/ $3.75M Fri. (-49%)/ 3-day cume: $13.7M (-42%)/ Total Cume: $42.16M / Wk 2

3). The Age of Adaline (LGF), 2,991 theaters / $4.96M Fri. / 3-day cume: $12.4M / Wk 1

4). Home (FOX/DW), 3,311 theaters (-177) / $1.825M Fri. (-26%) / 3-day cume: $7.9M (-25%)/ Total cume: $153.4M / Wk 5

5). Unfriended (UNI), 2,775 theaters (+36) / $2M Fri. (-70%)/ 3-day cume: $5.9M (-63%)/ Total Cume: $24.8M/Wk 2

6). Ex Machina (A24), 1,255 theaters (+1,216) / $1.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.88M (+5,115%)/ Total cume: $6.19M / Wk 3

7). The Longest Ride (FOX), 3,140 theaters (-231) / $1.365M Fri. (-43%)/ 3-day cume: $4M (-43%) / Total cume: $30M / Wk 3

8). Get Hard (WB), 2,276theaters (-379) / $1.05M Fri. (-27%) / 3-day cume: $3.56M (-28%) / Total cume: $83.7M / Wk 5

9). Monkey Kingdom (DIS), 2,012 theaters (0)/ $1.065M Fri. (-32%)/ 3-day cume: $3.33M (-27%) /Total Cume: $10M / Wk 2

10). Woman in Gold (TWC), 1,981 theaters (-30) / $903K Fri. (-33%) / 3-day cume: $3.1M (-33%) / Total cume: $21.2M / Wk 4

Deadline says (up there at the top) that Furious 7 has lost 156% of its theaters. Yet it remains #1. Truly outstanding! ...

This is particularly good because I'm told that Furious 7 is ... kind of clunky. As my friend the Wise Old Producer said:

I went to see that car picture last week. It's like a lot of movies today: boring exposition with two characters talking and explaining, followed by an action sequence, followed by more exposition in two-shots. ...

My son had much the same complaint about Big Hero 6.

But here's the way to do exposition. Have Norman Reilly Raine and Seton Miller write it. Have Michael Curtiz direct it.

Lots gets done here. Chief villain and most of his henchmen are introduced. Love interest is introduced (and the relationship started). The problem, theme and basic conflict for the movie are laid out. And all in 4 minutes and 57 seconds.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

The IA-AMPTP Agreement

... on a new Industry Basic Agreement. The Joint Press Release:

AMPTP and IATSE Reach Agreement on New Three-Year Contract

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. - The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) have reached a tentative agreement on terms of a new three-year Hollywood Basic Agreement.

In response to the tentative agreement, IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb stated, “I am pleased we were able to reach an agreement that provides industry stability and meaningful terms and benefits to the membership.”

AMPTP President Carol Lombardini commented, “The industry is pleased we have reached a new agreement with IATSE months before the contract expires. With the tentative agreement in place, our member companies can immediately begin planning production for the future with certainty.” The new agreement will become effective on August 1, 2015 and expires on July 31, 2018. Terms of the agreement are not being released at this time.

The IATSE is an International Union representing members employed in the stagecraft, motion picture and television production, and tradeshow industries throughout the United States, its Territories, and Canada.

The AMPTP, the entertainment industry's official collective bargaining representative, negotiates 80 industry-wide collective bargaining agreements on behalf of over 350 motion picture and television producers (member companies include the production entities of the studios, broadcast networks, certain cable networks and independent producers).

Trade Press reporters will doubtless root out details of the agreement and put them up on various websites. When they do, we'll post from Deadline, Variety, The Wrap, etc. But we won't be putting up any details ourselves.

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Kimballesque Animation

Jerry Beck at Animation Scoop was kind enough to send this along:

Jerry writes:

... This sequence was in the earliest edits of the [the upcoming Tomorrowland], inter-cut with live action actors responding to it. However, I was told, for timing sake the piece was cut out of the picture and is being used for promotional purposes.

It was designed and animated by Teddy Newton, Dan Jeup and Andrew Jimenez; done in the manner of 1940s-50s Walt Disney educational films and in the spirit of Ward Kimball's Tomorrowland TV segments (Man In Space, Mars and Beyond, etc). ...

The Paul Frees/Orson Welles style narration is delivered by (allegedly) Maurice LaMarche.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Meanwhile at Cinemacon

Universal, last in the Cinemacon studio lineup, unveiled its upcoming product. And in the animation sector ...

... [Seth] MacFarland, who said he is not used to public speaking (yeah , right) promoted June 26th’s Ted 2 as “a movie to take the whole family to , if your whole family is over 18 and addicted to drugs.” As it did the first time he came to CinemaCon with Ted, this new trailer got the most audible and clearly delighted reaction of the afternoon. ...

Illumination Entertainment head Chris Meledandri was next up introducing genuinely knock-out funny scenes from the screwball toon The Minions. and based on the reaction U might as well start miMinions Hydrantnionting money right now. I was particularly impressed as well with July 8 2016’s Illumination entry, The Secret Life Of Pets, a movie about what happens when you leave your pets alone during the day. Although still in rough form, the beginning sequence shown was terrific. ...

There was a time, back when I was a tot, that it took an act of Congress for an animation person to make the jump into live-action. There was Frank Tashlin, and that was about it. But now it happens with regularity. Bird, Minkoff, MacFarland, the list steadily grows larger.

I doubt, however,t that any of them will be able to get a Western greenlit.

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So says the trade press:

... “Disney is the new high-water mark with brands,” says Tony Wible, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott. “It puts them through their various distribution networks — from TV to merchandising to licensing — and the studio is the birthplace for all of that.” ...

Warner Bros. is borrowing liberally from the Disney/Marvel model by launching a series of interlocking superhero films based on its DC Comics properties. ... Sony has announced that it views its upcoming “Ghostbusters” reboot as the first step toward crafting a “shared universe” encompassing TV shows and merchandising that’s pegged to the proton-pack-wielding ectoplasm-fighters. At the same time, Hollywood players are in a mad rush to snap up anything with a whiff of franchise to it, ranging from anime series to Stephen King novels. ...

Everybody cribs from everybody, particularly when a movie is wildly successful. Star Wars brought Star Trek, the Movies to life. Profitable low-brow comedies beget more comedies. For twenty years, animated features have been a growth industry due to Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King and Toy Story.

Robert Iger raised the concept of interlocking movie companies to a high art. Now other entertainment conglomerates are trying the same thing. And Jeffrey Katzenberg is pushing to remold DreamWorks Animation into a smaller version of the multi-brand corporate octopus.

Everybody imitates winning strategies.

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And Speaking of Imitating Success

Rupert's minions have been studying Disney's Broadway triumphs.

A new stage musical version of “Anastasia” ... will premiere next year at Hartford Stage with a team of Broadway talent attached. ... “Anastasia” is “inspired” by the 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes and Yul Brynner as well as the animated film, both by 20th Century Fox. Six songs from the 1997 [animated] version, including Oscar-nominated “Journey to the Past,” will be used in the stage musical

When a conglomerate rakes in kajillions from Lion King, the Stage Musical, other companies get ideas.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Global Reach

... of cartoons.

It isn't all about what's made domestically. Or in California. Other parts of the world are also in the animation game.

Production gets under way this month on “Beast of Burden,” the first China-New Zealand co-production of an animated feature. William Morris Endeavor and Canada’s Strategem Entertainment are set to handle international sales.

The film is written and directed by Kirby Atkins (Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron”). The story sees a species of now-extinct creatures called Thoriphants rebel against their life of servitude to mankind and embark on a treacherous journey.

“Burden” is a production involving China Film Animation, part of state-owned China Film Group, and New Zealand’s Huhu Studios. Financial backing comes from Qi Tai Culture Development Group, a company that spans film investment, production and marketing. ...

When you nose around the internet, you realize that there are "niche" animated features that A) get no or minimal release in the U.S. of A., yet make good money (and comfortable profits) in the rest of the world.

If a foreign animation studio can make CG features with budgets in the $8 million to $25 million range, they can very likely make a comfortable profit. Like for instance:

“Tad, the Lost Explorer,” the third Spanish film in a row to open Cartoon Movie. Studiocanal-sold, “Tad” snagged $40 million worldwide through Feb. 17 [2013], becoming Spain’s highest-grossing Spanish toon ever ($24.6 million), distribbed by Paramount.

There are various and sundry European animated features that make tidy sums in the world marketplace. Just because they get minimal exposure in the United States doesn't mean that profits aren't being raked in. Not every long-form cartoon has to make $500 million to be considered a success.

Just being in the black, even if it means a mere $1.5 million above costs and advertising was made, is considered a triumph.

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Spidey at the SPA

From the trades:

Tom Rothman, [formerly of Fox, currently of Sony] came out swinging at Cinemacon. He announced in Vegas that Lego Movie helmers Phil Lord & Christopher Miller will make an animated feature of Spider-Man. They’ll conceive with an eye to direct it. We knew that the animated film was in the works. ...

So Lord and Miller will return to the scene of their former triumph (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) and reignite a franchise that, let's face it, is getting tired and long in the tooth.

If anybody can resuscitate Spidey, they can.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Bram de Haas at Seeking Alpha analyzes DreamWorks Animation in detail.

Dreamworks Animation: Present In Theaters Across The World, But Widely Misunderstood Nonetheless

How much the market misunderstands Dreamworks Animation and its prospects is proven by the way it is traded.

In 2015, already about 50% of revenue will come in from non-feature film sources.

A compound annual return rate of 30% over the next two years is in the cards.

For years I've said that DreamWorks Animation performs a high wire act in a strong wind, relying on one hit feature after another to propel earnings and growth. But Mr. de Haas believes that's wrong:

... Dreamworks makes money from several different segments besides feature movies, although to an extent these sources would dry up if the company discontinued its feature film business. Fazal Merchant (CFO) expects 50% of revenue will come from non-feature film content in 2015. The important sources of income besides feature movies are:

Television content; includes YouTube (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) deals.

Consumer articles; this includes toys based on Dreamworks' characters but also licensing deals to use the characters to sell serial or build DreamPlaces

Library revenue; long tail catalog of 30+ movies that still makes money ...

Katzenberg said on the earnings call:

As of Feb. 20, DreamWorksTV is now the number 1 family entertainment channel on YouTube with monthly viewerships and subscriber growth exceeding the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon ((and)) Cartoon Network." ...

The company owns a number of channels on YouTube but the successful AwesomenessTV has 2.3 million subs and it is probably its largest. Increased choice of how to monetize its YouTube content should help contribute to the value of the segment. ...

So DWA has a lot of component parts, not just movies and merchandising, but TV and budding amusement centers in China and elsewhere. The trick will be to keep successful movie franchises bubbling along. Because like it or not, the theatrical features fuel most everything else in the company.

I'm not convinced Jeffrey's growing enterprise will expand at 30% per annum, but with the success of Home and the expansion of its television footprint, DWA will be around for a while.

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The Month In Animation

... (and a few other things) as written by President Emeritus Tom Sito.

April 1, 1944 - Tex Avery's Screwball Squirrel premieres.

April 1, 1976 - Two college dropouts, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, start a computer company named Apple.

April 1, 1996 - Animation World Network, Toontown’s virtual trade magazine, starts up.

April 2, 1943 - Disney short Private Pluto, the first Chip & Dale cartoon, premieres.

April 2, 1994 -Disney chief executive Frank Wells is killed in a helicopter crash on a skiing trip. It’s speculated that blowing snow off of high peaks caused an ice ball to be sucked into the copter’s air intake manifold. The death of the Disney CEO sets in motion the events that would lead to Jeffrey Katzenberg forming DreamWorks and Michael Eisner’s eventual fall.

April 2, 2004 - Home on the Range premieres.

April 3, 1973 - Standing on the corner of 6th Ave in Manhattan, Motorola scientist Marty Cooper makes the first cell phone call. He calls his competitor Joel Engel at Bell Labs to tell him he has lost the race to invent the cellphone.

April 5, 1930 - James Dewar invents the Twinkie. Dewar ate two every day of his life and called them “The best darn-tootin' idea I ever had!”

April 6, 1906 - Cartoonist James Stuart Blackton creates a sensation when Thomas Edison films him doing sequential drawings and they seem to come alive in a movie called The Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. His animated antics paves the way for Mickey, Bugs, Bart, Gollum and Laura Croft.

April 6, 1951 - Happy Birthday AstroBoy! According to the 1951 comic book by Osamu Tezuka, today Professor Elephant completes the little robot boy with the suction cup feet and pointed hairdo. Originally called Tetsuwan Atomo, he is re-named Astro Boy when Mushi Productions releases the animated version in the US in 1961.

April 9, 1991 - Darkwing Duck premieres.

April 10, 1973 - At Xerox PARC, Dick Schoups team of scientists creates Superpaint, the first digital paint and surfacing system for CG images. The first picture on the computer is a photo of Dick holding a sign that reads “It works, sort of.”

April 10, 1992 - Bill Kroyer’s Ferngully the Last Rainforest premieres.

(And Canadian director James Cameron gets an idea. ... -- Hulett)

April 11, 1914 - Famed NFB animator and first president of ASIFA, Norman McClaren is born.

April 11, 1983 - The Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short is Polish artist Zybigniew Rybcyzinski for his film Tango. During the ceremony he steps outside for a smoke. When Security guards refuse to let him re-enter he becomes combative, shouting the only English he knows: ”I Have Oscar!” He winds up in jail for assault and his Oscar winds up in the bushes.

April 17, 1937 - Porky's Duck Hunt premieres featuring the birth of Daffy Duck. Legend states voice actor Mel Blanc designed Daffy's distinctive lisp to be an impression of the Looney Tunes boss Leon Schlesinger. When they screen this cartoon, all the artists stand in dread of how Leon will take the joke. But Leon never makes the connection that the Ducks voice is him. "Gee Fellers, dat Duck iz pretty Ffffunny!"

April 12, 1911 - Cartoonist Winsor McCay opens his vaudeville act with his Little Nemo animated short.

April 16, 1973 - John McCarthy of MIT creates the computer language LISP. It was the basis to use the advanced CG software Symbolics.

April 22, 1972 - Magnavox announces the Magnavox Odyssey. Created by Ralph Baer in his spare time, it's the first home videogame console.

April 23, 1896 - The first projection of Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope film by means of Thomas Armat’s Vitascope at Koster & Bials Music Hall on 28th street and Broadway in New York City. Edison is nagged into this by his engineer W.K.L. Dickson. Edison thinks projecting movies like the Lumiere Brothers are doing in Europe will never catch on, and the future of film is nickelodeon machines.

April 23, 2005 - The first You-Tube video is uploaded- Me At the Zoo.

April 29, 1992 - The Great Los Angeles Riot. The city convulses in urban violence after the news of the acquittal of the police officers who beat motorist Rodney King. “Can’t we all just get along?”

April 30, 1900 - John Luther Jones, called CASEY JONES, dies in a spectacular train crash near Vaughn Mississippi. Jones' freight train is running 75 minutes late so he stokes up his engine to 100 mph. A switching error puts a passenger train in his path. Jones stays at the controls trying to stop the train while his crew jumps to safety. There's a head-on collision, but because of Jones' bravery his is the only death. A brakeman later writes the famous folksong.

(Union activists prefer to remember that Jones was a strikebreaker running his train recklessly in defiance of a strike to impress his employers. The union still paid his widow his $3000 dollar life insurance. Folksinger Joe Hill in his song "Casey Jones the Union Scab." tells how when he went to heaven the Angel’s Union Local #23 "fired Casey down the Golden Stair..")

April Birthdays: Eddie Murphy, Irv Spence, Eadweard Muybridge, Hicks Lokey, Glen Keane, Steve Martin, Leonardo DaVinci, Lou Romano, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Kurtz, Shakespeare, Michael Sporn, Eyvind Earle, John Halas, Victor Haboush, Bill Plympton.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Contract Deal

Deadline informs us:

A tentative agreement has been reached on a new three-year contract covering some 38,000 Hollywood-based members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Details of the new film and TV pact, which now must be ratified by the union’s members, have not yet been disclosed, but pay increases are believed to be in line with those that management’s Alliance of Motion Picture & Television recently negotiated with the DGA, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. ...

The contract talks began last Monday and ran through Friday, April 17th.

Steve Kaplan and I attended many of the sessions. They were still going on Friday, when I departed on separate business. We have been informed second hand that a deal was reached or in the offing. When more details become available, we'll post them here.

Note: The Animation Guild contract is scheduled to be negotiated later in the year, after the AMPTP has completed a couple of other contract talks.

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Timing Releases

The movie studio still called Warner Bros tell us:

The next LEGO film to open will be the as-yet-untitled LEGO Batman™ feature, which is coming to theatres earlier than planned, with the global launch starting domestically on February 10, 2017. Seven months later comes “Ninjago,” which had been slated for release in fall 2016; however the film is still under construction so it is being moved to September 22, 2017 domestically, with international dates to follow. “The LEGO Movie Sequel,” the follow-up to the smash hit “The LEGO Movie,” is opening one week earlier than originally slated, now being released domestically on May 18, 2018. ...

It's gotten way more regimented at movie studios since they all went corporate.

Once upon a time (the 1970s? The 1980s?) cartoon producers wouldn't lock an animated feature to a release date. They wanted to be the movie would be completed (and hopefully as good as they could make it), THEN they would book theaters.

That all changed in the go-go nineties; truth to tell it was changing in fits and starts before then.

Earlier, when Richard M. Nixon was President, there didn't need to be a hard and fast release date because there were only a few hundred prints foisted on the general public at any given time. The first Rescuers, for instance, had three or four hundred prints in circulation, and it had to share release patterns with Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. Herbie got rolled out on the eastern side of the country while The Rescuers was released in the western half of the U.S.

The "four hundred print release" is now as dated as a bowl haircut. Today if you don't have 1500+ theaters showing your movie, your an art house picture that's getting a limited rollout. Studios are now cogs in the exhibition-distribution-marketing machines known as entertainment conglomerates, and none of the big boys are in the business for anything other than maximum profit.

That means scheduling your tent pole years in advance, way before it gets made. Then the production crew grinds away, with a deadline etched into stainless steel staring everybody in the face. Sometimes dates get moved, but not often. Usually people get to work twelve hour days six or seven times during the week. And resign themselves to seeing their kids on the other end of the production pipeline.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

International Box Office

Home (and others) continue to do well.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Home -- $10,400,000 -- ($271,608,880)

Cinderella -- $7,500,000 - ($457,724,013)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $2,200,000 -- ($308,751,587)

Shaun The Sheep -- $3,200,000 -- ($54,000,000) ...

Per the trades:

Home from DreamWorks Animation took in a total of $10.48M on 7,325 screens in 64 markets. Its big territory opening was in France where it took advantage of the high percentage of kids in the marketplace due to a school holiday which runs through May 3. It opened to $1.62M on 653 runs in this market to sit at No. 3 in its debut. It also had an excellent hold in some other key territories, including Brazil where it dropped only 34% and Down Under where it hung on strong with a mere 32% dip. ...

Disney doll Cinderella has crossed $450M globally, filling her coach with $457.7M worldwide and $271.4M internationally. Incoming coin this weekend amounted to $7.5M in 47 territories. Notably, Australia dropped only 32% and its $14.8M has exceeded the lifetime of Maleficent. ...

Due to family emergencies, postings this weekend will be scanty.
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Teenager's Garden of CGI

With a new Marvel property.

Whenever super heroes are present, whether Disney, Fox of Time-Warner, there are a lot of artists working at computers.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Your American Box Office

The car tentpole continues to dominate.

Weekend Domestic Box Office

1). Furious 7 (UNI), 3,964 theaters (-58%) / $8.28M to $8.4M Friday / 3-day cume: $26M to $28M / Total cume: $291M to $293.8M/ Wk 3

2). Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (SONY), 3,633 theaters / $7.3M Friday / 3-day cume: $22.8M to $23.6M / Wk 1

3). Unfriended (UNI), 2,739 theaters / $6.7M to $6.8M Friday / 3-day cume: $16.5M / Wk 1

4). Home (FOX/DW), 3,488 theaters (-215) / $2.4M Friday / 3-day cume: $9M to $10M / Total cume: $141.6M to $142M+ / Wk 4

5). The Longest Ride (FOX), 3,371 theaters (+5) / $2.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.9M (-47%) / Total cume: $23.6M / Wk 2

6). Monkey Kingdom (DIS), 2,012 theaters / $1.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.7M / Wk 1

7). Get Hard (WB), 2,655 theaters (-477) / $1.4M Friday / 3-day cume: $4.6M / Total cume: $78M+ / Wk 4

8). Woman in Gold (TWC), 2011 theaters (+507) / $1.3M Friday / 3-day cume: $4.25M / Total cume: $15.58M / Wk 3

9/10). Cinderella (DIS), 2,414 theaters (-611) / $1M Friday / 3-day cume: $3.8M to $4.1M / Total cume: $186M+ / Wk 6

Insurgent (LG), 2,542 theaters (-576) / $1.2M Friday / 3-day cume: $4M / Total cume: $120M+ / Wk 5

DWA's Home remains in the Top Five. It probably won't have a four multiple of its first weekend, but it will still have a fine total accumulation when all the ticket sales are counted.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Hackery Revisited

So ... maybe a bunny rabbit picture?

Sony Pictures may be making a "Peter Rabbit" feature film, according to a series of leaked emails from the Sony Pictures hack published by Wikileaks.

The email discussions took place late last year and in 2013, however, some plans for the film may have changed since then.

The film, as detailed in the emails, would be a mixture of animation and live-action. It'd be based on Beatrix Potter's children's book character, Peter Rabbit. The antagonists of the film would be the human McGregor family. Sony's emails say the company was able to "make a deal" for the film back in November 2013. ...

So I never heard about Potter from any Sony Pictures Animation staff, but I never saw anybody working on it.

Another of those embryonic brain waves that never grew into twin fetuses of script and storyboards. But if Sony now holds the rights, somebody might well take a crack at it.

One hundred and fifty million books in thirty-five languages is nothing to sneeze at. And it means there are 150 million potential eyeballs attached to brains that know the property.

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Good Investing

At the time Disney went on its acquisition spree of other companies a few years ago, there was skepticism. How are they going to get their billions back? asked the critics.

Well, the results are in, and now we know.

... When Disney purchased LucasFilm in fall 2012 for $4 billion, some eyebrows were raised — and its announcement to develop and market seven additional “Star Wars” movies were met with mixed reviews, he remembered.

Since buying the George Lucas company, however, Disney’s shares price has rocketed up 132 percent, boosting its market cap by $108 billion — or 27 times that of the amount it paid for LucasFilm a scant two-and-a-half years ago. So, it was a pretty good investment. ...

And we understand something else. If Diz Co. is now the Berkshire-Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, then ...

... Robert Iger must be the Warren Buffett of entertainment CEOs.

While stock analysts were barely paying attention, Mr. Iger's purchases of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilms put Walt's company on steroids as far as earnings growth is concerned. Michael Eisner grew it. But Robert Iger GROWS it.

Who would have thought? Certainly not me.

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Daffy's Creation

Cribbing from President Emeritus Stio's Facebook page ...

April 17, 1937 "Porky's Duck Hunt" The birth of Daffy Duck. Directed by Tex Avery and animated by Bob Clampett.

One legendary story is that newly-hired voice actor Mel Blanc in part designed Daffys distinctive lisp to be an impression of the Looney Tunes boss Leon Schlensinger. When they screened this cartoon all the artists stood in dread of how Leon would take the joke. Leon never made the connection that the Ducks voice was an imitation of him:" Gee Fellers, dat Duck iz pretty Ffffunny!" ...

This clip has NOTHING to do with the '37 cartoon. It's simply amusing.

Regarding "new hire" Mel Blanc, a veteran Hanna-Barbera director told me the following:

I was directing Mel Blanc on an H-B show for the first time and was in awe. When we took a break, he and I walked outside and I said, "Mr. Blanc, this is such an honor, you've done such terrific work. Al those epic Warner Brothers cartoons ..."

That was as far as I got. Mr. Blanc went red and shouted: "Warner brothers?! Don't talk to me about Warner Brothers! They screwed me! SCREWED me!!" ...

I shut up and changed the subject. ...

So the fond memories we have of old cartoons? Sometimes the talent that made the memories owns a recollection of something else entirely.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why Not "Popeye"?

Via Animation Scoop.

... Genndy yesterday where he made it clear that he is concerned that if the studio doesn't move forward with Popeye that our commitment to animation and to him is not strong. He feels that his original ideas will never get made because of marketing concerns etc. His view is that Popeye is well known and loved around the world and his version will be modern in attitude, dialogue, comedy and action but the physical world should be timeless. The kids in the focus group were strong and worrying about a general audience who rarely attend animated features is misguided. ...

No Sony artists I talked to had sterling things to say about former SPA chief Bob Osher. No doubt he loved his family, but Mr. Osher was viewed as an apple polisher too focused on protecting territory and face.

As previously stated, Popeye might not be dead but it is in hibernation. The story, as of a couple months ago hadn't quite come together, which isn't necessarily a big deal. Many animated hits start out as disorganized messes, so there's no reason the sailor man can't rise from the stormy depths like others before it and become an unalloyed hit..

Whether he will or not depends on Genndy, the story artists, and the new management.

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TV Ratings

Cartoon Cable Networks, they do well.

Across Q1 2015, Adult Swim ranked as basic cable's #1 network in total day among adults 18-24, adults 18-34, men 18-24 and men 18-34, as well as adults 18-49. ...

For Q1 2015, Cartoon Network charted +22% growth in total day (6a-8p) delivery of kids 6-11 and mostly double-digit delivery gains among all other targeted demos: kids 2-11 (+16%), kids 9-14 (+16%), boys 2-11 (+14%), boys 6-11 (+21%), boys 9-14 (+21%), girls 2-11 (+22%), girls 6-11 (+24%) and girls 9-14 (+3%).

Cartoon Network series Teen Titans Go!, The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Uncle Grandpa, Steven Universe, Ninjago and Pokemon The Series: XY accounted for eight of the Top 10 animated series among kids 6-11 for the quarter.

Cartoon Network closed out the quarter by ranking as television’s #2 network in total day delivery (6a-8p) of kids 6-11 and kids 9-14 and the #1 destination for boys 6-11 and boys 9-14 for the month of March. In addition, Cartoon Network was television’s #1 network among all key kid demos on Thursday nights in March and ranked #1 among kids 2-11 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. ...

Cartoon Network has it's non-union outpost in Atlanta, as do a number of other animation studios.

Sadly, CN appears to have a corporate policy of making its Adult Swim animated shows non-union, if at all possible. (They'll go union if they have to -- witness Rick and Morty, but they'd rather not have to pay fringes and higher salaries if they can avoid that. Mike Lazzo is not, apparently, a pro-working artist kind of guy.)

Don't know why Swim rolls that way, but it does. Over and over. So TAG will just have to sign people up, one show at a time. Too bad.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Salary Drop?

Yes, Virginia. Once in a while, it happens.

Members of the DreamWorks Animation board would have had a lot of explaining to do if they had awarded execs big raises in a year when revenues fell, the company lost money and the stock price dropped 37.1%. But that didn’t happen this time, according to the company proxy just filed at the SEC: CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg’s compensation came to $6.4 million. It’s a steep drop from 2013, which included $6 million in non-equity incentives, but is more than he made in 2012 ($5.2 million) and 2011 ($4 million). ...

Jeffrey has made good money at DWA, and more power to him. He was the junior partner when DreamWorks started twenty years ago, running the animation part of the company. But, funny thing, the cartoons have been the most viable part of the company.

Mr. Spielberg has gone back to running a lot his professional life through Amblin' Entertainment at Universal, and David Geffen has semi-retired with his billions on the Malibu beach. Jeffrey soldiers on in Glendale, but it's useful to remember that the foundation of his fortune comes courtesy of his lawsuit against Disney and Michael Eisner, which gained him a reputed $250 million.

It's good to be a mogul. Even a smaller one.

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The Fruits of Free Money

It's no secret that Georgia is a magnet for the entertainment biz, not just in live-action but in animation and video game development. The Atlanta Journa reports:

Georgia has become a magnet for entertainment activity. Film and television productions created close to $5.1 billion in economic impact in fiscal year 14.

Yet film and TV are not the only entertainment sectors thriving here. Digital entertainment encompasses the creation and distribution of software, games, digital apps, music and even advanced concepts such as augmented reality, virtual reality and motion capture. ...

The ability to directly access creative, fresh talent from our universities and technical colleges is essential for digital entertainment companies and the industry’s future in Georgia. Nearly 20 colleges and universities offer interactive design career paths and thousands of students are engaged in interactive design classes or video game programs.

Last month, the Princeton Review ranked SCAD and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the top 25 for graduate and undergraduate programs in Game Design in 2015. ...

Georgia ranks in the top five U.S. states with the most software publishers. The technical talent and expertise in software development that Atlanta offers companies, coupled with the artistic creativity of its young population, is a competitive advantage. ...

Animation studios Cartoon Network and Bento Box have outposts in Atlanta; the incentives of lower wages and tax subsidies will no doubt continue to be a magnet for studios to build satellite facilities in the state.

Funny how right-to-work laws and free money work well for our fine entertainment companies, though less well for artists and technicians.

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It's Justice League

Today it's all about Spirit *, but hey. There are these other super heroes.

... "Experience a divergent reality where the Justice League protects the planet — but answers to no one but themselves. Employing methods of intimidation and fear, this Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman deal brute force in the name of justice. In this alternate universe, Superman was not raised by the Kents in Smallville, the Caped Crusader is not Bruce Wayne, and Wonder Woman is not an Amazon warrior of Themyscira. When a group of famed scientists experience untimely “accidents,” a government task force follows the trail of clues to the Justice League — but is there a more powerful player operating from the shadows?" ...

* I remember when Brad B. worked with unflagging energy to get "Spirit made. He chased the dream in L.A., in San Francisco, anyplace there were backers. It just never came together. And time and career went on. So instead we have "The Incredibles," and maybe a sequel, if Mr. Bird can make the picture his way.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Animation Jobs Held By Women

A week ago, we posted the most recent employment percentages of women working in the cartoon business. The figures went like this:

Out of a total of 3190 artists, writers, and technicians employed under a TAG contract, 658 are female, while 2,532 are male. This breaks down to

20.63% -- female employment

79.37% -- male employment

Eight days later, the numbers haven't changed much (except that women are 20.72% of the total now, with two more women employed and a half dozen men laid off.)

But this post isn't about the constantly moving target of total employment. It's about where women are working on April 14th, 2015, and burrowing deeper into the data. You'll find raw numbers and percentages inside that 20.72% below. ...

If you're a math enthusiast, you might notice the percentages and numbers don't add up to the total 660 women working today in animation. That's not because we're lazy. It's because we dropped most of the smallest bits of data attached to different categories so you wouldn't have to scroll ... and scroll ... and scroll.

Job Categories -- Percentages -- (Numbers)

Animation Checker -- 3% -- (19)

Animation Timer -- 2% -- (15)

Art Director -- 1% -- (6)

Background -- 10% -- (64)

Color Key -- 4% -- (28)

Layout -- 3% -- (22)

Director -- 3% -- (20)

Model Designer -- 5% -- (31)

Storyboard -- 16% -- (108)

Storyboard Revisionist -- 6% -- (44)

Staff Animation Writer -- 5% -- (35)

CGI Animator/Modeler* (1-5) -- 6% -- (42)

Tech Director* (1-5) -- 17% -- (110)

Trainee -- 3% -- (21)

Visual Development -- 3% -- (18)

The above is a marked change from the olden times, when most women in Cartoonland worked as inkers, painters, or animation checkers. In 2015, women are working in a wide array of creative and technical positions. And high time.

If these trends continue (and with the numbers of women in art schools and universities pursuing animation majors, they likely will), it wouldn't be surprising if women make up 30% to 40% of animation jobs before too many years roll by.

* The majority of women in these categories are classified as Tech Director 1 and CGI Modeler 1.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Girl Protaganist! What a Concept!

In animation, it's now all the rage.

In tackling a big screen adaptation of the literary classic "The Little Prince," director Mark Osborne decided one thing early on — the hero of his animated film would be female. ...

"Right now there seems to be a changing of the tide but these things don't happen overnight. These movies take years to make, so back when I was first pushing to make the little girl the main character it was seen as quite revolutionary." ...

Female-led films at this year's TIFF Kids Animation Film Festival include Australia/Germany's "Maya the Bee Movie" (for ages 3 to 7), France's "Mune" (for ages 8 to 13) and Japan's "When Marnie Was There" (for ages 10 to 13). ...

Let's not kid ourselves. The conglomerates aren't cranking out animated features with female protagonists because they've all of a sudden become gender sensitive. It mostly has to do with

1) Boffo box office.

2) Lots of games.

3) And action figures.

4) Also glittery costumes.

If girl-centric cartoons weren't making healthy profits for a lot of corporate divisions, they wouldn't be made. It's as simple as that. When Disney (and others) made features with women that under-performed, they moved on to other things. Now that they sky appears to be the limit, they embrace female characters wholeheartedly.

Stupid, they are not.

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Speaking of Females ...

There is this ...

Nicole Perlman, who co-wrote Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy, and Meg LeFauve, who co-wrote Pixar's upcoming Inside Out, are in negotiations write Captain Marvel, one of Marvel’s key projects as it is serving as the company’s first female-driven movie. ...

Marvel also made an effort to find female screenwriters to tackle the heroine. (Fun fact: When Marvel first had her own book in the 1970s, titled Ms. Marvel, the comic's tagline was "This female fights back!") ...

The woman super hero thing seems to be catching on.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015


Tomorrow negotiations begin for the IATSE's Basic Agreement.

And what the hey is the "Basic Agreement?" One of the oldest and largest contracts held by the IA. One of the largest collective bargaining agreements in the motion picture and television industry. It covers 35,000 motion picture employees and 23 production locals here on the west coast. There is one big "bargaining unit" attached to this big contract, and it contains the Editors Guild, Cinematographers Guild, Costume Designers, Hair and Makeup, Grips, Electricians and numerous other IATSE unions and guilds.

But it doesn't include the guild representing animators, tech directors, writers, animation storyboard artists, assistants and everyone else working under a Local 839 agreement. TAG is not part of the unit, and hasn't been since 1982. This is because two back-to-back strikes thirty-six and thirty-three years ago got the guild thrown out of the group, and we've been on our own, negotiation-wise, ever since. ...

TAG now sits down to bargain its contract after every IA production local wraps their local talks and the International comes to an agreement on "the Basic." The same will be true this year. Even so, a Guild rep will be at the Monday-to-Friday negotiations because we're directly impacted by the bargaining that takes place over the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan. (The International negotiates Pension and Health, not TAG.)

Three years ago, the big issue in talks was funding the health plan. As the L.A. Times related:

... Under the proposed deal reached late last night, IATSE members would receive a 2% annual wage increase over three years — in line with raises negotiated by other entertainment unions. Employers agreed to a 20% increase in their hourly contribution to the union's health plan.

"Our goals going into these negotiations have been met," IATSE President Matt Loeb said in a statement. "We were successful in maintaining the pensions of our retirees." ...

This cycle, wages, new media and "quality of life" issues take precedence over pension and health contract points. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (the AMPTP) will bring its own list of proposals to the table, and five days are scheduled for the two sides to sit down and hash out what a new Basic Agreement looks like. (Hint: The agreement will most likely look a lot like the WGA, DGA, and SAG-AFTRA contracts that preceded it. The IA deal is the last collective bargaining agreement to be hashed out this cycle.)

I would get my knuckles rapped and my fanny paddled if I gave away details of the talks before they're concluded, so don't expect any news leakage from Yours Truly on this blog any day next week. But when there is an announcement made, you'll be able to read about it here.

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Worldwide Box Office

The animation movies (and affiliates thereof) do well.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Home -- $15,200,000 -- ($242,253,497)

Cinderella -- $12,600,000 -- ($436,773,726)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $3,200,000 -- ($303,605,040)

Of course, the biggest story of the box office weekend was how fast Furious 7 was closing in on a billion dollars worth of ticket sales.

Furious 7 [is] far and away the leader of the pack, adding $195M this frame at 22,000 theaters in 66 territories. That’s a slight 20.4% drop from its opening and brings the offshore cume to $548M through Sunday. The 11 days it took to pass $500M internationally is a record-setter for Universal. The worldwide cume is now $800.5M after 12 days. ...

DreamWorks Animation’s Home zoomed past the $100M international box office mark this frame, cuming $112.7M thus far. The Fox release added $15.2M from 8,363 screens in 67 markets. Among the key highlights, Brazil opened to $2.25M from 675 screens for a No. 2 slot behind F7. The UK has amassed $27.7M after four frames, adding $2.2M this weekend for a 38% drop. ...

Disney’s Cinderella swept up another $12.6M at the international box office this frame, taking the offshore total to $256M in 54 markets. Holds were strong with Australia notably dropping only 10% for a 2nd place finish behind Furious 7. China is still tops for the Kenneth Branagh-directed live action fairy tale, ending the run there at $69.8M. The UK ($22.2M), Italy ($15.9M), Mexico ($15.1M) and Australia ($11.8M) round out the Top 5. There is still Japan to come on April 25. ...

Pixar's Inside Out debuts June 15, while Illumination Entertainment's Minions hits international theater chains on July 10. DreamWorks Animation and Walt Disney Animation Studios will release no more animated features this year. Blue Sky Studios, owned by Fox, releases The Peanuts Movie November 6, while Pixar rolls out The Good Dinosaur, its second movie of the year, on November 25.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

High Flying Wages

The creative community might take pay cuts, but not the oligarchs who rule them.

... Entertainment executives continue to reap some of the biggest rewards when it comes to compensation.

The biggest pay day so far went to Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav, who received a $156.1-million compensation package in 2014 even though he manages one of the smaller media companies. That's a stratospheric level even by Wall Street standards. Consider that JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation's largest bank, reported in January that CEO Jamie Dimon raked in a pay package of $20 million. ...

Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, said that sky-high executive compensation packages for media executives is just a symptom of a larger problem. Many of the companies have two classes of stock — voting and nonvoting shares — which reduces ordinary shareholders to bystanders with no influence.

"Investors in media companies really don't have a voice like they do in other companies," Elson said Friday. "That's why you see all of these high salaries in media. The whole thing is a toxic cocktail for investors." ...

Executive compensation experts long have attributed the outsized compensation in media to the "Judge Judy" effect. The TV judge, whose syndicated daytime show is distributed by CBS, is paid about $45 million a year. Company CEOs do not want to see their compensation dip below hers. ...

Judge Judy. Jeebus.

What's always hit me as a semi-interested bystander to CEO compensation inside Entertainmentland is how the generous wages persevere through good times and bad.

A company's stock goes up, the chief exec gets rewarded with a big bonus and/or stock option payout. The company stock goes down, the chief exec gets rewarded with a larger salary and/or more generous bonus. Years ago, when Disney's stock was declining, Michael Eisner and his lieutenant Robert Iger went to the Disney board asking for sizable bonuses ... and got them. (I know this because a Disney exec complained to me about it at the time.)

The "compensation tied to performance" thingie sounds good in theory, but in practice often doesn't mean very much. As the Times points out above.

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Your American Box Office

Home hangs in.


1).Furious 7 (UNI), 4,022 theaters (+18)/ $19.2M Fri. (-71%) / 3-day cume: $62.7M (-57%)/ Total Cume: $254.69M/ Wk 2

2). Home (FOX/DW), 3,703 theaters (-98) / $5.5M Fri. (-51%)/ 3-day cume: $19.7M (-27%) / Total cume: $130M / Wk 3

3). The Longest Ride (FOX), 3,366 theaters / $5.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.8M / Wk 1

4). Get Hard (WB), 3,132 theaters (-80) / $2.4M Fri. (-50%)/ 3-day cume: $8.2M (-37%) / Total cume: $70.8M / Wk 3

5). Cinderella (DIS), 3,025 theaters (-379) / $2.2M Fri. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $7.9M (-22%) / Total cume: $181.4M / Wk 5

6). Insurgent (LG), 3,118 theaters (-324) / $2M Fri. (-48%) / 3-day cume: $6.8M (-32%) / Total cume: $114.4M / Wk 4

7). Woman in Gold (TWC), 1,504 theaters (+1,246) / $1.7M Fri. (+183%) / 3-day cume: $5.7M (+176%)/ Total cume: $9.1M/ Wk 2

8). It Follows (RAD), 1,633 theaters (-22) / $601K Fri. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $1.8M (-27%)/ Total cume: $11.6M / Wk 5

9). Danny Collins (BST), 739 theaters (+656) / $423K Fri. (+300%) / 3-day cume: $1.3M (+293%)/ Total cume: $2.2M / Wk 4

10). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 1,013 theaters (-314) / $358K Fri. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $1.2M (-31%) / Total cume: $124.4M / Wk 9

The DreamWorks feature is projected to have a mild 27% drop weekend to weekend, far better than the picture on top of the Big List:

It’s an odd thing to be discussing a 72.2% Friday-to-Friday drop as “good,” but such is the case with Furious 7. The smash sequel earned $18.8 million on its second Friday, down 71% from its whopping $67.4m Friday debut, which included $15.8m in Thursday previews. The film’s Friday-to-Friday drop was slightly higher than the 69% second Friday drop for Fast Five but slightly ahead of the 72.3% Friday drop for Fast & Furious 6 back in 2013. ...

The live-action Cinderella also has a mild drop (-22%) as it closes in on a $200 million domestic box office.

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Bob Walker Celebration

From Thomas Baker via Facebook:

... A memorial service [for Disney director Bob Walker] will be held on Monday, April 13th at Gordon Biersch, 145 S San Fernando Blvd., Burbank from 6:30-9:00 p.m. All are welcome to attend. ...

Cartoon Brew had a nice write-up for Mr. Walker a few days ago.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Not Fluffy Bunny Rabbits

Animation isn't all about the cute.

They're Trying To Make The Goriest Video Game Ever

It all started with one completely anatomically accurate virtual person. And then they slashed the person to ribbons. ...

In the beginning, there was man, and then man got his skull caved in by a sledgehammer shotgun. That's kind of how things went for chaotic co-op monster-slaying FPS Killing Floor 2's gore and dismemberment system, though. Creative director William Munk told me that his studio spent a year of development time on making sure blood spurted just right, sinews snapped like meaty rubber bands, and fat didn't burst so much as it parted itself. ...

They wanted to make the most detailed, horror-movie-like gore system in video game history. They appear to have succeeded. But what drives people to try to make a game this spectacularly bloody? ...

"For the head, each Zed has its own head, and inside that is a skull mesh," explained character artist Andrew Quintiliani. "If you blow away the left half of the head, it'll take out the skull. You can see that the Zed is missing a solid half of its head. And then if you look at it, you'll see that there's an accurate sinus system, brain cavity, and brain matter. Then you can see part of the throat, and if you blow off the jaw you can see back into the esophagus."

"I tried to put a lot of detail into it. That's what makes it look really disgusting. A lot of games just have generic meat chunks. That's fine, we have a few of those too. But that's on top of accurate muscle and sinew and bone explosions." ...

What I know about gory video games is minimal. The resident video game expert in the house said:

This stuff looks pretty tame to me. You want REAL blood and gore, a nice super high body count, look at Mortal Kombat X" ...

What do I know? Killing Floor 2 looked wonderfully nauseating to me. Mortal Kombat X is, apparently, for the most discerning fans of violent death.

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ReDo News

One more Beauty and the Beast addition.

After portraying a wizard and a mutant in two lucrative franchises, Ian McKellen’s next role will be a piece of furniture. The British thesp is set to play Cogsworth in Disney’s live-action retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Emma Watson. ...

It's nice that actors are now getting work from the sweat equity of Disney Feature Animation. And I hope the Disney staff that have now departed the House of Mouse, hung on to at least some of their Disney stock.

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Foreigners in an Animated World

These days, everybody is jumping into cartoons. Like for instance this:

French pay TV giant Canal Plus is joining forces with American filmmaker James Gray to foray into “Hard Apple,” an adult-skewing animated series. ...

Inspired by New York-born author Jerome Charyn’s “Isaac Sidel” novels, the series opens in the 1970s and charts the rise of New York City’s premier law enforcer, detective Isaac Sidel, as he covers three decades of crime and political corruption. ...

Or this:

Technicolor is looking to grow its position in the feature animation world with the acquisition of VFX and animation production company Mikros Image. The company has entered into an agreement with Mediacontech, Mikros’ parent company, to acquire Mikros in a deal that's expected to close during this quarter. ...

“The acquisition of Mikros Image aligns with our strategic objective to grow in animation and advertising,” said Technicolor CEO Frederic Rose. “Their proven expertise in feature animation film and advertising will strengthen our offering.” ...

When I got into cartoons back during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, nobody was trying to "grow in animation." It was a dying art form, with Disney doing its one animated movie every four years, and other companies doing cheap tv show or theatrical features.

What a difference forty years make. Now you have to slice your way through anmated properties with a machete, there are so many of them. All it took was a string of animated hits on screens big and little, and everybody and his Aunt Betty started racing to produce animated features and sitcoms. Who would have thought?

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Richard vs. Goliath

Funny thing. I've known artists in similar situations.

Over 20 years after the comedy [What About Bob] came out, [Richard Dreyfuss] wants his accountants to take a look at the studio’s books to see what he could be owed – and he’s taking the House of Mouse to court over their refusal.

... Dreyfuss today sued Walt Disney Pictures for breach of contract and other claims over the defendants not letting the firm of Robinson & Company do an audit for him and the widow of Turner & Hooch producer Raymond Wagner, who also wants a look at Disney’s ledgers. ...

“Because Disney will not allow Richard Dreyfuss’ chosen auditor to audit, because of the delay caused, and because of Disney’s overall hostility towards audits, an accounting under Court supervision is warranted,” the 7-claim filing says. ...

“Motion picture and television companies detest having to pay net and gross profit participants and have consistently and historically withheld significant amounts of profits from participants,” bluntly notes the filing. “This is why profit participation auditors in the motion picture and television industries exist; these auditors oftentimes find monies due to profit participants.” ...

I knew an animation artist some years ago who pitched a live-action movie to a big, fat conglomerate. After long development, the conglomerate made the movie and reaped millions. It owed the artist a promised $100,000 "if the picture was produced," but then bacedk out of the commitment.

The artist, who was royally ticked off, took the studio to court. The studio stoutly resisted ... until the week before the trial date. It then paid the $100,000.

Greed is an ugly thing.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Limited "Simpsons"

Regarding the Yellow Family, apparently the era of each season of their series getting its own boxed set of little silver disks is at an end.

The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean has revealed that seasons of the animated sitcom will no longer be released on DVD.

Responding to fan queries on Twitter, Jean explained that it was no longer viable to keep the DVDs going as the "market is dying", thanks, in part, to piracy. He did, however, explain that episode commentaries - for many, the primary reason to buy the boxsets in the first place - would still be recorded for FX.

In other Yellow Family news ...

The artistic staff at Film Roman (The Simpsons' studio) is on pins and needles.

We've been waiting for weeks and weeks to get a pick up. The voice actors still haven't reached a deal, and we're here wondering if there's going to be a long hiatus again. ...

There are a half dozen shows in the can for next season, but beyond that? Staffers are telling me that they're looking at twelve or sixteen weeks off. When I was up at the studio day before yesterday, there was a lot of anguish about it. Nobody knows when ... or if ... the voice actors who work on the show will come to an agreement with Fox.

The Simpson design and layout artists, the directors, storyboarders and production people have been through this before. A decade ago, the actors were hanging tough and most everyone with an artistic job went unemployed for weeks and weeks. Back then, many got jobs on Family Guy but were soon pushed overboard because Simpsons producer Richard Reynis wanted them available when Bart, Homer and the rest of the gang returned to production.

So now there's the threat of another long stoppage, and people are nervous. A designer said that Al Jean (longtime executive and consulting producer) is optimistic that new contracts with vocal talent will be finalized, but Matt Groening was reported to have said:

"If necessary, I'LL do the voices."

Even though the current standoff isn't in the news much, the crew is sweating a few bullets.

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Lights, Camera ... LIVE ACTION!

We're down to deep strip-mining now.

"Pinocchio"-inspired Live-Action Feature Being Developed at Disney

Yet another live-action version of a tried-and-true Disney fairy tale is wending its way to the big screen. Peter Hedges is penning a feature loosely based on the original Pinocchio story about a boy carved from wood who dreams of becoming a real child. The boy gets his wish but is prone to stretching the truth, and each time he does, his nose grows longer.

The story is really about the relationship between a father and son, the ramifications of lying and creating stories and living in a fantasy world. Pinocchio came from the mind of author Carlo Collodi, who wrote the 1883 novel The Adventures Of Pinocchio. ...

The underlying material is, of course, public domain. (Damn those pesky copyright laws!)

There have been live-action treatments to Collodi's novel developed over the years, some made and some not; many not taken beyond the script phase. (I did see a version twenty years back that starred Martin Landau as Geppetto. It didn't knock me out with its artistry, and ... if memory serves .. was not a box office champ.)

I'm waiting for Diz Co. to develop a live-action version of Bambi. That will be worth seeing, don't you think? I'm guessing that the studio will engage Animal Logic in Australia to do the CG deer.

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The Mouse

America's favorite rodent will soon star in another new teevee show. From a Diz press release via Deadline:

Now Mickey Mouse is set star in Mickey And The Roadster Racers, an animated/live-action series due to premiere on Disney Junior in 2017. Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald and Daisy will be joining him on the show, which will take the Sensational Six and their uniquely personalized vehicles on humorous high-spirited races around the globe plus hometown capers in Hot Dog Hills. ...

It is a good thing, keeping the corporate symbol fresh and vibrant.

On dark nights, when I'm given to thinking long, dark thoughts, I sometimes wonder what will happen when the Steamboat Willie Mickey becomes public domain. (It won't be too many years from now.)

And I wonder if Diz Co. and other fine, entertainment conglomerate will arm-twist Congress (yet again) to extend copyright protection. Yet again.

(Perhaps not, since the "corporate symbol" and "trademark" thingies have longer life spans. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.)

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Stan Freberg

Rest in peace.

Stan Freberg, who skewered pop culture and McCarthyism with satirical records and did cartoon voices for nearly six decades, died today of natural causes in Santa Monica. He was 88. His son Donavan confirmed the news to Deadline. ...

Born on August 7, 1926, in Pasadena, Freberg would amass dozens of movie and TV credits including Lady And The Tramp (1955) and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). He also was a regular on the 1958 summer replacement series The Chevy Show and did an arc on Roseanne in 1996. Freberg also did voice work for such series as The Ren & Stimpy Show, Garfield & Friends, The Weird Al Show and narrated the 1985 series Wuzzles. In the early 1960s, he launched a successful career in advertising, winning more than 20 Clio Awards for his TV spots and earning the Los Angeles Area Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2006. ...

Freberg also voiced the central character in the Ward-Kimball-directed-but-never-released It's a Dog's Life. His Capitol record albums are classics, and I used to wear out the record grooves playing a lot of them.

Writer Mark Evanier today noted:

... He was gifted with an amazing imagination and the performing gifts necessary to transfer that imagination into something that others could see and hear. He was a wonderful singer, a superb mimic and a terrific actor. And take note of this: Of all the actors who'd been doing voices for animation in recent years, Stan was the guy who'd been at it the longest. He recorded his first cartoon voice roles in 1945 for release in 1946. As far as I know, his last job was in an episode of The Garfield Show I voice-directed last year. It's currently scheduled to run on Cartoon Network this October, giving Stan a career span of 69 years. ...

An iconic talent has departed.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Disney Animated Record-Breaker

Like they don't have enough of them.

Last week’s premiere of the original animated series “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” has become the most-watched animated series debut in Disney XD’s 15-year history.

Monday’s 8 p.m. premiere of “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” averaged 1.2 million viewers within the first three days of its premiere telecast, according to Nielsen Live+3 estimates. “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” joins October’s launch of “Star Wars Rebels” (1.1 million) as Disney XD’s top two animated series launches on record in total viewers.

Among all series on the network, it ranks second to date behind only the live-action original series “Lab Rats” in February 2012. It’s also Disney XD’s No. 2-rated animated series debut in kids 2-11 (582,000) and kids 6-11 (435,000) and the No. 3-rated animated series premiere in boys 6-11 (233,000).

Star Vis the Forces of Evil began life (and early development) as a script-driven show. However, in the process of becoming, it morphed into a board-driven series, which is it where it is today.

There have been personnel changes as Star has run along the track, but we congratulate all hands for the show's success.

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Slow, but steady.

And what the hell am I talking about? Why, the rising numbers of women now at work in the Los Angeles animation business. (At least, the unionized sections of same.)

Last week an L.A. Times reporter called me to ask how many women were today working in animation. I said that the best information I had was from 2012, when the overall percentage of females to males was 17%/83%. ...

(The seventeen percent figure comes from older TAG hiring records.)

She was a little impatient with the stale data, and wanted to know what the current figures were. I explained that I couldn't instantly come up with newer ones because

1) I was as technologically savvy as a greased pig on ice, and

2) The technologically skilled person capable of producing the data was out on vacation until Monday.

And there the conversation ended. But the reporter's questions got me digging around old blog posts on the subject, if only to see what the older data looked like. I soon found out that in 2007 the overall percentage of women-to-men was similar to 2012, with a more specific breakdown as follows:

Employment Percentages (2007)

Directors and producers: 13.9% women (median age 45)

Writers: 10.3% women (median age 42)

Storyboard: 14.1% women (median age 40)

Development Artists (pre-production): 17.0% women (median age 42)

2-D Artists: (animation and b.g.): 35% women (median age 42)

Tech Directors: 16% women (median age 37)

Checkers: 51.5% women* (median age 46)

The reporter told me that in 2015, 70% of the Cal Arts animation department trends female. (This was news to me; when I called Cal Arts on the subject in '12, the male to female ratio was 50%/50%.)

So. What is the level of employment for women in 2015?

Out of a total of 3190 artists, writers, and technicians employed under a TAG contract, 658 are female, while 2,532 are male. This breaks down to

20.63% -- female employment

79.37% -- male employment

Which means that more women are employed in the cartoon business than at any time since ink-and-paint departments (always predominantly female) packed up and went overseas. And with the numbers of women now training in animation departments at universities, colleges and art schools, this rising tide looks as though it will keep moving up for some time to come.

* Checking has historically been a female-dominated sector in animation.
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