Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wonderful Elephant ...


... Who Could Really Fly.



The 64-minute Disney feature, the shortest and least expensive Walt Disney Productions had produced, was released on this date 73 years ago. Rough animation was complete when Disney staff walked out on strike, and remaining artists ... and crew returning after the strike .. completed the picture. It was out in time for Halloween and other late-in-year holidays.

LIFE Magazine profiled Dumbo and the feature received favorable reviews from most newspapers and magazines. Of the Disney pre-war features, only Dumbo and Snow White turned profits on their initial release.

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Free Work


... still A-ok with our fine, entertainment conglomerates. (But not so much with various others).

... NBCUniversal has agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by unpaid interns at “Saturday Night Live” and other NBC shows alleging violation of wage laws.

The details of the agreement were contained in court papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York by attorneys for the interns. The deal still must be signed off by the judge.

Attorneys Outten & Golden LLP alleged in the federal court lawsuit that NBCUniversal violated federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. The complaint was originally filed on behalf of two former interns, Jesse Moore, who worked on MSNBC, and Monet Eliastam, who worked on “SNL,” but Moore dropped out of the litigation. ...

“This case is similar to others than we've filed in that it highlights the predominance of unpaid work in the media industry,” one of their attorneys, Juno Turner, told TheWrap at the time the lawsuit was filed. ”Our clients, like the plaintiffs in the other cases, worked hard for no pay and we think it's clear that they should have been compensated for that work because they contributed to the success of NBCUniversal's operation.”

Pretty much a symptom of the times. Lots of offers to work for no money. Lots of wage suppression. But very little blowback on corporate chieftans who merrily conspire to stick it to employees. In fact, many are still lauded.

And so it goes in our corporatist state.

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I.A. Film Commission Appointment


The IATSE (our mother international) had another of its own placed on the California Film Commission Board of Directors.

... Thomas Davis, 56, of Sherman Oaks, has been appointed to the California Film Commission. Davis is third international vice president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Executive Board, where he has been a member since 2001. He has been business manager at the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 80 since 1998, where he has held several positions since 1977, including vice president, chief organizer and executive board member. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

Thom is the business representative of Local 80, and was at the forefront of getting AB 1939 (the tax incentive bill for TV and movies) passed into law.

Our congratulations to Mr. Davis on his appointment. It will be good to have another IA Vice President at the table when film work is being vetted for tax subsidies.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cross Pollination

So the trailer gets leaked and (not missing a beat) Diz Co./Marvel releases a high-quality version.



And it's worth posting here because not only does it have the usual amounts of effects and animation, but it features a song that an animated non-human sang in 1940.

When you own multiple franchises, use them all.

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And Still More Cross Pollination


One heavy-weight brand reinforces another.

Amber discovers Sofia's amulet is magical and takes it without permission [on Disney TVA's Sofia the First], inadvertently summoning an evil princess, Ivy, who's set on taking over Enchancia, in "The Curse of Princess Ivy," a primetime special of Disney Junior's Emmy-winning series. ... The high-stakes adventure features a special appearance by Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, who reprises her role from Disney's "Tangled." ...

When you're the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, you want to make sure that awareness of older Disney characters remains embedded in the frontal lobes your target demographic.

And what better way to do it than placing the title character from a five-year-old theatrical feature into the all-time record holder for the top two cable TV telecasts for Kids 2-5? And the #1 series in Girls 2-5 and the #1 preschool series in Total Viewers and Women 18-49?

Rapunzel merchandise won't fly off the shelves if small girls don't know Rapunzel exists. (The Mouse never misses a trick.)

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Blue Ribbon


Another of our fine entertainment conglomerates rolls out a new division involved with animation.

Warner Bros. announced Blue Ribbon Content as the name of its newly created short-form digital division, which will develop and produce live-action and animated series for digital platforms, and revealed a slate of content under the banner including spinoffs from the DC Comics franchise.

Blue Ribbon Content is headed by Sam Register, who assumed oversight of digital development and production of the studio’s efforts after being named president of Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series in April. His team at Blue Ribbon Content includes Andrew Mellett, SVP, distribution and strategy, who manages the new division’s financial operations, oversees business affairs, and handles all distribution and sponsorship deals.

Blue Ribbon Content’s first development slate comprises several original program concepts as well as new shows from Warner Bros. Entertainment’s collection of intellectual property. ...

Warners has found more success with animated product the last several years, so expanding onto other platforms attached to the worldwide web (like Disney, DreamWorks Animation and others are doing) makes total sense.

Companies are learning that they need to compete in every area of distribution -- mobile devices, home computers, cable, theatrical and broadcast -- if they're going to stay even with (or surpass?) their rivals.


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Upcoming Blockbuster Weekend


Big grosses are near.

Interstellar is looking at a debut of more than $50 million based on early tracking and that number could rise as reviews roll in, television commercials become ubiquitous and word-of-mouth increases. An opening in the range of “Gravity’s” $55.8 million seems achievable, even though Disney’s animated “Big Hero 6″ opens the same weekend and is also generating excitement with potential ticket-buyers.

Our prognostication: both Interstellar (the live-action movie with heavy VFX) and Big Hero 6 (the VFX movie with no live action) will open north of $50 million. We're not the only ones.

... The Nov. 7 weekend is shaping up as a box-office blockbuster — and potentially a close race — for the Christopher Nolan space epic and Disney Animation's film inspired by the Marvel comic. ... projections could well rise, but both studios have to be pleased with the early data on what are their most important releases of the season. There's room for both pricey projects to succeed because, at least initially, they target different audiences.

Diz Co. (and Mr. Lasseter) are being smarter about feature animation releases here in the 21st century. During the 1990s, the Mouse released one animated musical after another until the audience said enough already. This time, Disney is mixing up its pitches a bit.

Smart thing to do.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Suing the Gravy Train

Mr. Sivero, it seems wants a piece of the mountain of money.

... Frank Sivero says that The Simpsons ripped off the Frankie Carbone character he played in 1990’s Goodfellas and he wants to be paid for it. In a lawsuit filed today, the actor says he wants to be paid a lot – $250 million and more for the Springfield Mafia’s Louie.

Claiming that the long-long-running animated series has made $12 billion over the decades from TV, the big screen, video simpsons logogames and other revenue streams, Sivero alleges in his very detailed 5-claim complaint (read it here) that Simpsons producer James L. Brooks was “highly aware of who Sivero was, the fact that he created the role of Frankie Carbone, and that The Simpsons character Louie would be based on this character.”

While likeness lawsuits bounce around the courts all the time, this has to be one of the biggest in terms of the cash the plaintiff is seeking and the time he has waited to go after it. One of Fat Tony’s crew, the Louie character first appeared on The Simpsons in Season 4 back in October 1991. And the truth is, as the pic above shows, the character from the Martin Scorsese helmed pic Goodlfellas and the Simpsons character do look a lot alike. Louie has been in over a dozen more Simpsons episodes including one last season. Fox had no comment today on the mega-suit. ...

Somehow I can't see Fox settling this for any kind of significant coin, but maybe there's a smoking gun someplace.

Otherwise, see everybody in court!

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If It's Not Broke ...


An animation chief on out-sourcing:

Pixar boss John Lasseter said that he owes a debt of gratitude to South Korea, but that there are no plans to transfer animation production away from the U.S.

“All production is to remain in-house at this point in time,” said Lasseter, who is chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, at an event in Seoul that marked the first leg of an Asian tour.

“We’re focusing on hand-crafted work in the studios. We recruit people from everywhere around the world but everything happens in house,” he said. ...

In the 1990's, various animated features were outsourced to Asia. They all tanked.

At the same time, Disney was having a hot streak with some Burbank-produced animated features: Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, etc., etc.

Fox, Warner Bros, and Turner took a look at the two different production approaches, and opted for the Disney model. The pictures they ultimately made didn't do well at the box office, but the decision to make them in the east San Fernando Valley made sense: better to spend $40 million and get yourself a blockbuster earning $200 million than spend $10 million and end up with a flop.

From what I've learned, that's some of the reason Pixar closed its Canadian studio. It was more important to keep the mother studio in Emeryville robust and healthy than to lay off staff in Vancouver and keep the outpost in British Columbia limping along. Because in the end, quality trumps low cost, especially when quality pays off like a rigged slot machine and low cost (mostly) buys nothing.

So it isn't surprising at all that John Lasseter plans to keep feature animation work in California.

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Animator Jim Tyer

President Emeritus Tom Sito admires Mr. Tyers' animation style ...



Mr. Sito writes:

My friend Chris Liles found this great tribute montage to Jim Tyer (1904-1976), an animator with one of the strangest personal styles of his generation. He is most well known for his work at Terrytoons. The bizarre rubbery gyrations of his keys are a favorite of many eclectic animation artists. If Milt Kahl was the ultimate in control, Tyer is his antithesis in his wildness.

In terms of wild, loose animator styles, you have Tyer, Rod Scribner and Emery Hawkins. ...



And then there are Jim Tyer comics.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Newer Tech, Different Biz

Aaron Levie in Variety tells us:

... In front of every studio, network, firm, label and agency is an opportunity to embrace innovation and evolve its business model to compete on a scale and in a style commensurate with an industry capable of reaching half the planet in a click.

Early examples are inspiring: U2’s latest distribution deal with Apple, Thom Yorke’s surprise direct album sale, Jared Leto ... and his venture VyRT monetizing an online community around live events and concerts, DreamWorks Animation and Disney both acquiring major YouTube channels and producers, and disruptive new content licensing models led by Netflix. But these are still the exceptions in a sea of business deals done the same way as they were when Lew Wasserman presided over MCA.

The true opportunity is in re-imaging the industry end-to-end ...

Look back at the history of motion pictures, established companies always need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the next turn of the road.

Few of the larger movie studios wanted to embrace sound motion pictures. They had too much investment tied up in silent movies. But the market pushed them.

And almost no moguls embraced television. They tried to freeze the medium out, except that Disney jumped in, then Warner Bros., and then everybody else hopped aboard the thundering freight train.

So here we are again in the 21st century, and the internet has destroyed the record companies comfy old business models of selling records/little silver disks in brick and mortar stores. And the movie conglomerates are bound and determined that it won't happen to them.

Trouble is, technology and markets go where they go. Older companies either adapt of die. There's really no two ways about it. It's been the way of the world for a long time, and there won't be any stopping the new realities now.

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New way to make lots of people



The above video was created with the incredible Autodesk Maya plugin for crowd simulation, AI & behavioral animation, creature physical simulation and rendering called Miarmy (read My Army). It came to market a few years ago to be a competitor to the popular program Massive.

We share it here, for your wonder, amusement and enjoyment on a Monday afternoon.

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"Moana"


Late to the party with this, but anyway ...

[Walt Disney Animation Studios] has added another feature to its pipeline. The Mouse House revealed plans Monday for “Moana,” a CG-animated comedy-adventure about “a spirited teenager on an impossible mission to fulfill her ancestors' quest.”

”Moana” is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, best known for Disney staples like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” The directing duo’s last feature was 2009’s severely under-appreciated ”The Princess and the Frog.” (Parents, are we showing this one to our kids? Get on that!). “Moana” is expected to sail into theaters in late 2016. ...

I've put posts up about Moana before ... and usually gotten terse e-mails from Diz Co. that said (something like):

Hey now. We haven't announced that title yet. Take the title down already. ...

And, wanting to be a good corporate citizen, I did.

Over the last few years I've observed test animation, test visual effects, even the occasional design. And always, like a thought balloon hovering just overhead, was the admonition: Keep you trap shut. It hasn't been announced yet.

But let me tell you, when the title and general knowledge of the feature is out circulating on the internet, it becomes hard to keep the Mouse's admonition in mind. And sometimes I slipped. But now that burden has gone away because of this:

Press Release

Walt Disney Animation Studios revealed plans today for “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated comedy-adventure about a spirited teenager on an impossible mission to fulfill her ancestors' quest. In theaters in late 2016, the film is directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker ("The Little Mermaid," "The Princess and the Frog," "Aladdin”).

“John and I have partnered on so many films—from ‘The Little Mermaid’ to ‘Aladdin’ to ‘The Princess and the Frog,’” said Clements. “Creating ‘Moana’ is one of the great thrills of our career. It’s a big adventure set in this beautiful world of Oceania."

In the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania, Moana, a born navigator, sets sail in search of a fabled island. During her incredible journey, she teams up with her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui, to traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds and ancient folklore.

“Moana is indomitable, passionate and a dreamer with a unique connection to the ocean itself,” Musker said. “She's the kind of character we all root for, and we can't wait to introduce her to audiences.” ...

I'm glad the word is finally out. I'll finally be able to sleep at night.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tax Incentives For VFX

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on California's recently-enactive AB 1839:

... The state recently expanded its tax-incentive program for film and TV productions, offering a larger credit for visual-effects work done in the state and scrapping restrictions that had excluded big-budget movies, which often feature the highest number of whiz-bang effects. Visual-effects artists create special effects and animation and do visual cleanup in “postproduction” work, which can include everything from brightening the lighting of a scene to building whole virtual worlds.

The expanded incentives are a little-noticed part of a larger package designed to lure back productions that have fled California for generous tax programs in other states and countries, which can cover 30% or more of a project’s total cost.

State officials say the visual-effects credit gives an incentive to an industry that can rebuild a highly paid, stable workforce once centered in California but now scattered. Even more ambitiously, they are hoping the subsidy could bring back big-budget, effects-laden feature films that create thousands of jobs not just for camera operators and lighting technicians, but for hairdressers, electricians and others.

The new legislation, which more than triples the state’s current program to an annual $330 million in incentives over five years, was signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown last month and goes into effect in 2015. Part of that annual allotment will go toward tax credits for visual-effects work, now covering 25% of eligible expenditures in the field, up from 20% under the old program. ...

The bill's tax breaks kick in the middle of 2015, and as one International rep said to me recently:

Companies will be ramping up production, hiring people, by April to take advantage of the new money next summer. Right now we've got sitcoms and reality shows in L.A., but not many dramas or big-budget features. The bill will bring back more of the higher end work, and California will have a rainbow of both high and low budget productions." ...

What's being talked about here is principal photography -- people on sets, actors in front of cameras. The Journal takes a jaundiced view of visual effects work returning because the work will have to get done somewhere and because even a small incentive program will move the needle. VFX redevelopment will happen for the same reasons that animation employment has ratcheted up steadily over the past several years:

1) There's a skilled pool of VFX talent that's itching to work.

2) There are colleges, universities and art institutes in and around Los Angeles adding to the pool all the time.

3) California won't match Canadian and British subsidies, won't compete with the wage levels of India and China, but a 25% tax subsidy will be enough. Even now there are boutique studios in the east San Fernando Valley making visual effects for various TV shows; once the incentives kick in, viz effx for larger budget movies will happen.

The state doesn't have to match London or Montreal dollar for dollar. It only has to be in the game.

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Foreign Box Office


The most recent accumulations.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Dracula Untold -- $22,500,000 -- ($136,435,090)

The Book of Likfe -- $8,600,000 -- ($25,600,000)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $23,100,000 -- ($732,636,000

Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtles -- $420,000,000 -- ($374,983,211)

The Boxtrolls -- $3,100,000 -- ($82,155,423)

As the trade papers tell us about the latest Marvel juggernaut:

Guardians Of The Galaxy marked a return to the top of the international box office this weekend, thanks in large part to China — where its local title translates to Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team. ... The Disney/Marvel space hit now has $69M there. ...

Big Hero 6 will be breaking wide in Russia the end of October, around the same time it opens the Tokyo Film Festival (October 23rd).

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Women in VFX


Kind of the same deal as in the closely related land of cartoons.

Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios’ exuberant EVP of visual effects and post production, told a roomful of VFX industry leaders this morning that it needs to invite more women into the industry, and onto the stage. And for entertainment industry newcomers trying to find their way into the business, she had simple advice: “fill the gap.”

VES VIsual Effects Society Eric Roth“I love the fact that you allowed a woman to talk to you this early in the morning,” Alonso told the mostly male audience. “It’s better when the room is 50-50 (male-female). It’s okay to let the ladies enter. They bring a balance.”

Alonso was speaking in a Q&A before more than 150 people at the Visual Effects Society’s VES Summit on Saturday morning. ...

Interesting about filling gaps.

When I first got to Disney, I looked for ways to make myself generally useful (and also not step on toes). This technique worked for a long while, but then I ran afoul of bad timing and not adapting well to a changing work environment (otherwise known as new management).

I think women have a tough time breaking into the biz because the reflex of many industry execs is to go with the "boys' club" flow. This is changing (albeit slowly), but overall women need to possess superior skills and have fine-tuned political instincts to climb the creative ladder.

It's good that a woman at the top of the ladder is out talking about the Way Things Work.

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Your Weekend Box Office


... Inside the United States and Canada.

TICKET SALES

1). Fury (SONY), 3,173 theaters / $8.8M Fri. (includes $1.2M latenights) / 3-day est. cume $24.3M to $25M / Wk 1

2). Gone Girl (FOX), 3,248 theaters / $5.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $18M to $18.4M / Total cume: $107.7M / Wk 3

3). The Book of Life (FOX), 3,071 theaters / $4.9M Fri. (includes $330K late nights) / 3-day cume: $17.8M to $18M / Wk 1

4). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 3088 theaters (0) / $3.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13M (-29%) / Total cume: $37.8M / Wk 2

5). The Best of Me (REL), 2,936 theaters / $4.1M Fri. (includes $550K late nights) / 3-day cume: $10.3M to $10.9M (Relativity thinks $11M to $12M) / Wk 1

6). Dracula Untold (UNI), 2,900 theaters (+13) / $2.9M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.5M to $9.3M (-65%) / Total cume: $39.2M to $40M / Wk 2

7). The Judge (WB), 3003 theaters (0) / $2.45M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8M (-38%) / Total cume: $27M / Wk 2

8). Annabelle (WB), 2,878 theaters (-337) / $2.45M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.6M / Total cume: $73.8M / Wk 3

9). The Equalizer (SONY), 2,262 theaters (-885) / $1.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M / Total cume: $89M / Wk 4

10). The Maze Runner (FOX), 2,155 theaters (-917) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.4M / Total cume: $90.8M / Wk 5 ...

Newcomers have pushed The Boxtrolls out of the Top Ten. The picture now has a grand total of $44+ million. So right now there is but one animated feature (The Book of Life residing high in the movie rankings. There are still a few old animated numbers hang in on in a handful of theaters, to wit:

THE HANGERS ON -- Domestic Cumes

#22 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $189.1 million

#30 How To Train Your Dragon 2 -- $176.4 million

#31 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes -- $280.2 million

#32 Maleficient -- $240.9 million

#35 Planes: Fire and Rescue -- $59 million

In the next few weeks, there will be new animated entries from DreamWorks Animation (Penguins of Madagascar), and Disney Big Hero 6), with SpongeBob Squarepants commingling in February.

And here's the list of animated features over the next four years.

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Disney Feeds Startups


The Mouse provides seed money to newer companies.

In Disney's first-ever "accelerator" program, 10 start-ups got up to $120,000 each from the company, along with mentorship from dozens of Disney executives, entrepreneurs and investors. At a "Demo Day" on Tuesday, Iger and other Disney execs got to learn from entrepreneurs about cutting-edge technologies.

"The more touch points we can create with the new world order, with changes that are occurring in our market every day, that will have profound effects on our business long term—the better off we are," Iger said. ...

Iger and his team hand-selected the companies, which by the end of the 15-week program had each struck a different deal with one of Disney's divisions. ...

Jeffrey Katenberg, late of Diz Co., is working to turn DreamWorks into a min-conglomerate patterned after the Disney of the 1950s, which was also branching out from its core business of animation. (Of course, he's also trying to seek DWA).

Meantime, Robert Iger is taking a leaf out of the Warren Buffett playbook and turning Disney into the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, letting a lot of different newly acquired companies under the big umbrella operate pretty much as separate entities, with their old management intact.

Judging from Disney's rising stock price, this approach seems to be working.

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On This Day in 1946 ...


Walt Disney premiered this:


Designed for 7th grade health classes in junior highs (now middle schools) all over America.

A factoid of animation history presented by TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Domestic Pick Up



A U.S. distributor buys the feature shown above. And hopes it's a winner (or at least claws its way into the black).

Home entertainment group Shout! Factory has picked up U.S. rights to The 7th Dwarf, a German 3D-animated feature based on the Snow White fairy tale.

Global Screen, which is handling international sales of the title, also closed deals with Signature Entertainment for the U.K., Rialto Distribution for Australia, Italian International Film for Italy, Flins & Piniculas in Spain and PRIS Audiovisuais for Portugal. Global said it expects to close a deal for France soon. The film had previously sold across Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. ...

There is a whole subset of "niche" animated product. Not particularly polished, and definitely not high budget, but aimed at taking in a small, neat chunk of change before going on to a resilient half-life in video.

The 7th Dwarf looks as if it aspires to be one of the long-form cartoons in that category: a few clicks below the just-released Book of Life, which (in turn) is below Pixar, DreamWorks and Disney animated features.

Will the Shout! Factory be glad it was The7th Dwarf's winning bidder? Guess we'll need to wait to find out.

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Global Interweaving

Mainland China is where all ambitious American entertainment companies desire to go.

... Hollywood’s Dreamworks Animation is in talks with a Beijing-based production company to produce a slate of original online content based on “Surprise,” an Internet-driven TV show has been viewed more than 1.3 billion times since it went online last year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The show, produced by Unimedia and online video site Youku Tudou, follows penniless daydreamer Wang Dachui and his misadventures as a diaosi, a vulgar Chinese slang term for educated young Chinese men with dim job prospects, little money and no girlfriends.

Unimedia is expected to be in charge of the content creation, while Dreamworks would provide special effects and animation skills. The channel is expected to launch on a major domestic video streaming site and will include daily and weekly programs — from animated videos to talk shows – based on the original Web series. ...

Though the fictional Wang seems to be clueless about how to improve his prospects in life, at least his backers have come up with a plan: tying the knot with a beautiful and rich Hollywood studio.

This presents DWA with a way into the world's largest market, and since China is tightening requirements for foreign content, it's probably a smart move to get into domestic production.

If you want to play in the Middle Kingdom's sandbox, you have to play by the Middle Kingdom's rules.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

At Paramount Animation


Today, for the very first time, I visited Paramount Animation on the Paramount Studios lot. ...

I've tried over the last several months to find out where the hell Paramount Animation actually is. I had read about the studio in the trades, read about the hiring of Disney veteran David Stainton, then the resignation of David Stainton. Heard about products being started on the lot, but it all seemed amorphous and not quite real.

This was reinforced when I called Paramount and asked, "So where's your feature animation studio located?" And received the terse reply: "We'll get back to you."

Frustrating.

Particularly since we had a contract with the studio and I wondered what the hell was going on. And couldn't find out.

But a couple of weeks ago I called (again) and Paramount said:

"Give us a a few days, we'll get back to you."

And lo and behold, they did. And invited me over.

So I motored through the Cahuenga Pass to Paramount, drove through the arched gates, and found the place is much like a 65-acre sardine can. Cars are packed into the parking lots side to side and end to end. The sound stages, all of them filled with sitcoms, are jammed next to each other. The office buildings, some in the European mode from the twenties and thirties, some in the trailer park mode (modular units that look like portable classrooms), are filled with administrators and production offices.

There is also, for the first time, a cartoon studio.

Paramount took over the Fleischer Studios in the early 1940s and turned it into Famous Studios, which was headquartered on the east coast for a quarter century. This is Paramount's first animation studio (not counting Nickelodeon) on the west coast.

Right now Paramount Animation is housed in four different buildings on the property, three containing artists, one containing execs. There are multiple feature projects in development. I would tell you how many and what they are except I've been sworn to secrecy, since the company hasn't announced any of them yet.

A feature pitch had just wrapped up when I walked into one of Paramount Animation's buildings, and there are additional features in work in the other outposts (and it's more than two, but less than ten). There are thirty-five to forty artists working in the studio right now, with several coming aboard in the last few weeks. The company is looking to hire another thirty-five to forty artists by January.

I asked if Paramount Animation was going to outsource production work, a la Illumination Entertainment (or, for that matter, Paramount Animation with Rango.) The answer?

"It depends on what the production is. No final decisions have been made."

My assumption is, the company will outsource animation work, but nothing is set in stone. On the other hand, the new Sponge Bob movie had its production work performed overseas and the pre-production done in an office building in Burbank across the street from Warner Bros.

So we can safely guess that for Paramount Animation, all things are possible.

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Dragon 2 Deleted Scene

In glorious story reel format.



And this is the way animated features get made.

Lots of experimenting at the story development level: multiple drafts of script, multiple passes on storyboards (although now it's all digital). Cut it into continuity and see how it plays. Then get outside staffers (and the boss) in for their input, circulate notes, have story meetings.

Rinse and repeat. This section was (I think) dropped at the story reel level, although the actors recorded dialogue. Often it never gets beyond scratch track.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Elizabeth Pena, RIP


Dead after a short illness.

Actress Elizabeth Pena died October 14 of natural causes after brief illness. She was 55.

Pena received an Independent Spirit Award for her work in John Sayles’ Lone Star. She was perhaps best known for her roles in La Bamba and Down And Out In Beverly Hills, and for a recurring role in Modern Family as Pilar, the mother of Sofia Vergara‘s character. ...

She had a significant career in voice-over work, most notably as the “Mirage” character in Pixar’s The Incredibles, and also was a regular in PBS cartoon The Misadventures Of Maya And Miguel.

Mid fifties is way too early too depart.

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Warner Bros. Into Animation With Both Feet


The company's a long way from the late nineties, when animation was barely part of its agenda.

Warner Bros. unveiled its movie and television strategy Wednesday paced by three Lego films, three movies based on J.K. Rowling ”Harry Potter”-inspired wizard stories and 10 DC Entertainment superhero projects.

Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara revealed details of the movies, including titles and release schedules, at the Time Warner investors meeting. ...

The movies, it turns out, are live-action features larded with animation, or straight-up animated features:

"Ninjago" (2016)

"The Lego Batman Movie" (2017)

"Lego Movie 2" (2018)

And then there's the heavy-on-the-CGI specimens of the live-action persuasion:

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016)

“Suicide Squad” (2016)

“Wonder Woman” starring Gal Gadot (2017)

“Justice League Part One” with Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams reprising their roles (2017)

“The Flash” starring Ezra Miller (2018)

“Aquaman” starring Jason Momoa (2018)

“Shazam” (2019)

“Justice League Part Two” (2019)

“Cyborg,” starring Ray Fisher (2020)

“Green Lantern” (2020)

Pre-production for the Lego movies is being done in Burbank, with the nuts-and-bolts production work accomplished in Australia. All the live-action features? Those are, at this point, anyone's guess, but with expanded tax incentives, California has a shot at doing some of them.

Who knows? Maybe even some of the CG animation and effects will be done here.

Add On; Then there is this newsie tid bit:

HBO is cutting the cord.

The company announced on Wednesday that it will launch a standalone streaming video service in the U.S. that will allow you to watch HBO programming without paying for an expensive cable subscription.

"It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," Richard Plepler, HBO's CEO, said at an investor conference in New York on Wednesday, adding that it will be "transformative" for the company.

A lot of details remain unclear at this point -- how much will the service cost? Will it simply be HBO GO sold as a standalone product, or a slimmed down version with only some of the programming? Plepler acknowledged as much in his presentation, but said that for "competitive reasons," he won't be able to answer questions today.


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Business Press (And Others) Keep Picking Up The Obvious


We're In the Middle of an Exciting Shift in the Animation Industry

In point of fact, we're not in the middle. This "exciting shift" thingie has been going on for freaking years. ...

There is more animation going on than ever in the history of the biz, but this isn't a new phenomenon. Television cartoons exploded two decades ago. As did adult cartoons. As did features.

Sure, there have been some dips since, but to make the argument that this is something new and different when it's old news, is a wee bit silly. Netflix big purchases are new. Most everything else isn't.

The breadth of animation is expanding, but the expansion has been on-going over a long stretch of time.

What's new is the number of fresh-baked studios that are out there. ShadowMachine, referenced in the linked article above, is one of the newer specimens. It's L.A.-based, non-union, and paying sub-standard wages, but at least the company offers health insurance. Unlike, for instance, ADHD. (TAG's goal is to secure contracts with SM, ADHD and other new studios. Why should artists on new hit shows make less than their industry peers?)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Animation Down Under


Even as Turner plants live-actoin seeds in Cartoon Network, the Turner empire down under goes in the opposite direction.

Turner Broadcasting announced today that its second flagship kids brand, Boomerang, is being re-launched globally as an all-animation, youth-targeted network, repositioned with a line-up of timeless and contemporary cartoons programmed for family co-viewing, rolling out in Australia on 3 November, ahead of the US, EMEA and Southeast Asia. ...

“The re-launch of Boomerang as a second flagship channel is a testament to its global appeal,” said Gerhard Zeiler, President, Turner Broadcasting System International Inc. “We are extremely proud to see this channel move into its next incarnation – with a look and feel that conveys its quality and contemporary position. This represents a further step in our strategy to build on the success of our international kids network.” ...

Drawing upon the vast resources of the world’s largest animation library – consisting of Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, Cartoon Network and MGM Studios television and theatrical shorts, series and specials – Boomerang’s on-air schedule in Australia will be anchored by such timeless favourites as Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and Scooby-Doo. The channel will also feature a slate of newly-acquired contemporary series’ including Mr Bean.

“Boomerang has always been a timeless favourite with multi-generational appeal,” said Christina Miller, President and General Manager, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang (US). “We see this as a unique opportunity to not only redefine the family co-viewing experience, but to grow and leverage our overall global kids portfolio and position it across all platforms in conjunction with Cartoon Network.”

Boomerang will introduce a refreshed on-air environment and for the first time offer exclusive original content on the network across its 13 international feeds. The official rollout began in Latin America on 29 September and continues with Australia on 3
November. All additional markets will premiere in 2015. Beyond its on-air presence, Boomerang will be supported with refreshed digital and mobile platforms, including a newly refaced website that features exclusive activities, free games and content to provide a full immersion experience for all visitors.

Today’s announcement comes on the back of recent double-digit, quarter-on-quarter growth in Australia among its key demographic of kids aged 5-12. Ratings also leapt by nearly 30% from Q2 to Q3 2014. (Source: OzTAM national STV, overnights.)

I do some perusing of overseas animation news, and what strikes me is how cartoons are a hot commodity all around the globe. Fuzzy animals know no nationality; even human characters translate well in foreign lands.

And of course it hasn't escaped corporate notice that popular animated shows generate profits for decades. Then there are the action figures, the plush toys, the video games and other pieces of merchandise that keep the green eye shade types at Disney, Viacom, Time-Warner and and Fox-News Corporation grinning with piggish delight.

As a corporate vice president remarked to me recently: Conglomerates. They're really just hungry bulldogs."

He ought to know.

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Jeffrey K. Speaks


... at the BFI London Film Festival.

... “The fact I was somehow able to convince these two geniuses [Spielberg/Geffen] that one third of me was worth as much as one third of Steven Spielberg and one third of David Geffen is one of the great hustles in humanity.” ... “It was only eight days after I’d been fired (from Disney). I was too happy and too stupid to know how hard it was going to be.” ...

“We had 17 hits out of 17 films [at DreamWorks Animation] over half a dozen years. It was unprecedented. ... Two out of the last four films have lost money but they didn’t put the company at risk. The company is strong and profitable. It will be around for a long time.” ....

I agree with Jeffrey that DWA will survive. I think their diversification into television and amusement parks will aid the company's corporate health and longevity. But a few correctives:

Jeffrey's feat isn't unprecedented. DreamWorks Animation had some commercial clunkers back in its hand-drawn days, and certainly Bee Movie wasn't a high flyer. As to the "17 hits in a row" thingie, Darryl Zanuck had 20 hits out of 21 releases with Twentieth Century Pictures in the early/mid 1930s. (Twentieth became the dominant partner when it merged with gargantuan Fox Film Corporation, because Darryl turned out blockbusters and Fox did the opposite.)

So DreamWorks Animation's run of hot movies isn't unique. Pixar has had fourteen out of fourteen profitable features with higher overall grosses than DreamWorks' projects. And I'll bet that Pixar's sale price will outstrip DWA's when Jeffrey's company is finally sold to a deep-pockets bidder.

Which is not to diminish Jeffrey's achievement. Counting his time at Disney, he's got more high-grossing animated features under his belt than anyone in the business, including John Lasseter. Mr. Katzenberg might be an inheritor of Walt's cartoon legacy, but he's carved his own lucrative path.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Sexual Harassment Survey

The Animation Guild's Sexual Harassment Survey ended this morning. It was conducted over eleven days, a much shorter window than TAG's annual wage survey, and had a response rate of 8.2%. The results:

* click image for a larger view

Based on the survey, two and a half percent of members have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and one half of a percent say they reported harassment to Human Resources.

A large majority of respondents say that they feel free to talk about the issue at their place of work, while only a slight majority felt the problem of harassment was resolved when they reported it to their studio's human resources department.

Guild officers take the issue of sexual harassment seriously, and urge members to report harassment to Guild board members, Guild shop stewards, and the business representative whenever it occurs.

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Women in Comics


We do stats around here from time to time. So these statistics aren't super surprising:

Comic Books Are Still Made By Men, For Men And About Men

To say the comic book industry has a slight gender skew is like saying Superman is kind of strong. Comic books — much like the film industry they now fuel — vastly under-represent women. The people who write comic books, particularly for major publishers, are overwhelmingly men. The artists who draw them are, too. The characters within them are also disproportionately men, as are the new characters introduced each year.

The big two comic publishers, DC Comics and Marvel, have taken note of this disparity and are trying to diversify their offerings. Marvel just published the first issue of a series introducing a new, female Thor, and the science fiction blog io9 recently praised DC Comics for upgrading Batgirl’s costume to “the best damn superheroine outfit ever.”

But these recent advancements don’t make up for the fact that women have been ignored in comic books for decades. And they still don’t bring women anywhere close to parity: Females make up about one in four comic book characters.

Among comic-creators, the numbers are even more discouraging. Tim Hanley, a comics historian and researcher, analyzes who’s behind each month’s batch of releases, counting up writers, artists, editors, pencilers and more. In August, Hanley found that men outnumbered women nine-to-one behind the scenes at both DC and Marvel. He also estimated that 79 percent of people working on comics this year were white. ...

The dynamic has not been that different in the animation industry, where men vastly outnumber women, although the ratios are better (5.2-1 male to female instead of comics' 9-1).

We have talked about the men to women thing from time to time, everything from correcting bad information, to commenting on medial stories (and e-mails), to--some years back--publishing and commenting on industry demographics.

Happily, I think the participation rate of women is going up. but it's going up slowly.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Continental Animated Feature


... just received its official launch.

... [The] feature-length animation film “Yellowbird”, produced entirely in France, premiered yesterday at the London Film Festival. ... The main character, Yellowbird, is an orphaned chick who is forced to lead a migration to Africa after he is left as the only bird who knows the route. ...

Before leading the “Yellowbird” team in studios in Paris and Bourg-les-Valence in south eastern France, director Christian De Vita worked as a story artist on Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie”.

“The quality of the image and the artistry involved from the whole team in France is of a very high standard,” De Vita said. ...

The stateside rights to the feature were picked up by a smaller distributor back in February:

In a seven-figure deal, Wrekin Hill Entertainment has acquired all North American rights to Christian De Vita's 3D animated feature “Yellowbird” from TeamTO and Haut & Court...

Now that the movie has rolled out in London, it should materialize here sooner instead of later, don't you think?

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World Box Office

Not many animated features in the higher reaches, but that will soon change.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Dracula Untold -- $33,900,000 -- ($86,057,000)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $28,000,000 -- ($687,077,000)

The Boxtrolls -- $3,600,000 -- ($72,832,412)

Per the trades:

“Dracula Untold” topped the foreign box office this weekend, edging out “Gone Girl” and “Annabelle” overseas with a $33.9 million haul.

The Universal Pictures release cost $70 million to produce and has a worldwide total of $86.1 million after two weeks of release. ...

“Guardians of the Galaxy,” [had] the weekend’s big opening in China. The Marvel film grossed $26.6 million in the People’s Republic, making it the third best premiere for any Disney film in China. ...

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Reality Overtakes Fiction

Uh oh.

... Creators of FX’s animated spy farce say that Archer is dropping the acronym for its fictional covert agency International Secret Intelligence Service. With Islamic State jihadists tearing through Syria and Iraq and closing in on the latter’s capital city, it just makes sense to sidestep the ISIS name. (Anyone remember that appetite-suppression product called Ayds whose sales for some reason plunged by the mid-’80s?) ...

It's a good thing the rampaging hordes in Syria and Iraq aren't calling themselves KAOS. Because that would be the end of the Get Smart reruns.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Newer Marvel Animation


This has been in work for a while:

Hot on the heels of the successful summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord and his motley crew are heading to television.

Disney XD announced Friday during New York Comic Con that it has ordered an animated Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy series to launch in 2015 during the network's "Marvel Universe" block. ...

Prior to this announcement, Marvel Animation's California studio had been developing this series. I asked an exec weeks ago if the show was still under wraps. He said "YES."

So, I kept my trap shut and typing fingers quiet. The animation studio is working on the Guardians animated show in a separate location from its Flower Street studio in Glendale.

Secrets must be kept.

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Your American Box Office

With one animated feature at the Top Ten Party.

). Gone Girl (FOX), 3014 theaters / $8.1M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $27M (-26%) / Wk 2

2). Dracula Untold (UNI), 2887 theaters / $8.9M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $23.8M/ Wk 1

3). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 3088 theaters / $5.2M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $18.9M/ Wk 1

4). Annabelle (WB), 3215 theaters (+30)/ $5.2MFri. / 3-day est. cume: $15.9M (-58%)/ Wk 2

5). The Judge (WB), 3003 theaters / $4.4MFri. / 3-day est. cume: $13.1M/ Wk 1

6). The Equalizer (SONY), 3117 theaters (-119) / $2.8MFri. / $3-day est. cume: $9.5M/ Wk 3

7). Addicted (LGF), 846 theaters / $3M Fri. / $3-day est. cume: $8.4M/ Wk 1

8). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3072 theaters (-533)/ $2.05M Fri. /3-day est. cume: $7.2M/ Wk 4

9). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3270 theaters (-194) / $1.6M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $6.9M/ Wk 3

10). Meet the Mormons (Purdie), 317 theaters/ $1.2M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $3.3M/ Wk 1

The Boxtrolls took in around $1.6m for its third Friday of release. The feature will probably have a $6.5m weekend, which will give it a $41,000,000 domestic total.

Here's a bummer: Box Office Mojo is now ... kaput.

BoxOfficeMojo.com has vanished with the site redirecting to Amazon.com’s IMDb.

The Box Office Mojo site was acquired by Amazon in late 2008. Reps for Amazon were not immediately available for comment.

The free Box Office Mojo site was widely used by the movie industry for up-to-date box office results along with historical data and release dates of upcoming titles. It was founded in 1999 by Brandon Gray. ...

A shame, since it was a good place to go for box office information. Ah well, nothing is forever. I hope Mr. Gray got a nice chuck of change, selling the site to Amazon.

Add On: And now Mojo is back. Mostly.

Box Office Mojo was back online on Sunday, but the site's editor says he doesn't want to talk about it. ...

Of course that doesn't really solve the mystery of where the popular site for real-time box office statistics went for three days. On Friday visitors were redirected to the website of its parent, IMDb.com. There was no explanation posted on either site. ...

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Friday, October 10, 2014

"Shahs of Sunset" Unionized

I spent a chunk of my afternoon walking "The Shahs of Sunset" picket line today. (That's a reality show on Bravo,if you're tracking this at home). So apparently, although there was no hint of this when I left in mid-afternoon, the company and Editors Guild have reached an agreement and the crew has ratified same.

... The striking crew of the Bravo series ["Shahs of Sunset"] voted unanimously to ratify a union agreement, the Motion Picture Editors Guild I.A.T.S.E. Local 700 wrote on its Facebook page Friday.

The strike began Sept. 10, with editors picketing outside the offices of Shahs producer Ryan Seacrest Productions. The crew was seeking the right to unionize.

Bravo took over production of the series on Sept. 26 after RSP said it could no longer work with the striking editors and dropped them. At the time, sources told The Hollywood Reporter Bravo had opted not to rehire the editors for the fourth season of its reality show. ...

There wasn't a hint of a deal when I was tromping back and forth this afternoon. Everybody assumed we would be back with picket signs next week. Some magic must have happened somewhere.

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The Deluge

Oh my.

... The legal floodgates have opened on DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Pixar and Sony as yet another class action has been filed against the ‘toon companies over alleged anti-poaching and wage fixing deals.

“Visual effects and animation studios, including Lucasfilm, (including its division Industrial Light & Magic), Pixar, DreamWorks, The Walt Disney Company (and its division Walt Disney Animation Studios), Sony, ImageMovers, Digital Domain, and others have engaged in a long-running conspiracy to suppress the wages of their highly skilled workers and employees,” claims a complaint from David Wentworth (read it here). A former Associate Computer Graphics Supervisor at Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers, Wentworth’s October 2 filing in federal court is very similar to two previous class action suits put before the courts in the past five weeks. ...

Those trial lawyers, filing them lawsuits.

My guess is that this will, in due course, wend its way to a settlement. Hard to imagine the studios will want these lawsuits to fester and fester. Harder still to imagine that Disney, DreamWorks, et al wants executives testifying under oath. Or being deposed.

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From the Mail Bag: The Testing Plague

Okay, actually from the e-mail INBOX, but anyway.

It's a plan to solve the scourge of testing, and goes like this ...

I am a 23 year veteran director, board artist, animator and character designer with a long line of great resume credits and plenty of highly-regarded industry names who I can call on as references.

This does not matter in the least these days when it comes to looking for most jobs in our industry. Most studios hand out tests like a bowl of cheap candy and the only one biting are the kids. More and more veterans I talk to are fed up with testing and for good reason. Often times the studios are testing 20 people for one job opening and they might even hire someone before you are done with your test. Some times they want you to test for a new show that hasn't even defined it's own style yet. They can't even give you reference material to follow other than character designs leaving you blindfolded. Do they not believe in any of your previous work experience?

You can't trust a test for everything the job is anyway. I just directed on a show where everyone was tested, but only half of the artists were truly strong enough to be there and hardly any of them were meeting their deadlines. We don't know if people are taking their tests at home, if they had help, or if a friend gave them notes. Even the production staff is starting to agree that tests don't tell the whole story of whether a person can do the job.

So why are we still insulting the artists by ignoring all of the years of work they have done on their reels and resumes? I equate the artist to a pro athlete: We have all of the fundamentals and the coach brings in a new play that they scouted from another team. We study the tape and then execute.

I have a simple solution that I believe will benefit both the artist and the studios. I once did a test in-house and the producer paid me $500 for the week I was there. The studio was able to see me at work and get to know me a little, I was able to shake hands with lots of people on the show I had worked with before and show them I fit right in. I was also able to show my roughs and get some direction and to follow that direction before my time was up. I could ask a question if I needed to. This is essential for the studio to know how well I followed direction and how good my attitude was. Did I ask too many questions? Or did I seem capable with very little handholding? It worked out great and I got hired.

I've thought about this process for a long time since. If the studios have to pay a small amount to testers then they have to take your resume seriously and whittle it down to only the best candidates. They can't hand out 30 tests for one job. And they have to have a job opening in order to justify paying for you to come in. This also benefits them because they have paid for the work and can use your work if they want and the directors who review the work are not besieged with tests to review.

And lastly, strong veterans will not walk away but will prosper in an environment that they know. The artist will be able to access the style better, see the tools that others are using, and quickly adapt so he/she can be reviewed fairly instead of eliminated on a technicality like not knowing the studio likes to use brushes to stamp in the characters clean and then just move around the model sheets instead of drawing everything out.

We can do that, if we know that is how the studio does it. A test doesn't tell these things. Many vets are refusing tests and going through friends at other places, leaving the studios to use lots of new recruits. The directors carry these inexperienced artists on their backs through the whole production and get burned out fast.

A short, paid in-house test solves a lot of the problems we face in tests. They can call it a temporary job or probationary week if they have to. I think we as artists need to stand together and fight for a solution that has unfairly hurt artists for a long time. I would also encourage studios to use this process by favoring current employees first and rolling them onto other projects within the same studio. There is nothing more insulting than hitting home runs for your studio on a project then being asked to take a test in order to move to the next project your studio is doing.

Please help me spread the word that there is a better solution.

All my best,

An anonymous veteran artist

Lots of truth up above.

The industry is roaring right now and lots of artists and directors with production experience feel insulted and demeaned by tests. Most tests are handed out on-line, and are as impersonal as glass bricks. And many of the victims artists who take them never hear much of anything from the studio after the things are turned in.

So the current reality is: Many skilled veterans avoid tests like a contagious virus, and studios who deploy tests willy nilly to weed out the riff raff end up with a less-experienced, lower-quality employee because the industry performers have given the company's on-line hoop jumping contest a wide berth.

I've long advocated a four-hour test performed in-house. This gives applicants enough time to demonstrate what they can do, and doesn't waste a director's or storyboard supervisor's workday looking at pages and pages of storyboard tests. As one Disney supervisor said to me:

"I can tell if an artist has what we need in three or four story panels. I don't need to look at more."

If only management was as smart regarding tests as the artists who create their profits, we wouldn't have this on-going problem.

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