Friday, April 17, 2015

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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The Weirdness of the Internets

I got a note this morning from Cartoon Brew about this:

... Walt Disney had his mustache accidentally lit on fire by the animator Ken Anderson. Ken was worried that he'd be fired, and it was showing in his work, so Walt shaved his mustache and spent the week eating lunch with Ken so he wouldn't feel so alienated. ...

Okay, a few details wrong, but outside of that. It got over a thousand hits. ...

I told about my adventures with Mr. Anderson on CB the better part of a year ago. And Ken's sad tale of lighting Walt on fire took up only a small part of the tale.

But here we are, ten months later, and somebody on Reddit launches a discussion on whether or not Walt was an anti-Semite or not. What the discussion of bigots has to do with Ken and his over-eager Butane lighter, I do not know.

Just goes to show you, once something is on the interwebs, it's there forever. To be used in any number of weird ways.

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Lawsuit Thrown Overboard

The judge who approved a larger settlement on one class action, has stopped another.

Disney, Sony & DreamWorks Animation Antitrust Class Action Tossed

More than six months after the first lawsuit was filed over anti-poaching and wage-fixing allegations, the ‘toon studios have seen the now-consolidated class-action case go the way of hand drawing as genre standard, at least for now.

“As Plaintiffs have failed to allege an essential element of fraudulent concealment, and the Court has also concluded that Plaintiffs’ claims, as currently alleged, are time barred, the Court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ CAC,” said a federal judge on Good Friday in the action from a trio of digital artists against the major animation studios. ...

Me, I think there's been a long-time effort of studios to steer clear of the kinds of bidding wars that went on for artists' services in the 1990s. And I think the avoidance has been successful.

But thinking there's wage collusion and proving it are two different things. So we'll see if hard evidence can be produced, or this is the end of the line.

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Final Chapter

Last chunk of self-aggrandizement.

‘Mouse in Transition’: Basil or Mouse Detective? (Chapter 19) ...

My wife Janette and I had a lengthy argument over me sending the memo to the Times.

She really, REALLY didn't want me to send it, fearing "something bad will happen."

I didn't care. I figured, What can Disney do to me now? They can't lay me off twice.

But maybe, I donno, Janette knew something I didn't. Karma is a funny thing.

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Your Global Box Office

Apparently there's a whole lot of cartooning going on.


Home -- $20,700,000 -- ($180,820,742)

Cinderella -- $24,300,000 -- ($397,251,000)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $5,800,000 -- ($296,815,605)

Shaun the Sheep -- $4,750,000 -- ($42,000,000)

Our fine trade papers report:

... Universal's Furious 7 raced to ... $240.4 million overseas for a massive worldwide launch of $384 million. ...

Overseas, Home earned another $20.7 million for a foreign total of $85.2 million and global cume of $180.8 million.

Disney's Cinderella will jump the $400 million mark after finishing Sunday with an international cume of $230 for a [world] total $397.3 million. To date, it is the top-grossing title of 2015, including a China bounty of $68.7 million. ...

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Rudolph Perz, RIP

The creator of a well-loved animated character moves on.

Rudolph Perz, an advertising executive who pondered a soulless, squishy, cylindrical mixture of flour and water on his kitchen table 50 years ago and conjured up the genial Pillsbury Doughboy, died on Thursday in a suburban Chicago hospital. He was 89. ...

Mr. Perz was the creative director of the Leo Burnett agency in Chicago when he imagined a blue-eyed Poppin’ Fresh springing from a tube of dough, like a fast-forward version of evolution from primordial ingredients.

To distinguish him from a plumper incarnation of Casper the Friendly Ghost in cartoon illustrations, the Doughboy became a three-dimensional clay figure designed by Milt Schaffer, an animator. “We made two Doughboys,” Mr. Perz said in an interview with a colleague at Leo Burnett in 1972. “One was a rubber Doughboy with an armature inside, and you could move his arms a little bit at a time. And the other was a hard Doughboy.” ...

The Doughboy’s voice — “Hi! I’m Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” he announced, giggling “Hee-Hee” (later “Hoo-Hoo”) when poked in his soft belly — was originally supplied by Paul Frees. A busy voice actor, he also voiced the Disney duck Professor Ludwig Von Drake and Admiral Yamamoto in the 1976 movie “Midway.” ...

Cartoonists often create characters that resonate through decades. Happens less often for the creative director of an ad firm, but Rudolph Perz deserves bragging rights here, along with Milt Shaffer.

And remember, this guy ...

... is a close cousin of Mr. Fresh.

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Box Office

First, the forecast.

Box Office Mojo's Weekend Predictions

1. Furious 7 - $110 million
2. Home - $28 million (-45%)
3. Get Hard - $16.5 million (-50%)
4. Insurgent - $12.5 million (-42%)
5. Cinderella - $10.5 million (-38%)

Then, the early reports: ...

niversal’s “Furious 7″ is speeding toward a record-setting opening weekend of nearly $140 million. ... DreamWorks’ second weekend of animated comedy “Home,” released by Fox, should lead the rest of the pack at roughly $30 million to lift its 10-day U.S. total to the $100 million vicinity. ...

Warner Bros.’ second session of Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart comedy “Get Hard” will likely see much of its core male audience opt for “Furious 7.″ The R-rated prison comedy has been forecast to decline 50% from its opening weekend numbers to finish around $17 million.

Disney’s fourth frame of “Cinderella” and the third weekend of Lionsgate’s “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” should each pull in around $10 million. ...

And finally, the weekend chart:


1). Furious 7 (UNI), 4,004 theaters / $67M to $68M Fri. / 3-day cume: $148M to $150M / Wk 1

2). Home (FOX/DW), 3,801 theaters (+93) / $11.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $28.7M (-47%) / Total cume: $96.98M / Wk 2

3). Get Hard (WB), 3,212 theaters (+37) / $4.8M to $5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $12.8M (-61%) / Total cume: $57.6M / Wk 2

4/5). Cinderella (DIS), 3,404 theaters (-411) / $4.18M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10M+ / Total cume: $166.5M / Wk 4

Insurgent (LG), 3,442 theaters (-433) / $4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10M+ (-52%) / Total cume: $103.7M / Wk 3

6). It Follows (RAD), 1,655 theaters (+437) / $900K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2M+ / Total cume: $8M+ / Wk 4

7). Woman in Gold (TWC), 258 theaters (+230) / $612K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M / Total cume: $1.8M

8). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 1,327 theaters (-458) / $640K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M / Total cume: $122.36M / Wk 8

9). Do You Believe? (PF), 1,218 theaters (-138) / $540K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.75M / Total cume: $10M / Wk 3

10). The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (FSL), 1,060 theaters (-438) / $356K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1M / Total cume: $30.1M / Wk 5

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