Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Kevin Curran, RIP

A comedy talent passes.

Kevin Curran, a veteran TV comedy writer-producer who won six Emmys as part of the staffs of The Simpsons and Late Night With David Letterman, died today at his Los Angeles home after a lengthy illness. He was 59. ...

Curran wrote nearly a dozen episodes of Fox’s The Simpsons and had been part of its producing team for the past 15 years, most recently as co-EP. He shared three Emmys for Outstanding Animated Program among 14 nominations spanning 2002-2016. ...

Mr. Curran was a student at Harvard College, where he was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon. After college, Kevin Curran wrote for the National Lampoon. He next wrote for Late Night with David Letterman. winning three Emmys.

Mr. Curran died after a battle with cancer. Our condolences to his friends and family.

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Merger Mania (Continued)

It's not just Time-Warner and A.T. & T. who are getting married.

Fred Seibert's Frederator Networks has been acquired by 'Escape From Planet Earth' studio Rainmaker Entertainment to create a kids and animation powerhouse.

The New York-based digital animation studio, which has produced series for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, has been acquired by Canadian animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment to create WOW! Unlimited Media. ...

The deal aims at combining Frederator's digital animation networks, including the Channel Frederator multichannel network on YouTube, with Rainmaker's Vancouver-based animation studio to create and distribute kids and animation content across all media platforms. ...

We're in the age of consolidation. Big deals, little deals, doesn't matter. The Sherman Act is dead and buried, and entertainment companies are clawing for leverage, power and a larger share of show biz dollars.

The most direct way to get there is for corporations to buy each other, so they do. Hell of a lot easier than growing a business all by your lonesome.

H/t TAG President Laura Hohman.

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So the Louisiana animation studio co-founded by William Joyce appears to be going through changes.

Moonbot Studios eliminated jobs late last week, including positions in the marketing and animation design departments.

Several former employees posted on social media that their roles at the Shreveport-based animation company were eliminated and that they were looking for jobs. ...

The report was sketchy on details, but Cartoon Brew went a wee bit deeper: ...

... A source tells us that the buyer of the company is Magic Leap, the secretive virtual reality/augmented reality startup located in Dania Beach, Florida that has raised over $1.4 billion in venture capital from investors. ...

TAG blog has known stuff was up in Shreveport for some time now, but TAG blog was sworn to secrecy. More things (as we understand it) will be coming out in the relatively near future. We'll just have to wait.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Picketing Actors

SAG-AFTRA voice actors hit the bricks today, picketing Electronic Arts on Lincoln Boulevard in Playa Vista. As picketers marched, the Guild said:

We know where our members stand, and we will put a deal in front of the SAG-AFTRA membership when we have an agreement our committee can recommend.

Their attempt to characterize their offer to make “additional compensation” payments at the time of session as equivalent to our “contingent compensation” proposal is disingenuous and misleading. These employers know full well that our issue is the creation of secondary payments that allow our members to share in the success of the most successful games. The employers’ offer purposely does not do that.

The video game companies claim they “did everything in their power” to reach an agreement with us. In fact, we accepted their offer of an upfront payment option in order to avoid triggering any secondary payments. This would have allowed them to preserve their existing compensation practices.

We simply asked to include secondary payments as an option in the agreement. This would allow other producers to avoid those upfront costs by agreeing to share their prosperity on the back end — if their game was successful. ...

The hangup to reach a deal appears to be the companies' terror at offering ANY kind of secondary payment, since that smacks of a kind of residual. And isn't that horrible?

(In case you're wondering, the Animation Guild stands in solidarity with the actors:.

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Sausage Trophy

In the tradition of The Walt Disney Company, Sony lays the groundwork for one of its fine, animated features:

Sony is lining up screenings, mailers, ads and more as part of a quest to land Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's passion project — an R-rated spoof of animated movies that was a hit with critics and audiences — unprecedented recognition.

If you thought that Sony's Sausage Party, the no-holds-barred spoof of animated movies that took Hollywood by storm in August, would rest on its critical and commercial laurels this awards season, then you might be, well, a weenie. ...

Sony's push for the film will launch with a Nov. 1 screening and cocktail party at Westwood's iPic Theater, with Rogen and one of the film's two directors, Conrad Vernon (the other is Greg Tiernan), in attendance. The guest list will include members of the Academy's short films and feature animation branch, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who determine Golden Globe nominees and winners), representatives of other guilds and press who cover the awards season.

In addition, the studio has slated numerous other targeted screenings and events, including a similar gathering in New York around the Thanksgiving break. ...

What Sony is doing make perfect sense.

Perfect commercial sense.

Because since forever, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has been a fine vehicle for increasing the cash flows of various movies, which is (let's face the issue squarely) one of the big reasons AMPAS exists.

So who cares if Sausage Party might be low-brow raunch? If it picks up a Little Gold Man, everything's good.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dumbo's 75th Birthday

Walt Disney's elephant picture was released 75 years ago today. ...

Dumbo was an outlier among Disney's early features, right from the beginning. The only pre-war picture that cost under a million to make. And that was made without Walt being in on every creative twist and turn (Mr. Disney was in South America while a big chunk of it was being made). Unlike Pinocchio and Bambi, the story of the little circus elephant was profitable on its first release.

Dumbo was also made at breakneck speed. Years back, Ward Kimball told me he was animating over thirty feet a week. He then pulled a gag cartoon from the period out of a large cardboard box. The drawing showed assistants Walt Kelly and David Swift looking at a pencil test on a movieola while Ward K. animated madly on the other side of the room. The cartoon Ward has a mic on his desk, with wires running to a speaker by the movieola. Ward yells "Cut it in!" into the microphone without looking up. His voice comes booming out of the speaker.

Gives you an idea of how hurried everybody was.

The studio's third released animated feature was in production before and during the 1941 strike. Dumbo was to be the first of Disney's "low budget" features, with Wind in the Willows slated to be the second. But Willows, though begun as a feature, was re-purposed by director Jack Kinney into a featurette and released with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a 1949 package feature: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

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The International Weekend of Box Office

DreamWorks has a new entry titled Trolls, and some veterans are still chugging along.


Jack Reacher: Never Go Back --$31,000,000 -- ($54,000,000)

Inferno -- $28,900,000 -- ($94,800,000)

Mechanic: Resurrection -- $24,100,000 -- ($71,200,000)

Trolls -- $18,000,000 -- ($21,100,000)

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children -- $13,500,000 -- ($224,469,682)

Ouija: Origin Of Evil -- $7,900,000 -- ($22,000,000)

Storks -- $6,800,000 -- ($147,814,528)

Finding Dory -- $4,000,000 -- (1,017,700,000)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $3,500,000 -- ($863,483,130)

Kubo And The Two Strings -- $1,000,000 -- ($66,249,116 )

One of the data points in evidence: stop motion features do less well than CG animated features. And a trade journal tells us:

Trolls opened last week in Denmark, Holland and Israel although Fox is providing first numbers this weekend. Playing in 14 markets, the film spread $18M worth of happiness for a $21.1M cume. There were No. 1s in nine markets ahead of the North American release. ...

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children has crossed the $150M mark at the international box office to double the domestic take to date. Another $13.5M this weekend lifts the total to $150.04M in a total 64 hubs. France, where kids are on vacation and screens are crowded, dipped just 3% for a $12.9M cume thus far. ...

Storks swooped in on another $6.8M in 60 international territories this weekend on 5,600 screens. The offshore bundle has risen to $83.1M. Italy was the only new delivery with $660K from 381 screens. Elsewhere, France held for a teeny 7% drop with kids on vacation and has now cumed $2.1M. ...

Finding Dory has lifted the international cume to $532.2M and the worldwide total to $1,017.7M. The Disney/Pixar title is still swimming up a storm in Germany where the frame saw a 28% dip for a $29.4M total. ...

The Secret Life of Pets is getting closer to $500M international with a $3.5M weekend taking the total to $497.6M. Globally, the cume on the Illumination/Universal pic is $863.8M. ...

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

American Animated Feature

This Boss Baby trailer should have gone up days ago, but I'm inattentive.

A most unusual baby ... wears a suit, speaks with the voice and wit of Alec Baldwin, and stars in the animated comedy, DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby. The Boss Baby is a hilariously universal story about how a new baby’s arrival impacts a family. ...

The picture arrives next March.

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American Box Office

... has one animated feature in the Top Ten.


1). Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PAR), 3,780 theaters / $9.08M Fri. (includes $1.325M previews)/3-day cume: $24.6M /Wk 1

2). Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween (LG), 2,260 theaters / $9.15M Fri. (includes $855K previews)/3-day cume: $23.7M / Wk 1

3). The Accountant (WB), 3,332 theaters (0) / $4.5M Fri. (-50%)/3-day cume: $15M (-39%)/Total: $48.9M/ Wk 2

4). Ouija: Origin of Evil (UNI), 3,167 theaters / $5.3M Fri. (includes $722K previews)/3-day cume: $12.6M / Wk 1

5). The Girl on the Train (UNI/DW), 3,091 theaters (-150) / $2.4M Fri. (-38%)/ 3-day cume: $7.7M (-37%)/Total: $59.3M/ Wk 3

6). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (FOX), 3,133 theaters (-702) / $1.6M Fri. (-31%) 3-day cume: $6.4M (-28%)/Total: $74.8M/Wk 4

7). Keeping Up With the Joneses (FOX), 3,022 theaters / $$2.1M Fri. (includes $300K previews)/3-day cume: $6M / Wk 1

8). Storks (WB), 2,145 theaters (-921) / $1.1M Fri. (-22%)/3-day cume: $4.4M(-22%) /Total: $65M/ Wk 5

9). Deepwater Horizon (LG), 2,828 theaters (-575) / $1.1M Fri. (-39%)/ 3-day cume: $4M (-38%)/Total: $55.6M/ Wk 4

10). Kevin Hart: What Now? (UNI), 2,568 theaters / $1.3M Fri. (-72%)/3-day cume: $3.9M (-67%)/Total: $18.7M/ Wk 2

Three other animated features remain in theaters, but only barely. The Secret Life of Pets clings to a couple of hundred screens and now has $365,883,130 in domestic grosses; Finding Dory is in 150 theaters (give or take) and has earned $485,264,402. And Kubo and the Two Strings remains in 120 theaters with a total gross of $47,378,116.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Kevin Meaney, RIP

Comedian Kevin Meaney, standup and voice actor, departs.

... Kevin Meaney has died. The veteran stand up comic, whose acting credits include numerous animated television series and the Tom Hanks film Big among others, and who also made dozens of appearances on late night television, was 60. ...

[Meaney] was a prolific comedic voice actor who appeared on several classic animated series, among them Dr. Katz, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Garfield and Friends, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Duckman. ...

There was a time when I thought sixty was pretty old, but that time is long past. He was far too young to check out, but we all get the life spans the Almighty gives us.

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Merger Mania

Now with Add On.

A big fat phone company will marry a big fat cartoon and movie studio.

AT&T Inc has reached an agreement in principle to buy Time Warner Inc for about $85 billion, sources said on Friday, paving the way for what would be the biggest deal in the world this year, giving the telecom company control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets.

The deal, which has been agreed on most terms and could be announced as early as Sunday, would be one of the largest in recent years in the sector as telecommunications companies look to combine content and distribution to capture customers replacing traditional pay-TV packages with more streamlined offerings and online delivery. ...

AT&T will pay $110 per Time Warner share in cash and stock, or about $85 billion overall, sources told Reuters. It will need to line up financing to pay for the deal, since it only has $7.2 billion in cash on hand. This could put pressure on its credit rating as it already has $120 billion in net debt as of June 30, according to Moody's. ...

Owning more content gives cable and telecom companies bargaining leverage with other content companies as customers demand smaller, hand-picked cable offerings or switch to watching online. And new mobile technology including next-generation 5G networks could make a content tie-up especially attractive for wireless providers. ...

Long ago, movie studios were just movie studios. This gave entertainment unions (of which TAG is one) a semi-level playing field when they negotiated collective bargaining agreements with the "content providers". If SAG or the WGA went on strike, the studios' cash flow would be squeezed and so there was motivation to reach a deal.

The "level playing field", which in truth was never ALL that level, is now more of a sheer vertical drop than ever. Studios are small cogs in huge corporate machines and the leverage of entertainment guilds and unions have been reduced accordingly. The merger will probably be blessed by the Federal government (they generally are), and are most excellent corporatist state will become a bit more corporatist.

It's difficult to know if this merger will increase the health of the entertainment industry or damage it. There's always the possibility that bigger won't necessarily lead to better or more profitable, and AT&T-Time-Warner might at some point flow apart. But for the moment, it looks as though corporate power in Tinsel Town will be more mammoth and more concentrated.

Add On: A brief history of Time, Warner Bros. and AT & T.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Residuals and Leverage

Now with Add On!

SAG-AFTRA and Video Game producers aren't fighting over money. The battle centers around language.

Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the video game companies broke off late Wednesday night after the union rejected the companies’ final offer for a new contract. ...

The union has demanded that performers receive an additional full-scale payment for each 500,000 units sold, up to a maximum of four secondary payments if the game sells 2 million units.

The companies have steadfastly refused to include residuals as part of any compensation package, saying it would upend the industry’s business model. So in lieu of residuals, the companies have offered “additional compensation” on top of a performer’s regular pay depending on how many sessions were worked on each game. ...

The union countered with a nearly identical proposal that also maxed out at $950 in additional pay after eight session, but instead of calling it “additional compensation,” it called it a “residuals buyout.” ...

The companies, however, refused to call it that, saying it would be unfair to offer a buyout of something that isn’t offered to the hundreds of animators and programmers who develop the games. ...

This seems like a small thing, but the video game companies don't want the fleshy snout of "residuals" to shove its way under the tent. Once it's inside the rest of the animal will (eventually) follow. That, at least, is the companies' expressed fear.

This argument goes back to the forties, when the word "residuals" began to be bandied about inside the House of Labor. It took years for residuals to make their way into the contracts of entertainment unions, but today they're an accepted cost of doing business.

Could this ultimately hold true for video games? Sure it could, if SAG-AFTRA has sufficient leverage. Because leverage is what this negotiation is really about, not "fairness".

Add On: SAG-AFTRA announces:

SAG-AFTRA is striking the following video game employers: Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. The strike covers all games made by these companies that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015.

SAG-AFTRA members will picket Electronic Arts in Playa Vista, CA at 10:30 a.m. PT, Monday, Oct. 24. ...

And we'll soon see where this goes.

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Alternate Cartoon Awards

A continent on the far side of the Atlantic wants to start its own tradition.

... Rome’s biggest industry market MIA kicked off Thursday, in parallel with the Rome Film Fest, with a special focus on animation. ...

One of the main discussions centered around the recently announced European Animation Awards, which will officially have its first event in 2017. ... While the European Film Awards, as well as the BAFTA and the Cesar Awards all have animation prizes, these ceremonies typically honor only the producers of the films. The EAAs aims to honor the entire teams behind the films, including animators, background designers and composers, with 20 categories overall set for the inaugural event next year.

“The main target of this award is to celebrate each year European professionals of the animation industry, acknowledging all the talents of animation from the bottom to the top, from assistant animators and character designers to directors and lead animators." ...

Organizers reinforce that the event is not meant to be a parallel to the Annie Awards, America’s top animation awards, but to stand on its own legs. “The European Animation Emile Awards were not created to compete with the American awards, but rather they aim to put a larger focus on what is happening in Europe.” ...

Any awards festival that throws a spotlight on animation is a positive step for the cartoon business. Just today I talked to a leading animation creator who remarked:

Even when we make a movie that out-grosses most of a studio's live-action features, we're still considered second-class citizens. If you make animated features, you get very little respect. ...

Which is, sadly, a long-established tradition in Hollywood and elsewhere. Maybe the European Animation Awards will help to hoist cartoons out of the entertainment ghetto they have long occupied.

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The Organizing Game

This has been percolating along for awhile, but the media and internet are now getting wind of it.

An effort to organize the artists at Burbank, California-based Stoopid Buddy Stoodios with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union has gained momentum in recent weeks, according to a source inside the studio. ...

[A] union organizer within the studio [says] that the low wages for lower-level staff causes significant turnover, with fed-up staffers often leaving the studio. The studio frequently replaces departing staff with younger, inexperienced artists fresh out of art school, who subsequently require hours of training to get up to speed. The inexperienced hires, who are often just happy to have a job at the studio, frequently have little idea of their true value to the studio and have little negotiating experience. As a result, wages are lowered, and the work schedule suffers. ...

Studio management ... has not taken kindly to organizing efforts. They recently circulated to staff an eight-page letter purporting to answer union arguments about the benefits of unionizing. The letter, which begins by referring to “our Stoopid Family” and proceeds to present arguments against unionization, may have done more to harm to the studio’s position than to help, and many employees saw it as a clumsy effort by studio management to forestall the unionizing effort. ...

The scenario now unfolding is as old as unions, labor contracts, and aggrieved employees walking up and down sidewalks with picket signs.

How it starts is, a company pays its people below industry norms and offers sub-par health insurance. Then the employees get ticked off and begin to sign union representation cards, talk among themselves. and go to (gasp!) union organizing meetings.

At which point the company catches wise to the mutiny down in the ranks. And starts to assert that they're "a family" with a special atmosphere that they don't want to muck up by having some guild or union sticking its nose in. Meetings are held about what a really lousy idea it would be to "go union" (even though some of the owners are in unions themselves).

We are now in the phase where the company is working to tamp down the fires of discontent and talk employees out of better wages and health insurance. We'll see where this goes.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Changing Teams

A couple of high-profile DreamWorks Animation features are (surprise!) switching distributors.

... How to Train Your Dragon 3 and Larrikins originally scheduled to go out via the studio’s 20th Century Fox distribution deal, will now be handled by Uni.

Fox announced Larrikins for a February 16, 2018 release and Dragon 3 for May 18, 2018. Those dates will remain intact on Uni’s schedule. DWA’s distribution agreement with Fox expires at the end of 2017. Fox has DWA’s Trolls opening on November 4 and it’s expected to rake in a healthy gross of $30M against Disney/Marvel’s monolith Doctor Strange. ...

Universal-Comcast laid out thick wads of cash for DreamWorks Animation, and they (understandably) want to start cashing in as soon as possible.

Totally understandable.

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Who Works Where

... gender-wise.

The Animation Guild now has 3,794 artists, writers and technicians working under its jurisdiction at studios in and around Los Angeles. Of these, slightly more than 23% are women.

The female/male breakdowns at the Animation Guild's larger signator studios are as follows: ...


Cartoon Network -- 94 -- (289)

DreamWorks Animation -- 78 -- (547)

DreamWorks Animation TV -- 113 -- (327)

Fox Animation -- 49 -- (252)

Nickelodeon -- 76 -- (282)

Paramount Animation -- 16 -- (62)

Robin Red Breast -- 26 -- (123)

Sony Pictures Animation -- 12 -- (84)

Walt Disney Animation Studios -- 98 -- (493)

Walt Disney TV Animation -- 132 -- (408)

Warner Bros. Animation -- 62 -- (222)

Wild Canary -- 12 -- (51)

There has been a slow but steady increase in the number of women employed in Guild jobs. Eighteen months ago, 20.63% of all employees were female. That percentage has climbed to 23.22%.


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A Diz Co. Live-Action/Animated Hybrid

Feeding various franchises that are loaded with animation keeps lots of people who sit in dark rooms in front of flat-screens employed.

This is a good thing.

The Empire of the Mouse leverages its tent-poles, as any good Empire would.

... Here are a few of the reasons Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel's best movie in years: Chris Pratt, stunning visual effects, a throwback soundtrack, Chris Pratt, and the ability to not take itself too seriously. The movie set the bar for subsequent superhero films like Deadpool that were fun again, that were original, that weren't the typical gritty cerebral events popularized by Christopher Nolan's brilliant, though frequently and poorly copied, Batman movies. In other words, Guardians was refreshing. ...

Chris P. is a busy actor. He seems to have a movie come out every two months.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Animation Continues to Bust Out

... all over. In different formats and directions.

Redwood City-based Baobab Studios closed a $25 million Series B round of funding, bringing the total raised to date by the startup to $31 million and placing the studio among the most highly-funded content startups to emerge with a focus on VR animation.

The startup made Invasion!, a short story about a cute bunny attacked by hapless aliens. The property is already becoming a full-length traditional film to be produced by Roth Kirschenbaum Films. Baobab also announced a second episode in the series called Asteroids!, due out next year.

The funding round is being led by Horizons Ventures with 20th Century Fox, Evolution Media Partners (backed by TPG and CAA), China’s Shanghai Media Group, Youku Global Media Fund and LDV Partners. They join the original investors, Comcast Ventures, HTC and Samsung. ...

The money will be used to develop more animated movies and add to the 20 people currently working at the company. ...

Many fine entertainment conglomerates consider Virtual Reality "the next BIG thing," and why not? Lots of company's are getting into it. (Third Floor, Inc., for one. Until recently, Third Floor was known as a pre-viz house, but now it's branching out to other endeavors).

As a business magazine named Fortune notes:

... Hollywood movie studios, animators, and screenwriters are also looking to create virtual reality films in which users can interact with their environments and even alter the story based on their decisions. ...

“We are on the cusp of a storytelling revolution with this medium, and VR gives filmmakers the opportunity to develop immersive experiences and take audiences into the story like never before,” Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said. ...

Of course, VR could end up being 3-D: more a flash in the pan than anything else. Let's meet here again in five years, see how it went.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Anti-Poaching Suit's Latest Wrinkle

Deadline informs interested parties:

Disney Last ‘Toon Giant Standing As DreamWorks Animation Offers $50M Settlement In Anti-Poaching Suit

With DreamWorks Animation reaching a multi-million deal today , it is now really just Disney who haven’t settled with animation workers in the long running class action suit over over wage-fixing and anti-poaching allegations. On Monday, the now NBCUniversal owned home of the How To Train Your Dragon franchise filed paperwork to start ending its part in the over two-year long action with a proposed $50 million settlement – up to 30% of which could end up going to lawyers.

“The settlement here was reached after arm’s length negotiations, drawing on the expertise of informed, experienced counsel who have been deeply involved in this litigation since its inception, and it reflects the risks associated with both parties continuing to litigate this case,” said the motion for preliminary approval put forth in federal court in San Jose Monday (read it here). “In particular, counsel have been informed and guided by the rulings and settlement valuations deemed fair and reasonable in both this action and the High-Tech litigation,” the 16-page document from lawyers for original plaintiffs Robert Nitsch Jr., David Wentworth and Georgia Cano added.”

A January 19, 2017 hearing has been penciled in for Judge Lucy Koh’s courtroom on the motion, which essentially covers animation workers who were at the ‘toon studios from around 2004 to 2010. ...

We assume here that Universal-Comcast reached a settlement because they want to make this wage-suppression lawsuit history. And we guess that Disney continues to foot-drag because some Diz Co. execs are fully in favor of foot-dragging.

This suits has been percolating for a while. The studios' earlier strategy appeared to be an argument of untimeliness ("The plaintiffs knew about this early-on your honor ... and sorry, but they've hit the statute of limitations" ...)

The Animation Guild was only marginally involved in this suit, referring possible plaintiffs to the involved law firms and hosting a lawyer to explain what the class action was about at a General Membership meeting in July 2014.

And one more wage suppression post here.

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The Mouse's Box Office

Diz Co. is having a banner year.

On the heels of such hits as Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory, the Walt Disney Studios has clocked its best year ever at the international box office — and there are still another two and a half months to go in 2016. Through October 16, the offshore total on all Disney releases is $3.5664 billion. That tops the studio’s previous record of $3.5652B which was for the whole of 2015. ...

And of course Moana rolls out in late November. And the movie will likely have solid opening numbers ... which will boost its box office total close (or maybe past) Universal's record of 4.44 billion in 2015.

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SAG-AFTRA Hitting the Bricks

Deadline informs us:

SAG-AFTRA’s National Board of Directors has voted unanimously on a strike date against major video game employers, and if negotiations are unsuccessful, will walk go on strike Friday, October 21 at 12:01 a.m.

The union will be striking a litany of video game industry giants, including Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. If no deal is reached, all games which went into production after February 17, 2015 will be struck. ...

The decision comes amid an increasingly bitter battle between the guild and the video games industry over the treatment and compensation of voice actors. For years, the video game industry has made heavy use of non union labor or has used union labor for non union work, with more strict adherence to some guild standards observed in Los Angeles and New York where SAG AFTRA has a much heavier presence. In 2015, SAG AFTRA resolved to negotiate better deals for union members for their work within one of the largest entertainment industries in the world.

In many ways, the dispute comes down to the stark differences between the tech sector and the entertainment industry, a problem exacerbated by the way the video game industry straddles both worlds. ...

This comes down to, as it often does, to a matter of leverage.

If SAG can make the video game business take some sort of financial hit over the lack of SAG-AFTRA members, and a significant portion of the business thinks negotiating a better deal for actors can allow it to avoid hurt of its own, the guild could get somewhere. Otherwise, probably not.

Judging from the game consortium's response, it appears it might fall in the "probably not" column, (but maybe the gamesters are blowing a wee bit of smoke).

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Now At #2

If you're keeping count:

The Simpsons joins a very exclusive club of U.S. scripted primetime shows when its 600th episode, “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” airs. How rare is this club? The only other scripted primetime show to reach 600 episodes is Gunsmoke ...

The Western still holds the lead in total episodes with 635. But the Yellow Family should surpass that mark before the end of its run.


1) Gunsmoke (CBS): 635 episodes; 20 seasons
2) The Simpsons (FOX): 600 episodes; 28 seasons
3) Lassie (CBS and Syndication): 591 episodes; 19 seasons.
4) Law & Order (NBC): 456 episodes; 20 seasons.
5) The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (ABC): 435 episodes; 14 seasons.

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Worldwide Box Office

What films are doing well around the wide globe? A number of them are animated:


Inferno -- $50,000,000 -- ($50,000,000)

Miss Peregrine's Home -- $23,500,000 -- ($196,700,000)

Operation Mekong -- $21,000,000 -- ($138,500,000)

Storks -- $10,600,000 -- ($130,744,046)

Bridget Jones Baby -- $10,400,000 -- ( )

The Girl On The Train -- $7,800,000 -- ($74,300,000)

Finding Dory -- $6,400,000 -- ($1,011,500,000)

The Secret Life of Pets -- $5,700,000 -- ($858,000,000)

The Accountant -- $2,800,000 -- ($27,500,000)

Sausage Party -- $2,200,000 -- ($133,246,673)

Kubo and the Two Strings -- $1,000,000 -- ($64,742,649)

A fine entertainment journal informs us:

... Warner Bros’ animated family film Storks put another $10.6M in the nest from approximately 7,300 screens in 58 international markets. The full egg to date is $71.6M. The UK opened to $2.7M in 5th. Including sneaks, that tops the starts of Hotel Transylvania (+27%) and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 1 & 2. ...

Finding Dory has lapped up another $6.4M to take the offshore total to $526.3M and the global tankful to $1,011.5M. The forgetful blue tang swam past the $1B mark worldwide last frame and is the No. 5 animated movie of all time globally. ...

The Secret Life of Pets continues to wag the box office with a bigger than expected $5.7M this weekend in 56 territories. The international total is $492.2M to date since opening overseas in June. Worldwide, Pets has taken $858M. ...

It doesn't appear that Kubo and the Two Strings, despite stellar reviews, is going to make much in the way of profits. With a $60 million budget, it's now grossed $65 million. On the hopeful side the picture has only launched in 25 overseas markets, so it's got some running room.

Then there is Sausage Party. To date it's grossed $133 million against a $20 million production budget, and however many millions they've spent on advertising and general promotion. It's likely in the black, or certainly will be when all the theatrical and secondary markets are played out.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Morphing Story Ideas

It's certainly true that animated features often start out as one animal and end up as another, often going in and out of development over the course of years, it's also true of TV cartoons.

While most classic animated juggernauts were produced in the studio system — emerging from places like Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Warner Bros. — the late ‘80s and early ‘90s saw a wave of young animators striking out on their own to develop series and bring in a wave of fresh energy to the industry. Here’s a look at some of the most iconic of that vital generation of creators, and the shows they brought to the world from their dorm rooms. ...

The thing about creators, when they get an idea that grabs them, they often keep massagning that idea until it arrives at full fruition and some studio exec says "Oh yah, we could do that."

And once in a while, a hit ensues. And everyone is happy.

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The Pixar Exhibit

The California Science Center [in Los Angeles] has a new exhibit.

“The Science Behind Pixar,” a multimedia exhibit that opens Saturday at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, shows that for the artists at Pixar, like their counterparts at the Walt Disney Studio in the ’30s, scientific research is a key element in the creation of quality animated films. ...

“Making one of our films is incredibly challenging," says John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. "We’re constantly solving very complex scientific problems to achieve what we want to do,” he says. “In the early days of Pixar, we coined the phrase, ‘Art challenges technology; technology inspires art,’ and you can replace ‘technology’ with ‘science’: From the combination of art and science, you get ideas you would have never thought of otherwise.” ...

The Hollywood Reporter says:

... With 40 interactive elements inspired by Pixar films from Toy Story to Inside Out, the exhibition is broken into eight sections, each focusing on a step of the filmmaking process - modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets & camera, animation, simulation, lighting and rendering. Sets & cameras demonstrates how a bug's-eye view was achieved for A Bug's Life, using camera angles and large-set design within the computer. The modeling section shows how Toy Story's digital sculptures are created based on sketches from artists, while the lighting area examines challenges similar to those Pixar artists faced in creating animated water with virtual light in Finding Nemo.

Developed by the Museum of Science, Boston in collaboration with Pixar, the exhibit is part of the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative, of which the California Science Center is a member. ...

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Your American Box Office

The current box office contains one animated feature that's doing okay but hasn't set the fruited plain on fire.


1). The Accountant (WB), 3,332 theaters / $9M Fri. (includes $1.35M previews)/ 3-day cume: $24.6M / Wk 1

2). The Girl on the Train (UNI/DW), 3,241 theaters (+97) / $3.9M Fri. (-57%) / 3-day cume: $12.9M (-47%)/Total: $47.5M/ Wk 2

3). Kevin Hart: What Now? (UNI), 2,568 theaters / $4.5M Fri. (includes $739K)/3-day cume: $11.67M / Wk 1

4). Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (FOX), 3,835 theaters (+130) / $2.25M Fri. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $8.4M (-44%)/Total: $65.3M/Wk 3

5). Deepwater Horizon (LG), 3,403 theaters (+144) / $1.9M Fri. (-43%) / / 3-day cume: $6.3M (-45%)/Total: $49.3M/ Wk 3

6). Storks (WB), 3,066 theaters (-542) / $1.4M Fri. (-30%)/3-day cume: $5.75M(-31%) /Total: $59.3M/ Wk 4

7.) Magnificent Seven (SONY), 3,210 theaters (-486) / $1.5M Fri (-42%)/ 3-day cume: $5.1M (-43%)/Total cume: $84.7M/ Wk 4

8). Middle School (CBS/LG), 2,822 theaters (0)/ $1.1M Fri. (-43%) / 3-day cume: $4.2M (-39%)/Total: $13.7M/ Wk 2

9). Sully (WB), 2,211 theaters (-847)/ $979K Fri. (-32%) / 3-day cume: $3.3M(-34%)/Total: $118.7M / Wk 6

10). Birth of a Nation (FSL), 2,105 theaters / $943K (-64%)/ 3-day cume: $3.1M (-55%)/ Total: $12.7M/Wk 2 ...

Storks will climb past $60 million early next week. Compared to recent animated releases it's under-performing, but in its fourth week the picture is holding better than any other movie in the Top Ten.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

TAG Ballots

Thousands of Animation Guild ballots were mailed from the American Arbitration Association on Tuesday. Most are now in the mail boxes or on the dining room tables of Guild members across Los Angeles County.

There are a record number of candidates running this year. You can find the statements of each here. ...

On Tuesday, October 18th, the Guild's Candidate Forum will be held in TAG's meeting hall (1105 N. Hollywood Way) at 7 p.m.

This will be members' opportunity to hear candidates' positions on the future direction of the Guild, and what plans they have for the 2018 contract negotiations.

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Titmouse, the studios for which are located in Hollywood and New York, has a few projects percolating.

... Titmouse is gearing up for the release of their first full-length movie, a new season of Venture Bros. is underway, and they’re New York animators just finished moving into a brand new studio. ...

Nerdland is the first feature that is fully theirs. Titmouse has done work for hire on a number of animated features in the past, but this is the first time they’ve made a full movie all the way through.

“We learned a lot,” [studio topkick Chris] Prynoski said. “I directed this one, and I think I’ll do a much better job on my next one because you learn… Also, because it’s low budget, we had to do it in between other jobs, so it’s not like I was full time only directing that movie and nothing else. It was kind of like having a part-time job, but it’s a really important part-time job.” ...

The Titmouse facility in tinsel town is located on Lexington Street, a tidy brick building with a spiffy front door and a long, modern lobby beyond it. There are administrative and executive offices past the lobby, but I've never seen much of them.

The building I know is around the corner and across a parking lot, and a whole lot dumpier than its brick cousin. The place looks as though it was once a factory structure sometime around Franklin Roosevelt's first term; now it houses animators, board artists, designers and writers. The place has a nice sandalwood aroma which a production manager told me comes from strategically placed deodorizers designed to cover up the smell of mildew.

I've never heard animation artists complain about the smell. (Mildew and sandalwood must go well together).

Titmouse, under the corporate name "Robin Red Breast", produces Disney TVA half-hours using a Guild contract. TAG no longer negotiates deals that cover part of a studio, but Titmouse (aka Robin Red Breast) has been a fairly active union employer. Disney outsourcers a lot of animation work to small sub-contracting studios and Titmouse has long gotten a generous portion of the work. But TM/RRB is a prolific cartoon factory, and the company is branching out far beyond the projects it does for the House of Mouse.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fifty Years Back

... There was a short story session for a (now) iconic half hour.

... When it came to outlining the entire concept, ... It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, ... was all hashed out by lunchtime, save a few scenes that were added after Schulz, director-producer Bill Melendez (also the voice of Snoopy) and executive producer Lee Mendelson finished their sandwiches.

“The reason we were able to do it in one day is that the main theme of the show had been in the comic strips for years,” Mendelson said. ... “As we were developing the script, Mr. Schulz lamented almost as an aside, ‘Too bad we can’t have Snoopy fly. Melendez, pretending to be offended, said, ‘Hey, I’m an animator. I can do anything, including a dog flying a doghouse.’ We all laughed and that’s how Melendez and [animator] Bill LittleJohn created that scene.” ...

The Bill Melendez Studio was housed in three small residential bungalows on Larchmont Street, a few blocks from Paramount Studios.

The setup was simple: Bill Melendez directed and animated, Phil Roman (during the time he was there) directed and animated, some animation was freelanced off premises, layout and story was on premises along with other departments (animation check, final check, ink-and-paint, (etc.) scattered among the three bungalows.

It was an efficient, straight-foward business model, and it went on for decades. Innumerable Peanuts half hours, Cathy specials, the initial Garfield special. Bill Melendez kept the studio small and manageable, and over the years Bill M. and Company turned out a lot of superior work. To keep a studio steaming along for half a century takes a kind of genius, and Mr. Melendez had the Magic Touch in spades.

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3D Animation on the Big Screen (Vs. the Little Screen)

A video game technical designer answers the question: How far ahead are movies compared to video games in terms of graphics?.

... Nearly every graphics innovation that has been developed for games was first developed in support of filmmaking many years prior. The reason for this is, well, film doesn’t have to render in real-time and video games do. You can spend an entire day rendering out just a shot for a film, and then when it’s rendered and composited it’s done and you never need to render it again. Therefore, film can pull out as many stops as it likes...

If you’re looking for an exact number of years that film is ahead of games by, it’s very hard to say, because somewhere behind closed doors there’s film technology that you and I don’t know about. But to give you an idea, the technologies I list ... were definitely available at least ten years ago and have yet to be reliably or commonly integrated into games.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Disney’s fur rendering system for Zootopia is probably going to be out of reach for game developers for a very, very long time. ...

On the other hand, the sophistication of lighting, surfacing and animation in standard-issue video games continues to get better and better. So there is a trickle down effect.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Alvin Pickup

Season 3 and 4 around the corner.

Nickelodeon has teamed up with broadcasters in France, Germany and Brazil to commission two more seasons of Alvinn!!! and the Chipmunks.

M6 in France, Super RTL in Germany and Gloob TV in Brazil have all committed to seasons three and four of the CGI- animated series, which will begin production this fall in France.

It will be coproduced between Bagdasarian Productions and Technicolor Animation Productions, which will share all writing, producing and directing responsibilities. ...

Since this is a non-Guild show, I don't know if pre-production (writing and storyboards) are being done stateside or not. I do know that various board artists allege that Bagdasarian has a habit of stiffing artists on payments for completed work.

No doubt these allegations are scurrilous and without foundation, but we get them nevertheless. And we pass them on to show people how some studios get smeared by ungrateful employees. Awful, just awful.

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I had occasion to stroll through DreamWorks Animation campus this afternoon. Trolls awaits release, and Boxx Baby is pushing to completion. Two animators said there was four weeks (give or take) of animation remaining on the picture, after which there's surfacing, lighting, and then the inevitable tweaking and tightening. ...

As a trade paper reported several weeks ago:

Boss Baby takes a step back from the computer-generated realism of recent features to explore the more impressionistic side of the medium, finding inspiration in the work of animation pioneers like Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Maurice Noble.

Indeed, from the footage previewed, [the feature] plays like a throwback to classic cartoons where shapes and figures were often distorted for effect and animators could let their imaginations could run wild. ...

The picture rolls out in March.

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Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan

It covers more than 140,000 participants and dependents. It's been going strong for sixty-plus years. Every year it sends out a statement detailing how many contribution hours participants earned in the previous year, and what amount of monthly annuity individual participants are now receiving, also too how many dollars are in each participant's Individual Account Plan. ...

Of late, The Animation Guild has gotten inquires about when the latest statement would be coming out. ...

We've received reports that the 2015 Motion Picture Industry Pension Statement is now up on-line and available to registered participants. Mailed paper statements should be following shortly.

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