Monday, February 28, 2011

Organizer's Notes: Steve Wright - Latest FUD Distributor

FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is the strongest argument tool the opposition has to organization. It strikes hard and deep with those who choose not to look past the first few sentences. Dispelling FUD arguments is the biggest job of a Union Organizer.

Steve Wright‘s tutorials and lessons are well known inside of the visual effects community. When I wanted to learn the theories and techniques of composition for vfx, I was pointed towards his book Digital Compositing for Film and Video. (Excellent.) His tutorials have always been held up as must-need items for those seeking immediate and easily understood lessons. My respect for Steve and his work made reading his latest Op-Ed piece so painful.

Outline of Steve’s Argument

Steve’s opening paragraph states three reasons why Los Angeles is losing visual effects work: cheap labor elsewhere, tax incentives elsewhere, and exorbitant and “punitive” taxes levied against film production in Los Angeles. He then adds that unionizing should be counted as a forth obstacle and equates it to the final coffin for Los Angeles visual effects.

He explains that visual effects is so broadly spread that cineSync was created to facilitate the ease of coordinating visual effects work from afar. He even invokes Asylum and CafeFX to provide examples to how heavy the burden is for local shops to succeed.

His real assault on unions and organizing is closer to the end of his essay. After calling it “industrial suicide”, he makes the claim that the IATSE is attempting to raise artists pay, collect dues and provide benefits to members. This, he claims, will assault Los Angeles visual effects studios by raising the costs of doing business. Finally, he furthers the FUD argument of job classification and how unionization will muddy the workflow of a studio by inserting multiple locals which will argue over who can do what work.

Rebuttal: The Reality of His “Facts”

The Industry Is Evolving

As Steve explains in his essay, it is evident that the industry is going through changes. Los Angeles was once the Mecca for all visual effects. In the 20-plus years that Steve has been a visual effects artist, he’s seen the work spread out across the globe. Fearing that the work will leave all-together is natural for someone whose witnessed the rise of the industry in Canada, the UK and beyond. But, fearing that change is a choice as is not checking facts or exploiting those fears to frighten those around you.

While it may be difficult to accept the change that is underway, it's impossible to say that the addition of collective bargaining for visual effects artists will be the death-knell for visual effects in the Los Angeles area. Steve used a broad-stroke overview of the industry’s world-wide growth to strike fear by concluding that Los Angeles is seeing work leave its borders at an alarming rate. Had he bothered to do a simple Google search, he could have found the same facts that were used to write this article in the TAG Blog.

While shops like Cafe FX and Asylum will be missed, they'd been thriving a nd succeeding in the visual effects industry for years before closing their doors. In Los Angeles. I’ve heard grumblings among artists that Cafe FX over-extended themselves to get Alice in Wonderland completed, and that Asylum suffered from mis-management and lack of attention to operating costs and profit. Strong arguments can be made that they decided it was easier to get out when they did as opposed to continuing to struggle as successful visual effects studios.

What is pointed out in the article linked above, is that studios *are* opening in Los Angeles. While some are linked to multi-national organizations, this sort of defeats his argument that Los Angeles is a scourge for Visual Effects studios. Even the multi-national organizations understand that having an office close to the studios is essential for quick turn-arounds and approvals. This makes smaller and aggressive Visual Effects studios able to pick up work and grow much as he claims used to happen, but doesn’t anymore.

The Purpose Of Unionization

Steve shares his ideas on the existence of unions with this statement:

In fact, [unions only exist] to get [their] members higher pay and more benefits, which obviously raises the cost of doing business. Their other reason for their existence, of course, is to collect union dues.

In light of what’s been transpiring in Wisconsin, this statement is vile in its inaccuracy. Unions exist to bring to their members the strength of collective action. This way, a labor force is able to bring an equitable share of the decision making power of the workplace to its corner. IATSE contracts establish wage minimums, provide active monitoring of federal and state labor laws, stipulate holidays and overtime regulations among other things. You can read a copies of the IATSE Basic Agreement or the TAG Contracts at the provided links.

Providing a venue for visual effects artists to act upon their workplace concerns only serves to fortify the industry. Working at a studio whose signatory to an IATSE contract gives an artist the ability to make substantial and beneficial changes while protecting their work environment. The IATSE isn’t interested in shutting down visual effects studios. Rather, we want to see artists provided with a seamless cloak of contractually stipulated benefits across the industry.

The Cost Of Unionization

Membership Costs

In the above quote, Steve accuses unions of only being interested in dues. This argument is moldy with age and stale with overuse. However, for the sake of clarification, these are facts on dues and fees.

All locals of the IATSE, like unions everywhere, require members to pay dues. These payments go to the maintenance and operational costs of the locals. The electric bill, the phone bill, stamps, office supplies, staff salaries all are funded with these payments. At the end of the year, each local has to file an LM-2 statement that details how much money was taken in and spent over the course of the last year. The Animation Guild’s 2009 LM-2 statement can be found at this link. Each local is asked to pay the IATSE a head-tax per member as well as a fee for each member who joins.

When the national VFX Local is formed, it will elect officers and an executive board. That governing body will be responsible for drawing up the constitution and by-laws of the local. In those documents, among the other rules of the organization, they will spell out the dues and fees schedule.

Contractual Costs

Much text has been spilled over the costs involved in signing a union contract. I’ve written about this in a post called The Fallacies of Costs and Unionization, which says it's impossible to project long-term costs for a studio, since that contract has not been negotiated. Each contract is unique and no one can say with absolute certainty what each studio will be willing to accept or fight against. The Health and Pension contributions are definitely one of many costs that will be negotiated, and the IATSE will not easily budge on them.

A strong argument can also be made for studios that any costs involved in signing a contract would be less that what is currently being paid by studios who fund benefits to their employees. If a studio is offering health care or benefits to its employees, there could be a significant cost savings should they sign a contract with the IATSE.

The Role Of The Union In Daily Studio Operations

While this paragraph was a small one, it struck a nerve since it was so outside the realm of reality, I felt it imperative to respond:

In addition to the job-killing effects of higher production costs, we can add the efficiency-crushing effect of union rules. Sorry boss, I’m a compositor, not a lighter. You are going to have to call the CGI guy to come in this weekend to re-render that reflection pass. You can’t tell me to use Photoshop! That’s the digital photographer’s union. Need to work Sunday? That’s golden time (triple pay!). Roto? I can’t roto my own holdout mask. That’s the Rotoscoper’s Local 44.

Steve (apparently) knows little about modern entertainment unions. TAG and IA contracts have transparency and interchangability, and have had those features for years. Does he think the artists at DreamWorks or Disney Feature Animation or Warner Bros. stop at some mythical classification edge, then run to get someone else to perform work they can do themselves? Steve should ask his colleagues who work at Sony Pictures Animation how often they have to tell supervisors its not their job to do whats being asked of them.

While some IATSE locals have had to take a strong stand in live-action studio environments to protect their members, the IATSE is attempting to form a national Visual Effects local. This means, all artists will be a member of the same local and protected by the same contract and a part of the same health and pension plans.

For an author of many tutorials and many other opinion pieces, I find Steve’s lack of fact- gathering and high-powered rumor-mongering insulting. What can be worse for artists today than falsehoods spread through the mouth of what was, once upon a time, a reliable source?

The IATSE will establish portable standards and minimums that will offer protections and standards of living that have yet to be felt in the industry today. The purpose of organizing is to help visual effects artists achieve comforts and peace-of-mind that is rare in the industry they’ve chosen. An industry where every other person (actor, director, script supervisor, grip, costumer, honeywagon driver, etc) has fought and achieved collectively bargained standards they count on for their livelihoods.

IATSE President Matthew Loeb put it best in his letter to the VES:

You perform critical and highly specialized services to the industry and you deserve the same dignity, benefits and voice in the workplace afforded to every other craftsperson and creator. You have my full support and commitment in this endeavor to bring fairness and equity to the workers of Visual Effects.

Steve, if you're interested in getting any facts on this matter, feel free to contact Jim Goodman, IATSE Organizer for Visual Effects or myself at any time. Either of us would appreciate counting your voice among the many who have asked for information and learned that unionization isn’t what you had imagined; and could be the one thing that helps bring some sanity to a tumultuous field.

Click here to read entire post

The afternoon of remembrance, this Saturday

Our annual memorial ceremony is coming up this Saturday.

The Animation Guild, ASIFA Hollywood and Women In Animation present
a celebration of the lives of departed friends from our animation community:

  • Aron Abrams
  • Alex Anderson
  • Yvonne “Vonnie” Batson
  • Tom Bird
  • Betty Brooks
  • Charlie Callas
  • Eddie Carroll
  • Robert Culp
  • Robert Dettloff
  • John Dorman
  • Peter Fernandez
  • Frank Frazetta
  • Ronald Gans
  • John Garling
  • Tony Geiss
  • Colene Gonzales
  • Louis Gorham
  • Ernie Guanlao
  • Heidi Guedel Garofalo
  • Steven Hodgson
  • Ben Hurst
  • Chris Jenkyns
  • Alex Johns
  • Kihachiro Kawamoto
  • Peter Keefe
  • Betty Kimball
  • Aron Kincaid
  • Kip King
  • Boyd Kirkland
  • Satoshi Kon
  • Rudy Larriva
  • Annette Leavitt
  • Phil Lewis
  • Bill Littlejohn
  • Carl Macek
  • Diane Jacobs Matranga
  • Grant McCune
  • Robert McIntosh
  • Judy Niver
  • Ann Oliphant
  • Shana Ozark
  • Betty Paraskevas
  • J. C. Ponce
  • Tom Ray
  • Dan Read
  • Billie Mae Richards
  • Jesus Rodriguez
  • Pres Romanillos
  • Ken Sanders
  • Don Schloat
  • Sara Seaberry
  • John Sparey
  • Claudia Ross Thompson
  • Te Wei
  • Andrew Witkin
  • Ilene Woods

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Food and refreshments, noon

Memoriams, 1 pm

Hollywood Heritage Museum (Lasky-DeMille Barn)

2100 N. Highland (across from Hollywood Bowl), Hollywood

The Afternoon is free of charge and is open to all; no RSVPs are necessary.

If you know of anyone in our community who passed away between January 1, 2010 and January 31, 2011 and is not on our list, please post a comment below and I will contact you. Please note that Bill Justice and Dwayne McDuffie will be honored at next year's Afternoon of Remembrance.

Click here to read entire post

Talking to Jerry Eisenberg -- Part I

TAG Interview with Jerry Eisenberg

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Jerry Eisenberg launched his animation career at M-G-M near the end of Bill Hanna's and Joe Barbera's time there, and he's been going strong ever since ...

The son of animation and comic book veteran Harvey Eisenberg, Jerry carved out his own career in the animation business, working as layout artist and supervisor, story board artist, director and producer (among other things.)

Mr. Eisenberg starts by relating a little-known tale about how The Flintstones came into being ...

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, February 27, 2011

One Small Surprise

At tonight's Academy Awards, just about all the expected winners fulfilled expectations. King's Speech. Colin Firth. Natalie Portman. Toy Story 3. There were few surprises, except maybe this one.

Australia has continued its strong tradition in the short animated film category at the Academy Awards with Shaun Tan pulling off a shock victory [with The Lost Thing]. ...

I would have liked to have seen more upset, all across the board. (I was rooting for Annette Bening. Oh well.) I hope Pixar-Disney isn't too disgruntled only getting the animated feature and Best Original Song Little Gold Man.

Click here to read entire post

Foreign Box Office

In the midst of Oscar Mania, the boodle from foreign box office keeps flowing in.

Films in various categories of Oscar contention took center stage on the foreign theatrical circuit on the weekend ... Dwarfing the foreign grossing power of all other Oscar-related films are the two genuine blockbusters with multiple nominations this year. One is Pixar Disney's animation entry, Toy Story 3 ... which grossed more than $1 billion worldwide ...

Racking up $7.8 million ... in 38 territories was Warner Bros.' Yogi Bear, pushing the animation title's foreign cume to $90.75 million. Disney and other distributor's animation-musical outing Gnomeo & Juliet (No. 1 in its third U.K. round) pushed its foreign cume, via various distributors, to $17.6 million after an estimated $7.8 million weekend.

Foreign grosses for animated features continue to be abundant. Besides the specimens above, there is:

Tangled -- $343,000,000

Megamind -- $170,430,367

Despicable Me -- $293,000,000

Shrek Forever After -- $511,216,000

You will note that all these features earned money that was north of $170 million. Which is why animated movies continue to be produced at a lively clip.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Best

Scott Mendelson of the Huffington Post dies hard:

Why "Toy Story 3" Still Deserves to Win Best Picture on Sunday

... [T]hree cheers for Disney for going after the big prize. There is certainly a risk, as voters may think that "Toy Story 3" has a shot at Best Picture and vote for (the terrific) "How to Train Your Dragon" for Best Animated Film. It would be nice for for Oscars to actually award the Best Picture trophy to the actual best film of the year more than once or twice a decade. ...

I think TS3 would be an honorable recipient of the "Best Picture" Academy Award, but I wouldn't consider it the best. I think How to Train Your Dragon deserves that particular nod. Of course, Dragon wasn't nominated for "Best Picture." It got roped into the "Animated" category, and anyone with half a brain knows that the Disney/Pixar offering -- which is a fine picture, don't get me wrong -- has that slot sewn up.

But nobody should get their underclothes in a knot about this inevitable, upcoming win. The Academy Awards are about marketing and adding to the gross, not about "Best." It pretty much boils down the same kinds of pictures every year. The actor who plays a character who's alcoholic or addled walks away with thesping trophy. The gaudiest, most razzle dazzle special effects usually take that prize, and the "Best Picture" award either goes to the big blockbuster (Titanic, Gone With the Wind) or the smaller, art-house feature that's politically correct.

It rarely varies from that formula; I seriously doubt it will be different this year. (And congratulations in advance to Toy Story 3 for taking the "Best Animated Feature" Oscar.)

Click here to read entire post

End of February Box Office

As of Thursday, Gnomeo and Juliet resided in second place with $61 million, but that lofty perch will no doubt drop as newbies filter into the marketplace. ...

The Nikkster lists G & J, at #3 coming into the first turn of the derby, with a total by Sunday of $77 million.

1. Hall Pass (New Line/Warner Bros) NEW [2,950 Theaters] -- Friday $4.7M, Estimated Weekend $13M

2. Unknown (Dark Castle/Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,043 Theaters] -- Friday $4M (-40%), Estimated Weekend $14M, Estimated Cume $34.5M

3. Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney) Week 3 [3,037 Theaters] -- Friday $3.4M, Estimated Weekend $16M, Estimated Cume $77M

4. Just Go With It (Sony) Week 3 [3,544 Theaters] -- Friday $3.4M, Estimated Weekend $11.5M, Estimated Cume $80M

5. I Am Number Four (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 2 [3,156 Theaters] -- Friday $3.2M (-48%), Estimated Weekend $10M, Estimated Cume $36.7M

(If you look closely at Nikki's numbers, the garden gnomes could well end up at the top of the heap by Sunday.)

Add On: So whattayaknow? On this sleepy winter's weekend, Gnomeo and Juliet claim the top spot.

'Gnomeo and Juliet' Trumps 'Hall Pass' With $14.2 Million to Win Weekend

... Disney's "Gnomeo" grossed an estimated $14.2 million from 3,037 theaters for a cume of $75.1 million in its third weekend. The film, made by the now-shuttered Miramax and released under the Touchstone banner, fell only 26% from last weekend.

In the last six months, Disney has had back-to-back money-makers with two animated properties that had long, choppy developments. Only shows to go you that if the right talent gets paired with a property, something can be made out of it.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, February 25, 2011

Routes Into Cartoonland

From time to time I'm asked: "How does somebody get into animation?" And I always say that there are around a jillion different goat paths, many of them changing week to week. Here's one:

A friend suggested that [Bonnie Arnold] meet with then-Disney studio executive Peter Schneider to talk about working in animation. Arnold was skeptical because she knew nothing about that world. But she followed her mother's advice: "She always told me to 'meet everybody and don't ever refuse a meeting.' "

... [T]hat meeting proved pivotal. Schneider eventually tapped Arnold as producer on "Toy Story" ...

The elements everybody needs to enter and succeed in the biz were in place for Arnold. She had a work ethic and track record on some other, live-action movies, which got her the meeting with Schneider.

And she impressed Mr. Schneider enough to get tapped for a position on a small, upstart feature in Northern California that wasn't on anybody's radar. (At the time, Pixar was paying experienced L.A. artists premium wages to go up to the Bay area and work on their project. Lucre was the only way to lure them out of Los Angeles.)

Lastly, Bonnie Arnold had the good fortune to be attached to a movie that turned out to be not only a hit, but a trend-setter and career rocket ship. (The norm is being on board a picture that doesn't make its costs back.)

But no matter how much luck a person might have, it's useful to be able to deliver when opportunity bangs on the door. Based on the evidence, Ms. Arnold has certainly done that.

Click here to read entire post

Factoids to Know ...

... particularly if you are in the IA/TAG and under the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan:

Providence agrees to take over motion picture hospital and nursing home

The Motion Picture and Television Fund said Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with hospital chain Providence Health & Services that would allow the fund to keep open the hospital and nursing home in Woodland Hills.

Under the proposed agreement ... Providence would sign a long-term lease agreement with the fund to manage the hospital and nursing home and assume financial responsibility for its operations. ...

This is good news for plan participants, since it broadens options rather than narrows them. (Some of you might remember there has been an ongoing battle over the closing of medical facilities at the Motion Picture and Country home out in the West San Fernando Valley. So this is welcome.) ...

One more upbeat fact: At yesterday's BA Meeting at the IA West Coast office, we were told that the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan has seen a significant uptick in cash flow and investment returns over the past few months.

Investment return has been running at 13%, and returns over the past twenty years now stand at 8.6%. This has helped narrow deficits incurred by the health plan.

Click here to read entire post

Rallying tomorrow to save the American dream

We've gotten a number of calls about a rally tomorrow at Los Angeles City Hall to support the union workers in Wisconsin.

This rally is one of many scheduled for Saturday in front of every statehouse and in every major city, all planned by

Information about the L.A. rally is here; a search page to find rallies elsewhere across the U. S. is here.

Click here to read entire post

More Walt P.

Earlier this week, Walt Peregoy had a show opening at 14242 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. ... (see the slide-show below) ...

There was a nice turnout and a fine array of Mr. Peregoy's work (some of which can be seen in the slide show above, including a photo of Walt P. with his nephew Steve Peregoy.) If you have a chance to pop by and see the paintings, do so. They're up through February 27th.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, February 24, 2011

DWA Lowers Its Own Bar

Apparently DreamWorks Animation's earlier plans to release five animated features every two years might be revised a bit:

In 2010 DreamWorks Animation became the first studio to release three CG-animated films in a year, but on Thursday CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was walking back his goal of doing likewise on a biennial basis.

For now, DWA has "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Puss in Boots" planned this year and "Madagascar 3," "The Croods" and "Rise of the Guardians" the year after that. But beyond 2012, Katzenberg said the studio will play it by ear ...

I've always wondered about DWA's pace of releases. You need to have a deep development slate in order to get five new features every 24 months. I mean, there are always story hiccups along the way, and if you don't have some other feature ready to drop into the suddenly empty slot, you're going to have yourself a problem.

But for Mr. Katzenberg, there are no problems, only opportunities. I particularly enjoyed this:

"Does Disney have more levers to pull?" Katzenberg asked ... before answering the question himself. "They do. But they also have an 80-year head start."

Just think how different the animation landscape would be today if Michael Eisner had let Jeffrey assume the late Frank Wells' post after the helicopter mishap: There would be no DreamWorks Animation, Pixar would be part of Fox or Time-Warner, and Walt Disney Animation Studios would have a bigger animation crew and more feature development.

Add On: Here is the L.A. Times' report on the analysts/Kataenberg conference call.

Click here to read entire post

Still More "Work for Free!"

To beat on this bass drum yet again, I present to you a recent e-mail exchange between a veteran board artist and me. I've made redactions in order to keep the waters calm.

Hey Steve,

Didn't really have time to get into it [last week], but we are indeed having a lot of storyboard artists on **** doing lots and lots of unpaid overtime (I worked from home yesterday on my board, for instance).

6 board artists- including myself- met with [our supervisor] about this, and though he seems to be sincere in his effort to begin curbing the endless script rewrites and animatic corrections, paid overtime and/or reasonable deadlines are completely off the table. I now just try to do all I possibly can in 40-45 hrs. and say 'f*ck it' if the show isn't done on time. Of course, that makes me look terribly bad to my director.

I hesitate to mention this for all the usual reasons: fear of being blacklisted, fired, this is the norm for most board artists, etc. Also, we are approaching the end of the season. ... But I thought I'd seek your advice on what should be done- if anything. The only advantage [our show's] board artists seem to have at the moment is solidarity-- we back each other up anytime someone goes to management.

Anyway, just wanted to get your thoughts. Regardless, I am a regular lurker on the TAG Blog and truly appreciate and admire all you do for artists in this town. ...

What this artist writes about is pretty typical regarding what often goes down at various L.A. studios -- both union and non-union. But it's also true that in a single facility, one show can be a hell-hole while the series down the hall is comparatively stress free and the schedules sane. Here's my reply ...

Your experience isn't unusual. Every studio has some of this; it varies from show to show. (I met with one crew a couple years back. They were screaming about the scheduling and unpaid overtime. I went to the producer -- who complained about the budget constraints -- and some minor adjustments were made, but it was still a problem. [Blank] is considered a major hell-hole by many; [Double Blank] not so much. The difference is the show runners and production managers.)

The "work for free" problem has been around since the day I started this job. A production manager was pressuring the layout crew to work free o.t. on "Tiny Toons" in freaking 1990. Glenn Vilppu, now an art teacher for TAG and others, refused to do unpaid o.t., the younger guys knuckled under.

(Glenn stayed on by the way. He's low-key and amiable, but he tends not to take shit. He once worked for an art school that stiffed every teacher but him. They tried it on him once, and he told them he would need a cashiers check every time he stepped through their door. They complied because they needed him and figured out they couldn't screw with him. Everybody else went on getting stiffed, with some people not getting paid for over a YEAR. The owner-operator of the school was a snake with a gift of gab. He TALKED artist-teachers into working for free. "My ex-wife's suing me, I'm short this week, wish I had the money, it'll be here next week for sure.." and so on.)

Re your situation, I always tell people that I can do a variety of things with work problems: I can come in late at night or on weekends and catch people working, then file a grievance. (I'm the bad guy in this scenario.) I can go and complain to H.R. I can go to [the Big Kahuna]. ... Mostly what I hear is "There's unreasonable amounts of unpaid o.t., the union has gotta do something about this but don't use my name if you make a complaint or file a grievance," etc. Meantime the union is weak, don't you know?)

I'm willing to do anything you guys want, everything from nothing, to coming in and monitoring the late-work, going to management and raising a stink, you name it. Mostly everybody is frightened of losing their jobs and so they're hunkered down holding on and don't make waves. The problem artists make for themselves is that they falsify time cards, work extra hours for free, and then studios start expecting it. My realistic suggestion would be what you hinted at: Everybody should figure out how to work fast and efficient and cut whatever corners can be cut. Negotiate with supervisors. See if everybody can hang together. In my experience, the fear of discharge is always exaggerated, but artists know SOMEBODY might get laid off for pushing back, so they don't push back.

Happy to take you and the rest of the crew to lunch to kick ideas around about how to make things better. Let me know if people are up for it. Lunch will be my treat. ...

One note re the above: When I say, "... work fast and efficient ...," I don't mean to come off like some constipated production manager. What I mean is, people sometimes need to find shortcuts and make artistic compromises to keep up with the work load, otherwise they're going to be sitting at their computer screen until midnight. There is, of course, another solution: put down on the time card all hours worked.

And I'll restate (one last time) another problem attached to the first. If management gets sixty hours of work for forty hours of pay, they will tend to keep raising the bar until it's eighty.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On Wisconsin

There's been a lot of commentary on the current dust-up in the Dairy and Cheese state nestled up there by the Great Lakes. Getting away from polemics, Invictus at the Big Picture has a string of interesting statistics:

... [I]t appears we might lay blame for the crisis at the feet of Wisconsin’s Teacher Assistants, who are pulling down, on average (not median), $240 more than the $24,280 being paid to their counterparts in other states. ...

If we are to have an honest debate about what folks are paid and what benefits they should (or should not) receive, we owe it to ourselves to at least start with some facts, and I’d suggest what appears below is the bare-bones minimum. Wisconsin is 21st in Patrol Officer pay and 43rd in Fire Fighter pay nationwide. ...

[T]his budgetary problem seems to have crept up and taken most governors by surprise, as evidenced by the fact that references to it (in State of the State speeches) skyrocketed over the course of one short year, going from only 20 mentions (of 44 speeches) to 33 (of 42 speeches) from 2009 to 2010. Even fewer — far fewer – have been mentioning “Pensions/OPEBs” (Other Post-Employment Benefits). Have they just not been paying attention? If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it smells a bit political. ...

Political? Can't be. The unions are killing state budgets, and everyone knows it.

Except when you start pulling down statistics and discover that states with small pension burdens and weak to non-existent labor movements have big or bigger deficits than unionized states.

This isn't about budgets so much as it's about trimming the wings of (beheading?) labor unions. The process has been ongoing for decades; now it accelerates.

Statistics are marvelous things, and show pretty clearly where we're heading. In the words of the Daily Paul:

US wealth distribution:

10% of US citizens own 70.9% of all US assets

Top 1% own 38.1%

Top 96-99% own 21.3%

Top 90-95% own 11.5%

And it gets much uglier as you proceed downward. Bottom 40% of population has 0.2% of all wealth.

All hail the Brothers Koch (and let the political flaming begin.)

Click here to read entire post

Women in Animation @ Gallery 839, opens March 4

Click the thumbnail for a full-page image

And don't forget, your last chance to see the Fourteen Animation Artists show is this Friday, February 25, from 11 am to 2 pm. All shows are at Gallery 839, 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank.

Click here to read entire post

A Peregoy Afternoon -- Part II

A sample of Mr. Peregoy's non-Disney artwork. And if you'd like to see more, mark your calendar for August 5, 2011, the scheduled opening day for Walt's show at Gallery 839.

TAG Interview with Walt Peregoy

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

We continue with Walt Peregoy's thoughts on the animation industry (and his long-time role in it), working as a designer on iconic animated features, and life ...

The artist in his studio ...

One of the artist's works-in-progress.

Click the thumbnail for a full-sized version

Walt Peregoy will be holding an exhibit of selected works from February 23rd to February 27th at 14242 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. The show's opening is from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. on the 23rd.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RIP, Dwayne McDuffie

Earlier today we received word that Dwayne McDuffie, a pillar of the animation community, died over the holiday weekend.

TV animation producer Dwayne McDuffie, who wrote comicbooks for Marvel and DC and founded his own publishing company before crossing over to television and animation, died Monday, Feb. 21. He was 49. ...

McDuffie penned straight-to-vid pics "All Star Superman," which was just released, and "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" and was a writer-producer on Cartoon Network series "Justice League," "Ben 10: Alien Force" and "Ben 10: Ultimate Alien." ...

Forty-nine is far too young to depart, but we seldom get to choose our span of years. Our condolences go out to Dwayne's wife Charlotte and his many friends and co-workers.

Add On: One of Dwayne McDuffie's last projects is reviewed here.

Click here to read entire post

Final Numbers

... pointing to the continued muscularity of le feature de animation.

'Gnomeo' Makes Gains on 'Unknown' at President's Day Weekend Box Office

... Gnomeo & Juliet, buoyed by an especially good Monday, turns out to have nearly tied with Liam Neeson action pic Unknown for the President's Day weekend box office crown. ...

Which means it isn't just Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Animation that has success at the animation box office. When you have the director of Shrek II at the helm, you can (apparently) also count Starz Animation, Toronto as one of the players.

... Building on its success as Canada’s leading production studio for digital animation, Starz Animation Toronto has recently opened a visual effects and creature animation wing to leverage its strong reputation for quality and reliability into the live action market. ...

Nothing powers a business plan forward like success.

Click here to read entire post

A Walt Peregoy Afternoon -- Part I

TAG Interview with Walt Peregoy

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Walt Peregoy went to work at Walt Disney Productions in 1942. Wikipedia would have you believe he started as an in-betweener, but Mr. Peregoy tells us otherwise.

"Inbetweener? I was a traffic boy. And I stayed at Disney's for two months. I didn't go back again until the fifties. ..."

The attached interview, of which this constitutes the first half, is free-wheeling and ... ahm ... salty. If you're of a delicate nature, you might be offended by some of the language. However, Mr. Peregoy wanted us to put the discussion up as is, and we are servants to his wishes. But be forewarned: you could find parts of it profane and ... how should we put it? ... a bit scalding to sensitive ears. But that's Mr. Peregoy.

Walt -- in his 1950s incarnation -- became one of Disney's most innovative background artists. He color-styled and painted the featurette Paul Bunyan, he was the color stylist on 101 Dalmatians as well as Sword in the Stone and Jungle Book. A WED Imagineer for fifteen years, he was a major player in the design and execution of Disney World's EPCOT, and today continues to do art at his home studio in the San Fernando Valley.

Some of Walt's handiwork from Paul Bunyan...

And two Peregoy color studies from Dalmatians.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, February 21, 2011

Your Animation Reading (and Viewing) Links

Some animation stories ... and related jams and jellies ... for your perusing pleasure.

Story wizard Ed Gombert posts new drawings from Disney legend Vance Gerry.

The animated short Animal Beatbox earns an award at Australia's Movie Extra Tropfest. ...

Guillermo Del Toro ready to go with new Pinocchio.

Cinematical salivates over the release of Bambi on Blu-ray.

Looking at Grim Natwick's animation designs, ASIFA Archives asks: "Who invented the three-fingered hand?"

Angry Dad: the Movie goes viral. (And congratulations to the Yellow Family's hard-working crew.)

And Cars 2 offers up a new television trailer.

Make the most of the short work-week.

Click here to read entire post

So Why Only Fox?

Rupert's Minions continue on a roll with cartoons:

Animation Domination on Fox continued to live up to its title on Sunday. The net’s popular cartoons won the night among adults 18-49 (2.7 rating/7 share), as well as teens and all male demos, according to preliminary ratings. After a rerun of The Simpsons at 7, American Dad earned a 2.0/6 and 4.2 million viewers, followed by an original of The Simpsons (2.8/8, 6.3 million), Bob’s Burgers (2.2/6, 4.8 million), Family Guy (3.3/8, 6.5 million) and The Cleveland Show (2.6/7, 5.4 million).

This bodes well for employment in the sector. (As long as they can get the busy, busy Seth to come in for recording sessions and keep episodes humming merrily.)

The question I continue to have is: Why does Fox find success with this type of programming while every other network this side of Adult Swim continues to shy away from the format? Come on, alphabet broadcasters! Step up!

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Son(s) of Cartoon Network

The sad part is they're doing live action. The glad part is they brought a Fox cartoon show back to life, which then fathered other Fox shows.

The 'bold, crazy' world of Adult Swim -- That's how one show supplier describes the cable programming block that is grabbing more viewers and attention. Guys, 18-49, this is for you.

... Adult Swim launched in 2001 as a single-night block ... with a minuscule budget and a reserve of Hannah-Barbera cartoons. ... {T]he small Adult Swim team quietly launched a universe of its own, creating absurd fare such as "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" (in which an obscure cartoon superhero interviewed celebrities) and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" ...

In the nearly 91/2 years since, Adult Swim has become the proudly goofy gold standard for unconventional comedy on basic cable. The network — which became officially recognized as distinct from the Cartoon Network in 2005 by Nielsen and extended its start time to 9 p.m. this year, seven days a week — routinely dominates the adults 18-24 demographic ...

Family Guy is now a powerhouse and the cornerstone of a cartoon franchise for two reasons: It sold a lot of DVDs after going off the air and the show got big ratings on Adult Swim. Though I would prefer that AS had more cartoons created by TAG members, any broadcast entity that extends and enlarges the animation business is an overall force for Good.

But what would be great is if more pitches from the ranks of cartoon makers got greenlit to go on the Swim lineup. That would truly make our day.

Click here to read entire post

The World Derby

... of box office grosses.

And cartoons, we're delighted to say, are still doing nicely:

... No. 2 overall on the weekend, Disney Animation's Tangled, claimed top spots in five territories (Denmark, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Sweden), generating $12.1 million overall on the weekend from 5,210 screens and pushing its foreign gross total to $328 million from 52 territories. Worldwide, the gross take stands at $522.1 million. ...

But of course, The Long-Haired Girl will still have to take in $3.2 jillion to reach break-even, even if she has outgrossed Wall-E ...

Elsewhere in the animated marketplace:

... No. 1 in Australia was Gnomeo & Juliet, which generated $2 million in its market opener via Disney. In the U.K., the computer-animated comedy adventure nabbed an estimated $5 million in its second weekend ... Yogi Bear played $4,300 screens in 44 markets, and pushed its overseas cume to $76 million. ...

That's the totals as of now. As of a week ago (2/13/2011), animated titles in key markets looked like this:

U.K - Ireland: 1) Gnomeo and Juliet -- $4,724,786 (same as total)

3) Tangled -- $3,158,513 -- (total) $21,548,418

5) Yogi Bear -- $2,919,990 -- (same as total)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Germany: 6) Tangled -- (total) $40,998,100

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Spain: 1) Tangled -- $4,514,814 -- (total) $10,807,081

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hong Kong: 4) Tangled -- (total) $1,612,910

Some dandy grosses all around, wouldn't you say?

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, February 19, 2011

One More Win ...

... on the way to the Little Gold Man.

"Alice in Wonderland" wins for best edited comedy or musical [at ACE Eddie awards], "Toy Story 3" takes prize for animated feature film.

... Toy Story 3's Ken Schretzmann and Lee Unkrich shared the trophy for best edited animated feature film, a new category that was launched last year. ...

The Eddies often serve as a predictor of the eventual best picture 
Oscar winner. Over the past five years, the Eddie, Oscar for Editing and Oscar for Best Picture have matched each year except in 2007. ...

It's doubtful that Toy Story 3's Eddie win means it snares a "Best Picture" Oscar, but it's pretty clear the third chapter of Woody, Buzz and Co. is the odds-on favorite for "Best Animated Feature."

But is this a surprise to anybody who's been living above-ground for the last year? I seriously doubt it.

Click here to read entire post

401(k) Retirement Shortfalls

People nearing retirement age are (in many cases) screwed, blued and tatooed.

... The median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than one-quarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College for The Wall Street Journal. Even counting Social Security and any pensions or other savings, most 401(k) participants appear to have insufficient savings. Data from other sources also show big gaps between savings and what people need, and the financial crisis has made things worse. ...

Here's the way things break down in the TAG 401(k) Plan, which covers the bulk of our signator studios:

* 2,225 total participants (active and inactive)

* Average Account Balance -- $58,500

Longtime TAG members working in contract studios have an edge over many. If they have worked approximately twenty years, they will have a monthly annuity coming to them at age 65 in the neighborhood of $1400. On top of that they would have a lump sum out of the Individual Account Plan between $80,000 and $100,000. (Mileage will vary, depending on the number of qualified years in the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan and the total number of contribution hours.)

So. Let's do some back-of-the-envelope calculations on what a sixty-something TAG animation worker can expect to get after, say, twenty-plus years in the business. (I'll lay out a few other numbers to round out the example.)

* Our TAG vet is getting $1500 per month in MPIPHP monthly pension.

* Our TAG vet is getting $2000 per month in Social Security.

* Our TAG vet has stashed $100K in the 401(k) Plan and has $95K in the IAP (MPIPHP's Individual Account Plan.)

* Our TAG vet has managed to save $320K in various outside investments.

Last set of data points: Our example above has hung it up at age 65; we assume a "safe withdrawal rate" of 4% from the $515,000 nest egg,

So how do all the facts and figures sort out? Our Lucky Ducky will receive a $62,600 per year income to get her (or him) through the sunset years to a final resting place at Forest Lawn.

Now, sixty grand might not seem like one hell of a lot of money, but there are lots of folks across the fruited plain who live on far less. The cold, hard fact is our TAG vet's retirement income is well above the average yearly wage in the good old U.S. of A.

I run around on a daily basis, a bag of 401(k) enrollment books slung over my shoulder, urging TAG members to divert part of their paychecks into the TAG 401(k) Plan. What I find is that a lot of artists in their twenties and thirties don't want to think about saving for retirement because A) they are artists and think visually, not numerically, and B) retirement is way off in some distant and misty future, so they will worry about it later.

Big mistake. To my mind, the most egregious error anybody can make is putting off the deferral of wages into a 401(k) Plan or ROTH IRA. Because the one luxury they won't have when they reach their 40s is time to compound earnings sitting inside investments. Some members tell me: "The 401(k) Plan doesn't have a match, so I'm not interested." They're also making a mistake, because the sheltering of present income is a valuable tool no matter how you slice it, and it's short-sighted not to use the shelter when it's available. (I know lots of artists who jumped into TAG 401(k) Plan when it started in 1995 and now sit atop a quarter million dollars and more, not counting their industry plan accounts. That's sort of useful when you're staring retirement and/or unemployment in the face.)

I keep beating this drum because I have too much first-hand experience with members who haven't planned and haven't saved, and their day-to-day realites aren't pretty. Even if you're unemployed five months of the year, even if you're not making enough to put away 10% of your paycheck, please consider putting away something. Your long-term future will be far rosier if you do.

Click here to read entire post

Wintertime Derby (February 18-21)

So here we are in a long holiday weekend, with Gnomeo and Juliet (as of Thursday) in the #2 box office position, but pushed down by some new entrants as of Friday:

1. Unknown (Dark Castle/Warner Bros) NEW [3,154 Theaters] -- Friday $6.7M, Estimated Four-Day Holiday $24M-$26M

2. I Am Number Four (DreamWorks/Touchstone/Disney) NEW [3,043 Theaters] -- Friday $6.2M, Estimated Four-Day Holiday $20M-$24M

3. Just Go With It (Sony) Week 2 [3,548 Theaters] -- Friday $5.2M (-45%), Estimated Four-Day Holiday $20M-$23M, Estimated Cume $65M

4. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (New Regency/Fox) NEW [2,821 Theaters] -- Friday $4.8MM, Estimated Four-Day Holiday $18M-$21.4M

5. Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney) Week 2 [3,014 Theaters] -- Friday $4.3M (-32%), Estimated Four-Day Holiday $24M-$26M, Estimated Cume $55M

A 32% decline isn't bad, and as the Nikkster says: "[A]s the only true family pic should finish the four-day holiday up in the Top 3.".

Not bad for a film that was, a short while ago, pretty much of an orphan.

Add On: TIME Magazine informs us of the losers and winners for the weekend:

... The Liam Neeson thriller Unknown leads the charge at North American theaters with $21.8 million, according to the studio's Sunday morning estimates, closely followed by the fantasy epic I Am Number Four ($19.5 million) and two holdovers from last week: the 3-D cartoon Gnomeo & Juliet ($19.4 million) and the Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy Just Go With It ($18.2 million). ...

So Disney's new live-action offering #4 barely noses out its animated hold-over. Hoo ha!

Click here to read entire post

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ferdinand the Feature

Disney's Oscar winner is going to be another studio's full-length animated movie.

Fox Animation Studios has acquired The Story of Ferdinand — the classic 1936 children’s book ... [T]he deal with Fox represents the first feature-film adaptation, [but] Disney released it as an animated short in 1938, winning an Oscar in that category. ... [T]he Burbank studio oddly failed to get a contract with Mssrs. Leaf and Lawson that went beyond its onetime use as a short film ...

Blue Sky might do interesting things with this property. (It will be fun to see how they expand it.) Why Walt's shop never acquired longtime feature rights, and DreamWorks Animation never picked it up, is a mystery known only to the big movie mogul in the sky.

As a five-year-old, I used to pore over the Disney picture book of Ferdinand endlessly.

Click here to read entire post

Battling Lawsuits

First Art Buchwald, now this:

DreamWorks hit with another "Kung Fu Panda" suit

... An artist named Jayme Gordon on Wednesday filed a colorfully illustrated 28-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, alleging that Dreamworks and distributor Paramount copied the film from Gordon's copyrighted works, collectively titled "Kung Fu Panda Power." ... The lawsuit comes as Dreamworks is battling another writer, Terence Dunn, who also claims to have pitched the story of a "spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear" to studio executives during a series of phone conversations in November 2001. ...

Plagiarism lawsuits are one of Hollywood's favorite sports. As I note above, humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount over a story he claimed it had stolen and turned into Coming to America. Buchwald ultimately prevailed. (Former Paramount exec Jeffrey Katzenberg was called to the stand but had trouble recalling details about story development on the picture.)

But this stuff is nothing new. As mystery novelist Raymond Chandler wrote in the 1940s:

"The law recognizes no plagiarism except that of basic plots. It is far behind the times in its concept of these things. My ideas have been plagiarized in Hollywood and I have been accused of plagiarism myself, by a guy who said The Blue Dahlia [which Chandler wrote] was lifted from an original of his. Luckily Paramount was in a position to show that his story never left the story department ...

Throughout the play The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O'Neill uses the expression "the big sleep" as a synonym for death. He is apparently under the impression that this is a current underworld or half-world usage, whereas it is a pure invention on my part. If I am remembered long enough, I shall probably be accused of stealing the phrase from O'Neill, since he is a big shot ...

No doubt the lawsuits will still be flying in 2211.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Now with flavor-enhanced Add On.

Disney has a few announcements.

1) Pixar will release two new short films starring Woody and pals by year’s end.

Which leads to the following prognostication ...

The shorts will be followed by the (eventual) announcement that ... by golly ... the Emeryville team has come up with a slam bang storyline for a fourth Toy Story feature. Then there will be a number of breathless announcements and news stories built around the new picture.

When the third one collects over a billion dollars, it puts insurmountable pressure on the Disney subsidiary in Emeryville to create a fourth one.

Particularly if the next couple of Pixar features under-perform at the box office.

And though the news has been out and about on the internets for a while now, and though I've been looking at artwork for the movie for at least a year, the Mouse has finally announced this:

2) Disney announced a direct-to-DVD spin-off of “Cars,” with airplanes as the main characters. “Planes,” undoubtedly accompanied by related merchandise, will arrive in spring 2013. ...

The designs for the new picture are beguiling. This item from Disney Toons will end up making a lot of money, both in merchandise and DVD sales.

Lastly. I'm thinking that DreamWorks will be making another Shrek installment before its all over. The media was moaning about the fact that #4 under-performed at the American box office, but worldwide the feature collected three quarters of a billion dollars.

Companies don't walk away from franchises that rake in that kind of loot. After Puss in Boots gets released near the end of this year, I'll wager that there will be deep, deep consideration given to making another Shrek.

We'll see if I'm right or not.

Add On: Yesterday the Mouse's high command gave a pretty good indication of how they feel about multiple segments of their tent-pole properties:

Walt Disney Co. chief Bob Iger has been preaching the power of franchises for the Mouse House for years. On Thursday, he and other Disney execs spent the day outlining to investors -- with a slew of facts and figures -- how the focus on cross-platform properties like "Toy Story," "Cars" and its newly acquired Marvel characters will bolster the Mouse House's bottom line for years to come. ...

Anyone seriously believe the boys and girls will walk away from a billion-dollar property? I don't.

Click here to read entire post

Organizer's Notes: 21st Century Communication

In the aftermath of the IATSE's first public meeting for Visual Effects artists, on the shores of the Pacific, criticism as been leveled at the IA about minimal web presence for the organization efforts.

Arguments have been made that since a site isn't available, the IATSE isn't ready, willing or able to represent artists. Dave Rand called for the leadership of the IATSE to "honor their paychecks" by setting a site up and providing the information that is being requested. ...

The IATSE has received the message, and steps are being taken to provide the information requested in ways that are easiest for people to view. After a site is launched and available, it will serve as a cork-lined interactive bulletin board for interested parties to visit at their leisure. But even after its launch, the lions' share of organizing will remain in the hands of artists. IATSE's leadership, staff and membership can't effectively assist unless the artists in Visual Effects participate.

Organizers such as this blogger and other union organizers are facilitators. We need your passion and persistence to complete the tasks necessary to get visual effects studios to a bargaining table. We need you to sign a card, speak to peers and colleagues, form internal committees, incite discussion and dialog, help facilitate meetings, and pass along questions, among the other important tasks. (I'm optimistic. Compared to just a year ago, artists are involved, vocal and present with their opinions. And the level of activity increases as more artists become educated about collective action and portable benefits.)

To punctuate the point, I'd like to turn your attention to another artist who has entered the blog-world anonymously. TK1099 is a TAG member (our only former members are those who have passed on) and shares my understanding of the need for artist involvement. His first post parallels my feelings on the matter and has garnered lots of attention.

Read it.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Middle Kingdom

... increases its cartoon footage:

China's animation output rose 28% last year, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, with 220,530 minutes of toons produced. ...

Be interesting to know the quality and type of animation that's been increased. Disney was off-shoring work on The Little Mermaid to China back in the late 1980s, but I don't think that the mainland will ever be the sub-contractor of choice for high-end animation work. The cultural and language divide is not narrow.

If China develops a robust internal animation industry, that's something else again. Right now its animation businesses are still taking baby steps, and whether its end-product will become sophisticated enough for global export, remains to be seen.

Click here to read entire post

Three Days Old ...

... but I dredge it up anyway.

Somehow I zoned out on these factoids. They're near the spoilage date, but I relay them anyway.

* Opening No. 5 in France was ... German-made animation title Animals United 3D, which drew $1.8 million from 500 spots. ...

* ...Yogi Bear opened No. 8 in France and No. 5 in the U.K. ($2.9 million from 453 sites), and drew $10.3 million overall on the weekend from some 4,700 screens in 42 territories. Cume stands at $61.2 million ...

* [Tangled] opened No. 2 in South Korea, taking $2.6 million ... the second biggest opening weekend ... for a Disney animation title. Spain threw off $4.4 million for a market cume of $10.7 million. The U.K. generated $3.1 million for a market cume of $21.7 million. Tangled now ranks as the 20th biggest grossing animation title ever released.

My take-away is that A) animation is highly viable worldwide, B) 3-D and animation are a good match (but I'll be avoiding them together) and C) more studios and movie companies are going to dive into animated feature. (It's higher profit than jobbing visual effects, isn't it?*)

* Only if you make one that audiences want to see. Otherwise it can sink you.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Oscar Shorts

Brad Schrieber handicaps the animated shorts competing for an Academy Award.

... French writer-director Bastian Dubois creates a lyrical picture postcard come to life in Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage. With indigenous, French-influenced zouk music and watercolors animated to reflect the people and landscape, Dubois captures us fully ...

The only contending short that I've seen is Pixar's Day and Night, which I found amusing. Mr. Schrieber, however, is less pleased by the cartoon than I am.

... [W]hile pleasant enough, Day and Night really has nowhere to go in story, as two outlined figures, looking like ghosts, reveal images of day versus night. ...

Even so, I keep wondering if D and N won't have the inside track simply because this appears to be lining up as a Pixar year.

Click here to read entire post

Matt O'Callaghan Interview -- Part II

Before Jim Carrey was Jim Carrey!!, he was "James" doing voice work for this O'Callaghan directed short ...

TAG Interview with Matt O'Callaghan

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

(Watching this, you can understand why Matt O'Callaghan was tapped by Warner Bros. to direct the studios new incarnations of The Coyote and Road Runner.)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, February 14, 2011

One More French Feature

As I said yesterday, the conglomerates and effects houses are clawing their way into animation. But it's not just stateside multi-nationals:

High profile French animation artist Guillaume Ivernel is onboard to direct a 3D animated sci-fi thriller, "Soul Man," his follow-up to "Dragon Hunters."

Budgeted at an ambitious $45 million, the English-language "Soul Man" is backed by Denis Auboyer's CMC, one of Gaul's largest technical providers ...

This global surge of production reminds me of nothing so much as the animation boom from the mid-nineties. Except this time, the boom is on steroids, not totally centered in Southern California, and lots of companies beside Disney are being successful at it. Fifteen years ago, a lot of the newbie challengers crashed and burned. (Turner Feature Animation, Fox Feature Animation, Hanna Barbera's feature division, all of them came and went inside of forty-eight months.)

The difference now is c.g.i., 3-d and a talent pool that is a hell of a lot deeper than it was in 1994, despite the boom and bust cycles the business has since gone through. And now Europe is getting into the act in significant ways.

Click here to read entire post

IATSE VFX Meeting at the Beach

As was announced last week, Jim Goodman held his first public informative meeting for Visual Effects artists yesterday at the Santa Monica beach.

A score and more artists were in attendance to ask questions and hear about the efforts to date from Mr. Goodman. Artists expressed their concerns about the lack of communication via the internet as well as echoing concerns about costs and outsourcing that have been posted about regularly. Jim was able to provide answer those pressing questions while affording himself the opportunity to schedule an interview with Jeff Heusser who was in attendance.

While some have classified the attendance as poor, I feel this was a big success for the organizing effort and for artists. In looking on how far the organization effort has come, its easy to see movement forward and want a step to be a leap. However, this blogger can not help but be proud to see as many people gathered and passionate about their futures as I witnessed.

I enjoyed meeting new people and speaking to the attended group as well as to individuals. I look forward to the next such meeting and in continuing my efforts to help Jim bring organization to the artists of Visual Effects.

Click here to read entire post

A Lunchtime Chat with Matt O'Callaghan -- Part I

Animator-director-story artist Matt O'Callaghan began life as a Chicago kid who figured out early that he wanted to be an animator (sound familiar?) Today he's a director at Warner Bros. Animation ...

TAG Interview with Matt O'Callaghan

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

But at the beginning of his career, he was an assistant to animation legend Glen Keane, and soon found himself story-boarding on The Great Mouse Detective. After getting a taste of directing, O'Callaghan departed Disney to direct full time, and has since helmed direct-to-video animated features, created television series and directed both full-length and eight-minute theatrical cartoons.

We sat down recently in his Warner Bros. office to talk about his life and career.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, February 13, 2011


A week ago at one of our fine signator studios, an artist came up to me and asked, "You think there's too much animation out there? You know, like too many animated features that are over-saturating the market? You think people are tired of cartoons?"

I replied, with a jauntiness I did not feel, "Of course not! You ever hear a main-stream movie maker say that the big problem with his live-action masterpiece is there's too many live-action movies, and people are overdosed on the things? That that's the reason his feature isn't doing well? No live-action guy ever says that. Because he knows he'd be labeled an idiot." ...

I'll let you in on a secret. At that moment, I didn't completely buy what was coming out of my mouth, but now I do. This weekend blew away the last shreds of doubt ...

Gnomeo and Juliet scor[ed] the best February opening for an animated pic (not a primetime month for toons). Rivals credit a strong marketing campaign for the film's success, as well as great reviews. ...

Actually it's something other than "great reviews." It's a viewing public that has a growing thirst for animation and product that connects with the people sitting out in the darkened auditoriums of their local AMCs. Two decades back, there was only one major player in the feature animation, and that was Disney. (Don Bluth, a serious rival to the Mouse in the 1980s. was fading by the early nineties.)

But what a difference twenty years makes. In 2011, the playing field has vastly expanded. There is now Pixar, there is Blue Sky Animation, there is DreamWorks Animation and Walt Disney Animation Studios. And since last summer, there is Illumination Entertainment. Even the under-powered Sony Pictures Animation has had minor hits with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Open Season, and SPA is now partnered with Aardman Animation for the upcoming Arthur Christmas.

None of this could have come about if people weren't flocking to animated features. In the past eleven months alone, the following non-live-action movies have opened with $25 million or more on their opening weekends:

How to Train Your Dragon

Shrek Forever After

Toy Story 3

Despicable Me



Gnomeo and Juliet

Then of course there are the "hybrid" animated features. You know, the live-action/ animation combos that usually get tepid reviews and loud raspberries at cartoon blog sites? Specimens like Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks and the oncoming Hop? Nobody likes these but general audiences. Consider that the much-panned Yogi Bear, after a so-so opening weekend, went on to gross five times what it collected during its initial three days. Whether you like the picture or not, this means that even with an initial "want-to-see" factor that was lukewarm at best, the picture's resulting word-of-mouth was remarkably hot.

Little wonder then that your friendly neighborhood entertainment conglomerates and visual effects studios now scramble all over themselves to get into the feature animation business. The trouble is, as sure-fire as the genre appears, it usually takes a sure and knowing touch to execute it well ... and profitably. (The landscape is littered with Planet 51s, Alpha and Omegas, Astroboys, and Space Chimps.). Too many would-be producers think that a script from a mid-list screenwriter, some presentation boards from freelance story artists, and six months of production work from a contract studio in Mumbai will bring them a quick distribution deal and hefty profits.

Sadly, more often than not it takes more than that. It takes creators who know that animated features are visual rather than aural, and that audiences won't sit still for plots that are hackneyed reworkings of 80s television cartoons, populated by characters that have the dynamism and resonance of Clutch Cargo. As Woolie Reitherman said in a Disney sweat box long ago: "Those animals moving around on the screen aren't real, they aren't actors, so we've got to make the audience think they're real by showing them think and react and breathe."

Animation, because it's currently so profitable, is a seductive corner of the movie business. But it takes skill and more than a little knowledge to make it work well, and there are only so many Ed Gomberts, Mark Kennedys, Eric Goldbergs and Dean DeBloises* to go around. If aspiring cartoon moguls don't understand that, they will end up complaining the animation market is "over-saturated" after their $80 million feature about wacky wombats crashes and burns.

In point of fact, it will be a case of their "sure-fire" project not connecting with movie audiences because they don't understand the dynamics and disciplines of the art form.

* These folks are some of the (relatively) unheralded masters of animation. There are a number of others.

Click here to read entire post

Foreign Horse Races

On the live action side:

... After opening the Berlin Film Festival, True Grit launched over the weekend in 16 territories, grossing $8.3 million for a total foreign cume of $14.5 million. The biggest showing came in the U.K., where True Grit grossed $2.7 million ...

And over on the other side of the fence with animation:

... Over the [last] weekend [Tangled] added $23.90 million on 5186 screens in 42 markets for a total of $288.33 million internationally and $479.40 million worldwide. At this point next week it will have $300 million internationally and $500 million worldwide. ...

When all the theater tickets and DVD/ Blu Ray sales are tallied, the Long-Haired Girl will be comfortably into profits. (I say this, of course, without knowing what the actual internal costs of the picture are. But I can pull profit-and-loss statements from my large intestine with the best of them.)

And that's not counting the money the picture takes in from merchandising, games, and television licensing. All in all, Tangled has turned out to be much more of a cash-flow generator than Diz Co. dared hoped back before the picture's launch. But whatever else it is, the feature is one more feather in John Lasseter's plumage-heavy hat.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The French Perspective

Animator-director Michel Ocelot gives his take on French and American animation.

... Q: You've broken records for French animated films at the box office. Did you expect such commercial success?

Ocelot: Before my commercial success, I had difficulty doing what I wanted, but my sincere short films always won prizes in festivals. So I was ready for larger successes, with bigger films as Kirikou. I was ready for a flop as well, but what came out was success. ...

Q: France is known for its competence in animation. Do you think it can compete with the Hollywood studios in terms of animation savoir-faire?

Ocelot: France can compete with the Hollywood studios in terms of animation savoir-faire, but not in terms of box-office figures. France is a small country, and the Americans are the masters of the world -- for cinema, it's true. People all over the world feed upon U.S. cinema and don't know about their own. I never seem to be able to sell my films correctly in the U.S. ...

The U.S. has dominated the universe of feature films for a looong time. D.W. Griffith put American live-action on top of the movie heap in the teens, and Walt Disney (and to a lesser degree the Fleischers) made American animation the predominant form in that sector during the 1930s.

But in the 21st century, new pretenders to the throne have pushed their way forward, and animation is no longer just a stateside sandbox. Mac Guff -- one of the preeminent animation studios in Paris -- has worked not only with Michel Ocelot, but last year scored a worldwide hit with Illumination Entertainment's Despicable Me. And Animal Logic in Australia has created major animated features.

Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks might be globe-straddling giants, but they no longer have the world to themselves.

Click here to read entire post

February's Box Office Derby -- 11th-13th Edition

Now with delectable Add On.

It appears the the lawn gnomes have finished in the "Show" position for Friday.

1. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D (Paramount) NEW [3,105 Theaters] Friday $12.5M, Estimated Weekend $28M

2. Just Go With It (Sony Pictures) NEW [3,548 Theaters] Friday $10M, Estimated Weekend $30M

3. Gnomeo and Juliet (Disney) NEW [2,994 Theaters] Friday $5.8M, Estimated Weekend $22M

4. Eagle (Focus Features) NEW [2,296 Theaters] Friday $3M, Estimated Weekend $8.5M

5. The Roommate (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [2,534 Theaters] Friday $2.4M (-62%), Estimated Weekend $7.5M, Estimated Cume $25.2M ...

Gnomeo and Juliet, of course, has had a long and checkered history. In development at Disney Feature Animation during the David Stainton regime, then out of development after Lasseter came in and took a look at it ("Why are we making this?"), the feature ended up at Miramax before finally landing a berth on Diz Co.'s Touchstone slate. The picture's had a mixed critical reception, but we'll see how it performs over the next few weeks.

Add On: Preliminary results for the weekend finals are in, and whattayaknow? The garden gnomes were surprisingly effective:

Disney's 3D family entry Gnomeo & Juliet did strong business in debuting to an estimated $25.5 million from 2,994 locations, scoring the best February opening for an animated pic (not a primetime month for toons). Rivals credit a strong marketing campaign for the film's success, as well as great reviews. Film came in No. 3.

I think what we're seeing here is the continuing power of c.g. animated features. There have been at least Six strong openings for animation in the past eleven months. Phenomenal.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend Festival of Links

Now that Friday is upon us (and I can't think of anything original to blog about), here is a gathering of recent animation (and animation-related) news. Also Add On!:

As went Alfred Hitchock, so goes John Lasseter:

The producers of "Cars 2" surprised the Disney and Pixar animation chief in honor of Pixar's 25th anniversary by introducing a hefty yellow pick-up truck named John Lassetire ... in the upcoming sequel. ...

Mr. Lasseter will also be doing the voice. (Take that, Hitchcock!) ...

Animation's Do-It-Yourself phase is upon us.

... On the heels of Twitter, blogs and YouTube videos, do-it-yourself animation has emerged as the latest form of self-expression online. These days, anyone looking to make fun of their boss, unleash a rant or comment on the latest news can quickly create a cartoon, thanks to a crop of animation websites. And corporations, advertisers—and Hollywood executives—are beginning to take notice.

Insurance giant Geico is using the lo-fi animation for a series of TV ads. Some of the most successful amateur video-makers are fielding offers from agents and producers. ...

The reviews for Gnomeo and Juliet appear to be all over the map:

... A new retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" with garden gnomes in the titular roles is sharply dividing critics ... This film is just another example of "Shakesploitation" ... Gnomeo & Juliet doesn't reach the "stellar" heights of the Toy Story movies, but it's not without its charms ...

(And the LA Times predicts G and J's opening weekend.)

... The 3-D animated "Gnomeo & Juliet," which should open to between $15 million and $20 million ...

Disney's latest quarterly profits, they are very, very good.

Walt Disney Co. posted a 54% jump in net income for the quarter ended Jan. 1, with its previously struggling movie studio leading the way.

Operating income for Walt Disney Studios also jumped 54% to $375 million during the company's first quarter, the highest percentage growth of any of segment. ...

Director Dean DeBlois previews the next Dragon feature.

"It's going to be quite epic. We are treating How To Train Your Dragon as the first act in a much larger story. As we head into this one, the world expands. Everything is much bigger with still the heartfelt qualities that made the first one resonate so much with audiences. There are no longer restrictions to this tiny island in the North Sea. They have the entire Northern hemisphere within their grasp." ...

Then there's the latest feature from Illumination Entertainment ... soon at a theater near you. (With animation courtesy of Rhythm and Hues.)

Lastly, the United Kingdom appears to be having problems growing ... and hanging onto ... its video games industry:

... A few short years ago, the UK could count itself as the third largest video game producer behind the USA and Japan.

With incentives seen in such countries as Canada, a shift has occurred with the UK dropping its position worldwide, a decline that sees no sign of abating in the current economic climate (Scotland saw a 20 per cent reduction in employees in the game industry in 2010 alone). ...

Add On: The New York Times visits Pixar, and its reporter is agog.

Have yourself a fine weekend.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bill Justice, RIP

A lot of animation deaths lately. And now one of the last of the Disney old-timers departs.

Bill Justice, a former Walt Disney Studios animator who worked on such classics as "Fantasia," "Bambi" and "Alice in Wonderland," and later joined Walt Disney Imagineering ... died Thursday, a day after he turned 97. ...

An Ohio native who began his career at Walt Disney Studios in 1937, Justice's credits as a Disney animator include "Saludos Amigos," "Victory Through Air Power," "The Three Caballeros," "Make Mine Music" and "Peter Pan." ...

Mr. Justice was always an engaged and enthusiastic guy. My parents hobnobbed with him back when I was a tyke, and I recall Bill J. as a buoyant personality. (Disney's was a small and close-knit company in the '50s and 60s, and lots of the artists hung together). Years later, I used to see Bill in and around Burbank since we lived a block apart.

There are few Hyperion Studio veterans still alive. Until today, Bill Justice was one of them. May he rest in peace.

Click here to read entire post

Cash Streams

DreamWorks Animation works to increase its income streams.

Mattel Inc.'s Fisher-Price division signed an exclusive licensing deal with DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. to market toys tied to the computer-animation studio's films and television shows ...

DWA's stock price has declined of late. The company still has the challenges of any stand-alone that isn't a part of a big fat conglomerate: It's got to leverage all the product it makes in order to survive.

I still think DWA will end up as part of one of our fine conglomerates. The gravitational pull is irresistable.

Click here to read entire post

John Sparey, 1927-2010

John Sparey (right) by John Sparey, comparing self-caricatures with Ed Solomon.

We've just learned of the death of JOHN SPAREY. John passed away on December 15 at the age of eighty-three.

From 1952 until 1994 he worked as an animator for Television Arts Productions, Disney, TV Spots, Bemiller, Detiege, Nicholson, Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., Fred Calvert, Marvel, Bakshi and Rich Animation.

John told us some years ago about his early days in animation, when he worked on a little television series in the bay area called Crusader Rabbit. This was in 1950, when the tube was in its infancy, and nobody had heard of television animation. (At that time, the only cartoons on the air were "Farmer Alfalfa" and "Felix the Cat" silents.)

John spent much of the fifties working at Walt Disney Productions in the feature animation unit. (We link to his caricatures from the period below.) He spent the next thirty-five years working at almost every cartoon studio in the Los Angeles area, wrapping up his career at Film Roman, and then rode off into a long and happy retirement. (John was a fixture at TAG's holiday parties, where we would always catch up.) So we were startled one day to find out that he had been carted off to the hospital. As John related:

... I wasn't downed by a stroke. Catscans indicate that I have had some small strokes, what would be about a 2.0 on a Richter's scale of strokes - nothing I could feel... It was a walking difficulty that had been developing over a period of years, accelerating until one night I could not push myself up out of my recliner, but I could slide down onto the floor. And lie there. I had channel 4 to listen to as long as I was aware of my surroundings. Then I woke up in the hospital ...

Mr. Sparey stayed alert and engaged until near the end. He spent his final years at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills.

Click here for a list of the John Sparey artwork posted on this blog.

Click here to read entire post
Site Meter