Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Studio Rounds

Like always, I've bopped around to various studios the last few days, and more people seem to be working at desks ...

Over at Cartoon Network, staffers on The Regular Show tell me they're hopeful of more pickups:

"We've got a new order of 21 fifteen-minute segments, but they're gonna be combining those into thirty-minute shows. Be nice to get another twenty-one ... or even forty-two."

Cartoon Network is doing well, thank you very much. As TV by the numbers observes:

... Cartoon Network’s Monday night line-up (7-9 p.m.) of original animated comedies was the #1 TV destination for all boys demos (2-11, 6-11 and 9-14), earning solid delivery gains across all kids and boys demos vs. the prior year. Original series The Amazing World of Gumball (7:30 p.m.), Adventure Time (8 p.m.), Regular Show (8:15 p.m.), MAD (8:30 p.m.) and Problem Solverz (8:45 p.m.) all ranked #1 in their timeslots on all television among boys, also scoring gains across nearly all kids and boys demos. ...

And in the next building over on Third Street, Nickelodeon has two DreamWorks Animation TV shows in production: Kung Fu Panda, and The Penguins of Madagascar. Penguins is finishing its final season. Though ratings are good, an artist told me: "DreamWorks Animation doesn't want to do a lot of shows, so when we finish this season's order, we're done."

Kung Fu Panda, the series has yet to air. Word on the floor is that the episodes start rolling out late next Fall (after the second movie is at the end of its run.).

Disney TVA now has its pre-school shows (Mickey's Club House, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, etc.) over in the Yahoo Building near the legendary Bob Hope Airport. In the meanwhile, the Sonora Building is being worked on as the time nears for Disney Toons Studio to move next door while Television Animation takes over the whole facility. (Disney TVA will shortly exit the studio's Burbank lot.)

Television Animation has been on a bit of a tear lately, with new shows coming into different production pipe-lines, and employment moving higher. Supply of talent still outstrips demand, but not as much as a year or three ago.

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Stock Analysts Pounce

Never good to come in "under estimates."

'Panda' Bears Cash In After Movie's Debut ...

... Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible ... called the Kung Fu Panda performance a “disappointment,” saying the $68 million box office take through Memorial Day fell short of his $75 million estimate. He suggested that the first-weekend data implies that Panda is on pace to generate $225 million in U.S. box office receipts ...

My thought is that the monster opening for Hangover II crowded tne panda out of some of the marketplace. If the NBA finals had not ended early, and more males of the species had been at home in front of the flat-screen instead of in the multi-plexes getting their dose of the Wolfpack, the grosses might have been different for KFP2.

Ah, but there are always many "if only" tales, even as there is only one reality. And the reality this holiday weekend was: the "have to see" live-action pic took the crown.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

And Again the Pension Thing

Because questions have cropped up on the thread below, let me put up a few factoids about the industry pensions, as well as various pension options.

Here are the benefits now received by TAG members working under TAG/IA contracts.

Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan contributions:

1) IAP employer contributions -- 30.5 cents per hour; PLUS 6% of union minimum rates ($1000-$1600/wk.)

2) Defined Benefit Pension -- Employer contribution of $1.2665 per hour worked.

3) TAG 401(k) Plan: Employee contributions (tax deferred) of $16,500/ yr.; $22,000 per year for participants fifty and above.

The IAP (Individual Account Plan) is a conservatively-invested MPIPP account payable to the participant at the time of retirement.

The Defined Benefit Plan (also a part of the MPIPP) is a monthly annuity paid to the participant at the time of retirement.

The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan is a tax-deferred defined contribution plan. Withdrawals can be made from the account without tax penalties at the age of 59 1/2.

Now. What sorts of accumulations can be achieved over say, twenty-one years? A few examples:

If you were to work twenty-one qualified pension years (400 or more hours in a calendar year makes a qualified year) with a total of 42,000 hours, you would have (ballpark):

$1450 /mnth (Defined Benefit).

$140,000 (IAP)

$360,000 (401(k))

The first figure comes from the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan's pension chart. The second figure assumes a continuing growth rate of 6-9% in the IAP. (It's been 8.5% over the past twenty years) and a base-line contribution of 21 x $5000. The third figure assumes a nominal increase to $346,500 ($16,500 x 21 = $346,500.)

Obviously, these figures are projections and future events might cause them to be smaller ... or larger. What I can tell you is that there are a number of individuals in the 401(k) Plan who have between $300,000 and $400,000 after sixteen years of 401(k) Plan's existence.

In addition, assuming Social Security remains intact, a retiree could expect from $1800-$2200/mnth at retirement age (now 66-67.)

On top of that, contributions of $5000 could be made to a ROTH IRA account by many animation industry employees. So if you put your shoulder to grindstone and live below your means, you should be able to build up some sort of nest egg over the next quarter century.

Get cracking.

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The Middle Kingdom Thinks Big

The Chinese are getting serious about animation.

China has opened a 4.5 billion yuan ($690 million) animation facility in Tianjin, the port city nearest the capital, Beijing ... More than 180 firms have signed up for animation production and related services at the state-backed 190 acre base ...

The Tianjin animation base will be developed into a center for production, trading, exhibition, training, research and development and international exchanges ...

Kung Fu Panda, second iteration is now cleaning up at China's box office. And the Chinese government and others have admitted that having an American company execute a Middle Kingdom subject with such expertise ad aplomb is ... teeny bit irritating. They think they should be the ones doing it.

And now it looks as though they're putting their money where their aspirations lie.

So we'll see what happens in the next five to ten years. Because that's the amount of time, I think, it will take to create an industry that is world class.

Add On: Inactive TAG member Kevin Geiger writes and pictures another animation base in China here:

... [T]he Zhengzhou Animation Base is particularly noteworthy: ... The co-founders of Huayu Brothers Animation Group – Mao Xue Bing, Lin Bo, and Li Qing Guo – were savvy to this, and understood the principle of intellectual property as the necessary “software” to run the “hardware” of their new base. ...

China is working to build itself animation infrastructure in different parts of the country. Seems as if some infrastructure might turn out stronger and better than other infrastructure.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Seventy Years (and a Day) Ago

H/t for photo above: Jenny Lerew

President Emeritus Tom Sito writes:

1941- 70 Years Ago- THE WALT DISNEY STRIKE- Labor pressures had been building in the Magic Kingdom since promises made to artists over the success of Snow White were reneged on, and Walt Disney’s lawyer Gunther Lessing encouraged a hard line with his employees. On this day, in defiance of federal law, Walt Disney fired animator Art Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, and thirteen other cartoonists for demanding a union. Babbitt had emerged as the union movements’ leader. He has studio security officers escort Babbitt off the lot.

That night in an emergency meeting of the Cartoonists Guild, Art’s assistant on Fantasia, Bill Hurtz, made a motion to strike and it is unanimously accepted. Bill Hurtz will later go on to direct award winning cartoons like UPA’s "Unicorn in the Garden" and the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Picket lines go up next day in cartoon animation’s own version of the Civil War.

Walt Disney had a nervous breakdown over the strike and a federal mediator was sent by Washington to arbitrate. In later years, Uncle Walt blamed the studio’s labor ills on Communists. The studio unionized but hard feelings remained for decades after.

My old man (Ralph Hulett) was involved in the '41 strike. He was against it. He crossed the line and went into work, even though he was a low-level (and low-paid) Disney employee.

The Screen Cartoonists Guild, which ultimately won the Disney strike, repped the Los Angeles animation industry for a decade before Walt and the IATSE teamed up to push it from power and relevance. But this job action had long-term impact in the business. It's the reason that other animation studios sprang up in the forties and fifties. And it's the reason that the majority of L.A. animation workers are still unionized seven decades later. And as Mr. Sito says:

What first motivated me to write Drawing the Line, was seeing how the studio histories skirted around the strike, like everyone was always one big happy family. But the artists themselves spoke of that strike as this traumatic event that was the defining moment of their careers.

Even as elderly men and women, they still wouldn't speak to one another. If it wasn't for the strike, UPA wouldn't exist, Jay Wards may not, no Pogo, no Dennis the Menace, no unique 50's design for Roadrunners and What's Opera Doc. No Charlie Brown Christmas. ...

What I'm aware of is how events from long ago can have positive and negative impacts generations later. Because of what happened in 1941, I had high-quality health insurance as a little kid, and my kids had much the same. Despite the pain and disruptions seven decades ago, thousands of animation employees today enjoy decent retirements. None of these things are trivial.

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Holiday Weekend Overseas Derby

Jack Sparrow, he's still the top sea dog.

... [T]he weekend’s No. 1 box office crown went once again to Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

The fourth sequel ... captured $122.8 million – a 48% drop from the film’s record-setting opening surge ($260.4 million) last round. Total foreign box office so far comes to $470.8 million, more than three times its domestic gross ($152.9 million). ...

Meantime, the serial imbibers and KFP2 opened well.

... The Hangover Part II ... opened at 5,170 screens in 40 territories for $59 million ...

... Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D opened in just 11 markets (29% of the international marketplace and about a tenth of the number of territories played on the weekend by Pirates), and drew $57 million from 8,023 locations. It ranks No. 3 on the weekend. ...

As in the U.S. of A., Panda ran behind Hangover, but I don't know where they were competing head to head, or how the 5,000 screens of the live-action picture compares to the 8,000 screens of the animated flick..

Click here to read entire post

Cartoon Costs

Den of Geek says:

... The Princess And The Frog reportedly cost around $105m to make, and took in $104m at the US box office. Elsewhere, it added $162m to its total, meaning from cinemas alone, it brought in $267m.

Tangled's figures are scarier. Because, on face value, it did well. It took in $199m in the States, $389m elsewhere, and before it hit DVD and Blu-ray, it had grossed $588m from cinemas alone. The problem? The negative cost, before marketing and distribution, was apparently a staggering $260m.

These are the kinds of commentaries that are crazy-making. Because despite the qualifiers ("apparently," "reportedly"), they give the impression that the public-record shows what this or that motion picture actually cost.

Now, somewhere deep in the catacombs of the Disney Co. or Time-Warner or Viacom, some overworked accountant has a record of what amount of loot was spent on which picture. But nobody in InternetLand knows. Everyone is guessing. Entertainment companies cook the books all the time, for any number of reasons. It's been going on since the days of the Nickelodeon.

Tangled may or may not have cost a quarter billion dollars. It all depends on what the studio chooses to tally. Development on the feature started while Shrek Uno was still a gleam in Jeffrey Katzenberg's eye, so the picture was in its gestation period a looong time. And there were a lot of salaries riding on Rapunzel's long, silky hair.

But let us drill down to the nub, shall we? Nothing prevents our fine entertainment conglomerates from moving costs to some other movie's production number, or charging development to "studio overhead" to make stockholders less unhappy or participants of "net" profits less rich. Long ago, charges for Disney's Oliver and Company were shifted to Disney's Great Mouse Detective, just like that. And back when Warner Bros. Feature Animation, then located on Brand Boulevard in sunny Glendale, was circling the drain, a mid-level exec told me:

"Know how much Quest for Camelot really cost? Up above two hundred million dollars. But the main lot just went ahead and put a big piece of that onto feature animation's overhead." ...

(This was probably a wise thing to do, since the picture grossed a towering $22 million domestically, and it wouldn't have looked real good to have a theatrical cume that was 10% of production costs.)

But to the larger point (yet again): When somebody writes about how much a movie cost, or how much a movie made (and remember, there are various cash flows from lots of sources over lengthy periods of time) they are most likely using inaccurate data.

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"The Transition To Compositing"

Animation Guild


Tuesday, May 31, 2011 Pizza and refreshments, 6:30 pm Meeting, 7 pm Animation Guild meeting hall 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank (between Chandler and Magnolia)


Panel discussion

"The Transition To Compositing"

Join noted compositors SARI GENNIS, CHRIS SIMMONS, GREG TEEGARDEN and others in a wide-ranging discussion of compositing, and how it has served as a transition craft for traditional animation artists making their way into the worlds of 3D and visual effects.

Inactive members (suspended or withdrawn) may attend; they have voice but no vote in the meeting. Non-members should check in with the Sergeant-At-Arms; they may participate in the panel but not in the meeting.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

More Female Options?

Mark Hughes at Forbes asks the question:

Will More Animated Film Options Mean More Female-Oriented Films?

There's a pretty obvious answer, and I'm surprised it's escaped Mr. Hughes notice, him being at Forbes and all.

Not unless studios sniff that there is MONEY in female-oriented films.

Otherwise, no sale ...

Allow me to give you a quick, real-world example. There's a story guy at one of the animation studios who was developing a female-oriented movie. While he was puttering along, The Princess and the Frog came out, under-performed, and his girl project got shelved.

Ah, but then the female-friendly Tangled burst upon the eyeballs of the movie-going public and over-performed. And the guy's girl project was resurrected.

The moral of this story is: It isn't the total number of animated features being made that determine more Female-Oriented cartoons, but the success of the handful of girl projects that make their way into the marketplace.

As always in Tinsel Town, it's about the cash-o-roonie, not about the political correctness.

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Memorial Weekend Links

The linkage you crave, made with union labor.

Cartoon violence doesn't make kids love cartoons? ...

Pixar's Warrior Redhead is revealed.

Lion King Goes Three Dee. (Doesn't everything?)

Then there are newer CGI features in Moving View Master.

European low countries go after high-end animation.

Hey, Boo Boo! It's time for Yogi Bear 2!

Walt Disney Animation Studios' next moves ... per Den of Geek.

Have a memorable Memorial Day Weekend.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Florida Feature Animation

The Fleischer brothers gave it a go. Then Disney tried the same thing. And now ...

PORT ST. LUCIE, — Travelers on Interstate 95 ... probably noticed a large new building going up. That's Digital Domain Media Group's future $40 million, 120,000-square-foot movie animation studio where an estimated more than 500 employees eventually will work. The studio ... is expected to be operational by December. ...

This, of course, fits the profile of a number of larger visual effects houses. They know there's not a lot of money in pumping up live-action movies with digital special effects. They also know that animated features are a hot commodity just now. You turn out a blockbuster cartoon, you can open your own mint.

Problem is, it isn't super easy to do, despite other movie companies' batting records. You need studio top-kicks that know what they're doing and staffs that are allowed to exercise their story and animation chops. (Remember Warner Bros. Feature Animation? Nobody else does, either.)

The only visual effects house now producing animated feature is Sony Pictures Imageworks, over on the Sony lot. Wonder how that's working out?

... Sony Pictures saw a drop of approximately 8% in revenues for the recently ended fiscal year. Sales decreased 14.9% year-on-year (an 8% decrease on a U.S. dollar basis) to $7.2 billion, primarily due to lower motion picture revenues and the appreciation of the yen against the US dollar. ...

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Art is Magic!

Below the fold, some samples of our next show, opening in a week's time.

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Good News For the Bear

Now with cheese-coated Add On!

... also those drunk guys.

Looks to be a barn-burner of a holiday weekend.

The Hangover Part II grossed $31.7 million as it opened at the domestic box office, nabbing the third best Thursday gross of all time.

... Kung Fu Panda sequel also did good business in its debut, grossing $5.8 million on Thursday. Traffic for Kung Fu Panda should pick up today as more and more kids get out of school for summer break ... Panda received a stellar A CinemaScore ...

DWA is clearly on a roll. Four pictures in fourteen months, three of them hits. Not too bad, I'm thinking.

Add On: The Nikkster rolls out the stats:

1. The Hangover Part 2 (Legendary/Warner Bros) NEW [3,615 Theaters] Thursday $31.6M, Friday $30M, Est 3-day Weekend $87M Est 4-day Memorial Holiday $107, Est 5-Day Cume $139M

2. Kung Fu Panda 2 3D (DWA Animation/Paramount) NEW [3,925 Theaters] Thursday $5.8M, Friday $13.1M, Est 3-Day Weekend $45.5M Est 4-Day Memorial Holiday $56M, 5-Day Cume $65M

3. Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 3D (Disney) Week 2 [4,164 Theaters] Friday $10.8M (-68%), Est 3-Day Weekend $42M Est 4-Day Memorial Holiday $50M, Est Cume $166M

4. Bridesmaids (Universal) Week 3 [2,958 Theaters] Friday $4.6M, Est 3-Day Weekend $16.2M Est 4-Day Memorial Holiday $20.6M, Est Cume $89.3M

5. Thor 3D (Marvel/Disney/Paramount Week 4 [3,296 Theaters] Friday $2.4M, Est 3-Day Weekend $8.5M Est 4-Day Memorial Holiday $12M, Est Cume $162.7M

Add On Too: Looks as though Panda will collect a skosh more than $68 million for the entire Thursday through Monday opening run ($53 million for the holiday weekend. See some interesting comps here.)

I'd say that Hangover nicked the Panda bear a bit, but them's the breaks.

(The original KFP collected $60 million on its June 6, 2008 opening weekend. My guess is the total domestic gross will be close to the original's $215 million accumulation -- a multiple of 4 -- with a bigger foreign take. I'm guesstimating $600-$700+ million when all theatrical receipts are in.)

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Animation Merchandise

It's reported 'round and about that Illumination Entertainment is picking up another property:

Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri has acquired rights to turn the Uglydoll franchise into an animated feature film. Universal Pictures and Illumination will develop the film based on the global line of Uglydoll characters launched by husband-wife artist team David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. ...

Buy a merchandise franchise and make a movie about it. What a great idea!

What gets under-reported these days is that animation is one of the big drivers for merchandise revenue, and the conglomerates know it. As a Disney Toons staffer told me yesterday:

"When I got hired here to work on Planes, the execs made no bones about the fact that Toons was making movies to support a line of toys. No art for art sakes around here. I find that kind of refreshing after some of the other places I've worked at ..."

Merchandise has been a big part of animation for the better part of a century. Walt licensed his first Mickey Mouse doll eighty years ago, and there were probably "Gertie the Dinosaur" plush toys before that. A veteran over at Walt Disney Animation Studios said to me, back when the animators were bent over their light boards creating it, that Disney corporate was behind the newer, hand-drawn Pooh feature because it anticipated big DVD and toy sales. (Gotta keep that A.A. Milne money machine humming. It's worth billions, after all.)

On the television side, animated series as moving billboards for toys has been in vogue since the days of He-Man ahd She-Ra. Nobody launches cartoons today without an eye to how the games and plastic gew-gaws will sell. (Certainly Hasbro/Hub knows what it's about. We're told that the GI Joe series is on hiatus because the toy lines are being retooled, and it won't do having new episodes featuring out-dated action figures.)

Art is all well and good, and we're for it, of course. But our fine conglomerates (and Chris Meledandri) know they're not under-writing renaissance artists' boutiques.

It's About The Toys, Amigos.

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A Word (Again) About Pensions

This comment below caught my eye:

... When your OWN MEMBERSHIP has no idea of the union benefits, let alone outsiders, you have a massive, massive messaging problem. And it hurts all of us, especially those of us who want to see membership grow. ...

At the risk of chronic redundancy, when you work under the jurisdiction of The Animation Guild, you get three pensions.

The first is a Defined Benefit Plan with a five-year qualifying period. When you qualify for it, you get a monthly check at retirement age.

The second is a lump-sum payout from the Individual Account Plan, into which your employer pays from $4000 to $5000 per year. (The amount is a percentage of the Minimum Wage Rate at which a given employee is working.)

The third is an optional 401(k) Plan into which you can defer up to $16,500 of your annual salary.

We talk and post about these pensions all the time. We hold weekly orientation lunches for new members where we expound on them in great detail. We put pension details on our website and in our newsletter. Even so, we get members who are astounded that they have all these freaking pensions.

Sometime we feel like tearing our hair out, but we press on, letting people know the pension benefits that are out there, helping them to fight poverty in their old age. We feel it's our solemn duty as good union reps and upstanding American citizens.

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David Cohen sounds off on Dimensional Cinema ..

... and makes some important points and criticisms. For those with Variety subscriptions, please read the article.

Mr. Cohen highlights what I've written before in this forum. Theaters are showing dimensional prints too dark. However, the article puts the root of the problem at the lack of a standard and the proliferation of different formats. Between RealD, Dolby and now Xpand, few directors and/or studios are taking the time to create the proper 3D LUTs* to ensure the movies are viewed the same in all theaters.

* 3D LUTs (lookup tables) are used to calculate preview colors for a monitor or digital projector of how an image will be reproduced on the final film print.


Some have concluded long ago that stereoscopic cinema was nothing more than a ruse to get audiences to pay extra for tickets. Now, we're seeing how greed has blinded the studio execs to the most basic of principles of marketing .. get the audience to come back! Its all fine to charge a premium for a product that is superior to its predecessor. But to offer a superior product and deliver the dregs, is to alienate your customers and force them into finding alternate ways to entertain themselves.

The lack of a standard for dimensional viewing is reminiscent of other format battles (memory cards for digital cameras first comes to mind) that have plagued our wallets. What's worse, there exists the Digital Cinema Initiatives to address this very problem.

Mr. Cohen's article finishes with a quote from Cinematographer Guild Pres. Steven Poster that points out that movies shown in theaters have to match the quality (and clarity) of Blu-Ray and DVDs being released. If people begin to realize they're unable to see key elements or items on the screen because someone didn't care enough to ensure a maximized theatrical experience, audiences will begin to vote with their wallets and choose the little disc over the plush seat and bag of popcorn.

Or, maybe like this blogger, they'll find the traditional "flat" copy and enjoy the extra room in the theater to stretch out. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Women In Animation

For some reason we seem to be highlighting female animation artists just now. So does the L.A. Times in today's editions:

... [Jennifer Yuh] Nelson is one of four women to have directed a feature at her home studio of DreamWorks Animation — though her contemporaries, Brenda Chapman ("Prince of Egypt"), Vicky Jenson ("Shark Tale," "Shrek") and Lorna Cook ("Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron") shared their duties with at least one male counterpart. ...

Might I say here that Jennifer getting this solo assignment is richly deserved? Because she's not only extremely nice, but extremely talented. But the Times has other things to say about women directors in animation:

... [W]hen Brenda Chapman was fired from Pixar's "Brave," it stung not just Chapman but also her female colleagues in the animation community.

"I think it's a really sad state. We're in the 21st century and there are so few stories geared towards girls, told from a female point of view," said Chapman ...

There are varying industry stories about Ms. Chapman's departure from Emeryville, but it's interesting that the L.A. Times airs this linen on the same day it profiles Jennifer Yuh Nelson, no?

Management at Pixar/ Disney is fond of saying how the pictures are "director driven" and it's all about the "director's vision," etc. To some degree that might be true, but when the director's vision collides with the ideas of the head of the studio, all of a sudden the director isn't driving anymore.

Everybody knows this to be true. It might be useful if management admitted to the reality.

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The Ann Guenther Interview -- Part 2

Above, Bill Layne, Ann Guenther, Sylvia Roemer and the dashing Woolfgang Reitherman. (From the early 1970s.)

TAG Interview with Ann Guenther

*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

Ms. Guenther returned to Disney as a full-fledged background artist after working on the lot as an inker in the late 1950s, one of the first individuals to ever accomplish this feat ...

Ann departed the studio after a background artist she trained was promoted to head of the b.g. department. (Then as now, the animation industry was a Boys Club.)

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Visual Effects Society Raises Issues

The VES is concerned:

Pointing a finger at the troubling business climate that has plagued the VFX industry for years, the Visual Effects Society sent out an open letter to the entertainment industry Tuesday, charging the VFX workers don't receive proper credit, benefits or working conditions. ...

Fifteen years ago, I talked to an effects supervisor at Disney who thought the viz effx business had become cutthroat, what with congloms putting tentpoles out for bid to the least expensive sub-contractors available. And salaries and working conditions beginning to get squeezed.

A decade and a half on, the big fear among many visual effects employees is runaway production. (Between you, me and the boys in the locker room, regardless of the fear the C.G. pie continues to grow, and work continues to expand in Southern and Northern California. Because studios still have a desire to hit their release dates and maintain some semblance of quality control.)

It's nice that VES is putting out press releases regarding not-great working conditions, but where have they been the last fifteen years? The problems aren't new, and aren't going away anytime soon. And labor unions -- ours included -- have been slow off the dime. Just today we received an e-mail from a member working in visual effects who says the old-timers get the usefulness of being in a labor organization but the younger crowd's attitude is "Eenh. Who needs this?"

It's a cost-benefit construct, you see. Twenty and thirty-somethings need to be convinced that the costs of rocking the boat are less than the rewards of health coverage, pension benefits and structured wage minimums. (For as long as I've been paying attention, lots of C.G. artists have been libertarians, believing that they can prosper on their own ... and unions are for collectivist wimps. We'll see if that holds moving forward. If things get crappy enough, it might not.)

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Growing In the Animation Art -- An Interview with Ann Guenther -- Part 1

Ann Guenther
Ann Guenther

TAG Interview with Ann Guenther

*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

Ann Guenther began her career in animation as an inker on Sleeping Beauty ...

In those days, she was fresh from Pennsylvania, without money or contacts in the business or very much artistic training. One bright morning on the Disney lot, she encountered Walt Disney. He asked her, "What are you doing here so early?"

She answered, "I get here early every morning, Mr. Disney. I have to, because I hitchhike to work."

Ann was eighteen at the time. And Walt Disney was surprised.

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Phone call of the month

Me: Hello, Animation Guild. May I help you?

Her: Hi, do you guys do vaccinations?

Me: Umm, no, we're a labor union.

Her: Oh ... I'm sorry, you're the Animation Guild. I thought it said "animal vaccinations". Sorry, bye!

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Up Trend

And the Mojo notices:

... Including grosses from late 2010 movies Tangled and Megamind, animation has contributed over 12 percent of box office earnings so far this year. ...

Wrap your head around that for a minute.

A handful of animated features now accounts for over one-tenth of box office revenue. Compare this to a couple of decades ago, when animated features were sad little outliers that made a few bucks for Disney. Which the rest of the motion picture industry studiously ignored.

My, how the landscape has changed. Now, every conglomerate in the entertainment universe is clawing its way into the animation horse race -- Disney, Viacom, Universal, Time-Warner, Fox News Corp. The reasons' simple. In 2011, when you get an animated extravaganza that takes in $150 million during its domestic run, industry wisdom says that the movie has under-performed.

Take, for example, last year's Megamind, from DreamWorks Animation. It made $148.5 million stateside, and $25 million more than that total overseas. And a short while later, stock analysts rolled out to proclaim the film a "disappointment" and the reason they were downgrading DWA as a stock buy.

Not every animated feature is a major blockbuster, nor can be, given the varying quality levels of product. (We offer, as Exhibit Numero Uno, the Weinstein's sequel to Hoodwinked, which sat on the shelf for the better part of two years and is now in release because animated features are white hot as commercial entities. Happily, movie studios play odds, not certainties. And long-form cartoons are better bets than many features with live actors.)

Over the past two years, TAG's membership rolls have steadily grown. This isn't because our organizing has reached a fever pitch, or companies have gotten altruistic about "going union," or Southern California has recaptured all the overseas work. It's due to the fact that animation has become a safer bet for making money than most genres of live-action film. And so the labor market for artists, animators and technical directors trends ever upward.

Nobody, of course, knows how long this direction will last. California entertainment employment has changed a lot over the past five years. Live-action movies have shifted to other states and other nations. CGI work has mushroomed in India, New Zealand and other places. But the fact remains that L.A.'s animation work force continues to grow, and as long as the world's audiences keep flocking to the movies of Pixar/Disney, Blue Sky Studios, Illumination Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation, peak employment is not yet in sight.

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Back of Envelope Prediction

Of course there are all kinds of forecasts about what the Big Panda will collect in box office revenue, but we'll do a few calculations of our own ...

Kung Fu Panda 2 is (thus far) getting solid reviews. The want-to-see quotient is high. And the first one pulled down big numbers. (KFP the first had a worldwide gross of $631.7 million.)

So if we make the (relatively) safe assumptions that quality sequels collect more revenue than the originals, we'll calculate that KFP2 will earn:

$750,000,000 - $990,000,000

I could imagine the film breaking the billion dollar mark (though given the summer competition, I don't think it's a foregone conclusion.) But I can't see it taking in much below $750 million. The Hangover is going to cannibalize a minimal number of Panda tickets, and both films will open big domestically, with KFP2 ultimately doing a multiplier of 4+ of its opening weekend.

Now we sit back and wait. And see how much of Hulett's head is buried in Hulett's large intestine.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Think Global

These Hollywood people. You can sneak nothing by them.

... "If we have storylines that at script-stage feel too U.S.-centric, especially with big action or science-fiction movies, we try to come up with solutions that will make the movie feel more global," says Tomas Jegeus, co-president of 20th Century Fox International Theatrical. ...

Pixar Animation will be following that formula to a degree this summer, localizing "Cars 2" in six countries by subbing in a different car for a scene that takes place at a Tokyo party.

"Pixar is taking a lot of care to make the movie as specific to these countries as possible," "Cars 2" producer Denise Ream says. ...

Overseas markets make up the bull-gorilla's share of theatrical grosses these days. And when you have an America-centric animated feature (can we say Monsters Vs. Aliens?) the foreign box office grosses go into a swoon.

DreamWorks has two non-American features coming out in 2011, both filled with fuzzy animals in exotic locales. DWA clearly doesn't want to make the same mistake -- humans in large, domestic metropolitan areas -- during back-to-back years.

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The World Steeple Chase

The Mouse has glad tidings.

Fueled by foreign moviegoers, Disney’s 3D Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opened to $346.4 million at the worldwide box office to grab the fourth best global bow of all time, as well as the biggest international opening ever. ...

So I guess Disney will now

A) Laugh all the way to the mint, and

B) Commence planning Pirates of the Caribbeans 5 through 8, and

C) Pray that Johnny Depp is willing to continue the franchise until he's .... oh ... eighty. ...

Add On: The South American birds continue in the Overseas Top Ten:

... No. 5 was Fox’s family animation title Rio, which has amassed $316.4 million thus far overseas thanks to a $5.27 million weekend at 5,668 venues in 64 territories. ... Universal’s Hop, $64.5 million

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Financial Wizards

A week ago, I got an e-mail from a member complaining about a financial advisor he had briefly engaged. Apparently the "Financial Advisor" (otherwise known as a "wizard") had advised our member, but when the member didn't like the advice and asked for his deposit back, the advisor said "So sorry, the money is non-refundable."

At which point the member said: "Uh. What document did I sign actually say that?"

No documents were produced, nor was any money. The member now informs me he is taking the F.A. to small claims court to get his (sizable) deposit back ...

Financial wizards have their place, I suppose. If you have no knowledge of stocks and bonds, and tend to glaze over when somebody within speaking distance talks about "asset allocation," "risk premiums," and "small cap vs. large cap," then maybe you can hire yourself a wizard who charges by the hour and will help you set up an investment program using low-cost stock and bond funds. But under no circumstances should you run out and jump on the bandwagon of an f.w. who charges one or two percent off the top and works on commission. The game is rigged enough as it is.

But fear not, for there's a one-page digital compendium* of sage investment instruction that will help get you started on the path to financial independence ... and charge nothing for the privilege. The advice offered, boiled down to its essence, goes as follows:

1. Develop a workable plan

2. Invest early and often

3. Never bear too much or too little risk

4. Never try to time the market

5. Use index funds when possible

6. Keep costs low

7. Diversify

8. Minimize taxes

9. Beware of people trying to sell you something

10. Stay the course.

In my experience, financial wizards will try to convince you that investing is complicated and mysterious, but it's neither. The only area that's tricky is the discipline part of it, the ability to not freak out when every investment you own is tanking and the only thing you want to do is bail ... just as your investments hit rock bottom. (This is almost always a bad idea, because invariably you are taking yourself out of asset classes that will soon bounce back to higher levels.)

Mostly, investing for retirement is simplicity itself. You just have to own the will to believe it and do it.

* Pay particular attention to "Implementing an Investment Plan."

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cartoon Linkages

A few links to your animated reading (and viewing) matter.

Jeffrey K. says KFP2 raises the 3-D bar. ...

The L.A. Times asks: Spielberg's Tintin. Is it animation or is it mo-cap?

Pixar and Blue Sky Studios know it's about foreign markets.

Fox knows how to tweak Simpsons' numbers.

John Lasseter shows off his extensive wardrobe.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit gets a new film score.

The Daily News objects to the oncoming Flintstones Do-Over.

DWA's Panda gets marketed through Zynga's Cityville.

The L.A. Times features Walt and the Pirates.

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Maytime Derby

Mr. Depp and company might be under-performing domestically.

... Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is looking to open with only $35 million from 4,155 theaters. And that's helped by $4.7M in midnight screenings and higher 3D ticket prices ...

Then again, it might pick up today .... opened well abroad ... and cost less than Number three. So weep not for the Mouse ...

Meantime, Rio, the only animated feature in the Top Ten, flaps along in 7th place.

7. Rio 3D (Blue Sky Studio/Fox) Week 6 [2,593 Theaters] Friday $1.1M, Estimated Weekend $5.6M, Estimated Cume $132.6M

The flock of South American birds currently has a world accumulation of $435 million as it makes its way toward the half billion dollar mark.

Add On: Yep, Pirates accumulated $35 million on Friday. Sooo ...

... The big question now is whether the Johnny Depp tentpole can eclipse Universal’s Fast Five to score the best domestic opening of the year. Disney is still hoping to reach $90 million, but has lowered its weekend estimate to $87-$89 million ...

Click here to read entire post

Friday, May 20, 2011

A DreamWorks Morning

This A.M. I tottered onto the DreamWorks Animation and visited multiple floors of the Lakeside Building, lining up future TAG interviews, pushing 401(k) enrollment forms and books on people, and seeing what's going on, production-wise ... .

Puss in Boots, I'm informed, wraps in July or early August. One of the artists said:

"The studio had a really positive test screening. They are going to do some tweaking of the third act, but people think the feature's in good shape. It's got a different vibe than Shrek, a little bit rawer. But then the cat is wilder, isn't he?"

I replied that if it performs up to hope and expectations, DWA's got another series on its hands.

On the cave-man front, J. Katzenberg has (allegedly) signed off on the latest story work on the The Croods, and a few production people have told me they're facing hiatuses (hiati?) until the picture returns to fuller production later in the year.

Meanwhile, Kung Fu Panda 2, released next week, has a 91% "want to see" rating on the Tomatometer. One of the newer animators, who saw it a week ago, thinks it fires on all cylinders. But crews' opinions always need to be taken with spiced seasoning, because when somebody's seen twenty-eight versions of the same movie over the course of three years, they're not always the best judge regarding the final product. (As I've said here before, I listened to artists complain about a hand-drawn feature for two solid years. When it at last came out, I went to see the thing expecting a smelly disaster, but found the movie to be pretty damn good. So I questioned one of the artists about the high quality, and he said: "Oh yeah. They really pulled it together in the last three months.")

The moral: Go to the movie and make up your own damn mind. Don't let other minds, clouded by repetition, decide for you.

Lastly. In the afternoon, after lunch, I visited Disney TVA in the Frank Wells Building. Uneventful. Except a guy in one of the wall offices looked up from his computer as I stood in the doorway and said: "Move along."

Which I did.

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Job Skills, Jobs Lost

This is slightly off-topic in terms of being animation specific, but completely on-topic in terms of speaking about how jobs not attached to a graduate degree are now thought of in the U.S. of A.

When I broke into animation, the "skilled industry veterans" were people highly qualified at the craft. But funny thing. They were men (and sometimes women) who had been working in the business since high school ... or their initial two years of art school. There were not many people running around with Masters or PhDs. They just knew how to draw ... how to paint ... how to design and animate and create their movie art like wizards.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Luxuriating at the SPA (and elsewhere)

Today was my Culver City day, and a morning spent at Sony Pictures Animation ...

Arthur Christmas is in its final stretch, and board artists are working on Hotel Transylvania, (some now in their third or fourth year). Some work remains on Smurf movie DVD extras. And three artists told how much they enjoyed the Walt Peregoy interview.

Added to which, several voiced a wee bit of under-enthusiasm for the current SPA management team.

"We've got a guy heading the division who's got no experience in animation, doesn't know much about it. And I don't think he or any of the rest of them really know what they want. Or where they want to go."

But hey. As long as they keep paying me, I've got a job, you know?"

Yesterday I was tripping through Walt Disney Animation Studios, where animation continues on Prep and Landing Deux and development work rolls along on Reboot Ralph as it eases toward full-bore production. (Other features are in development, with more waiting to be pitched to Mr. Lasseter.)

But the discussions I got into at the hat building weren't about Disney features. The main thing that came up was whether 48 or 60 frames per second would ever catch on. Nobody seemed to think so. "Too expensive" ... "The studio bean-counters would never go for it" ... "Maybe 60 fps for action sequences" ... "Maybe they'll go for it if the new Peter Jackson move ["The Hobbit" -- at 48 fps] makes a lot of money."

Tomorrow I'll hit studios closer to the office.

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A Little Less of the Boys' Club

DreamWorks Animation has been ahead of the curve.

The first female and first Asian director at DreamWorks says she was able to bring a new type of collaborative leadership.

“Certainly one thing that was nice about being the first Asian female director was that there were no expectations of what I would be doing, about what my style would be, so I could make my own,” Yuh Nelson told reporters in Seoul, Monday.

The Korea Times has it a bit wrong on the "female" angle. Jeffrey Katzenberg has run animation studios and divisions that have put women in positions of authority for quite a little while.

There was Brenda Chapman as story director on Beauty and the Beast (and then co-director on Prince of Egypt.) There was Vicki Jenson on Shrek and Shark Tale, and Lorna Cook on Spirit. Kathy Altieri as production designer on How to Train Your Dragon and multiple other DWA features.

And then of course Jennifer Yuh Nelson as story director on Kung Fu Panda and now director on Number Two.

Say what you like about Katzenberg, he's pretty much the only animation studio top-kick with the balls to put women in the high seat over and over again, and actually leave them there to finish the job. There might be somebody else somewhere who's done it, but I can't think who they are*.

Long and short of it, nobody comes close to Jeffrey's record on this score.

* Add On: Now that I think of it, Ms. Jenson also served as Production Designer on the Bill Kroyer film Fern Gully.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Websites don’t return phone calls, either

A followup to Steve Hulett’s post from yesterday.

I once got a call from a member -- let's call her Alice Smith -- who said she was having trouble getting a response from a studio to which she had applied several times. I called the studio, and the dialogue was as follows:

Receptionist: “Human resources, may I help you?”

Me: “I’m Jeff Massie from the Animation Guild, could I speak to [name of person in charge]?”

Receptionist: “And what is this in reference to?”

Me: “I’m calling about Alice Smith.”

Whereupon the receptionist burst into tears.

Alice, it seems, was considered a border-line harasser by studio recruiters.

This happened long enough ago that the studio in question no longer exists. And at many studios, neither does the hiring system that allowed Alice to actually speak to someone on the phone. Nowadays, to apply for a job at many if not most larger studios, you go to a website and/or send an e-mail to a generic address. If employers are to be believed, a large reason for the necessity of this is the sort of applicant abuse that may have occurred in this situation. Websites don’t cry.

The thing is, I don’t really believe this. There aren’t that many applicants behaving that badly. I think most people are smart enough to know that making the receptionist burst into tears at the sound of your name is not a good job application strategy.

A depersonalized application process isn’t necessary to protect management from the raging mobs with torches and portfolios. The now-common ways of doing things in the world of artist recruitment have resulted from what Steve wrote about yesterday -- the triumph of lowered demand over high supply in the labor marketplace. Too many applicants, not enough jobs ... it’s easier (and cheaper) to set up a website and a process to prioritize insulating the employer from the unemployed, rather than pay someone to communicate to potential employees.

I’ve had h.r. reps try to convince me it’s “fairer” to require everyone to apply through the same system, rather than allow veterans to talk to decision-makers they may have worked with in the past. That’s also been the justification for requiring every applicant to take a test, whether he’s Bill Tytla or someone who can’t spell the word annymation. (I’ve been told that at least one employer rep tried to claim that it was the union that required everyone to take a test. Nuh-uh.)

It is worth noting that Article 19 of the contract (pages 45-46) gives employers wide latitude as to whom they hire and how they hire them. We have never been a “roster union”, and I have never believed that a roster would solve more problems for the membership than it would create. The Guild has insisted on an ongoing dialogue with employers regarding abuses of application and testing processes. We haven’t given up on this issue; as always we need support from the membership to give us the leverage in pursuing solutions that stick.

I have been generalizing here about employer abuses; a number of our employers, large and small, actually have artist recruitment people on the inside who are willing to talk to job applicants on the outside. And much of the anger and bitterness Steve and I hear from members comes from the general frustration of finding work in hard times, even at studios that treat all job applicants fairly.

Of course, the point of having an employment application process is to insure that the best applicants are discovered ... as opposed to, let’s say, the ones who are merely willing to work for less.

Isn’t it?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another Big Reason For Animation

Lest we forget.

Walt Disney Co.'s Disney Consumer Products unit once again ranked as the top licensor in the world in 2010 with $28.6 billion in retail sales ... Toy Story 3, was the company's "most dominant property of the year" at retail ...

Time Warner's Warner Bros. Consumer Products came in fifth with $6 billion, ... followed by Viacom's Nickelodeon Consumer Products with $5.5 billion ... DreamWorks Animation with around $3 billion in estimated retail sales of licensed product ... Cartoon Network Enterprises, with $2.4 billion (up from $2.1 billion in 2009) ...

Etc., etc.

It's often overlooked how animation drives merchandise here and around the world, from the early days of Mickey Mouse until now. It's not just about the theater tickets, the DVDs and the Blu-Rays.

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Back to the Future

Director Zemeckis takes a new/old path.

Animated American will involve a reality of both cartoons and live-action people. The plot follows a cartoon baby raised by "humans" who, on his 18th birthday, decides to go in search of his birth family. ...

"Cartoon baby" sounds like we might see another Disney project drawn by hand, yes? That would make a lot of animators (and assistants) who love the old style happy.

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Jobs, gatekeepers and tempers

A while ago, I got a call from a an artist who was a bit agitated.

"I submitted my portfolio to [Studio X] and the contact person told me I couldn't submit anymore! What right does he have to do that? And he yelled at me too! You've got to do something about that!"

So off I went to the offending studio ...

I encountered the "contact person" outside the studio's front door. I happen to know him, and consider him a decent, even-tempered guy. He's the assistant to a studio exec, the employee whose job it is to receive resumes and portfolios. He passes them along to directors who are staffing shows, and usually his job goes smoothly.

But he'd gotten into an argument with the artist who called me. The man, it seems, had made multiple portfolio submissions over a three-month period of time, to the point where directors were telling the Contact Person: Hey, enough already! I've seen this person's work four times! I don't need to see it again!"

And the contact person, on the fifth round of portfolio submission, had told the artist he was overdoing it, and an argument ensued.

I suggested to the gatekeeper that if the artist wanted to over-submit and alienate directors, that was the artist's business. ("You're right," he replied. "I'll just log the work in and pass it along. Somebody else can ignore the stuff.") Then I called the artist back, told him I had talked to the studio employee, and that he was free to submit as often as he wanted -- but that the ongoing submissions weren't winning him points with directors, since they were already familiar with his work. After a pause, there was this:

"Yeah, I'm probably pushing too hard. And I was maybe a little ... ahm ... belligerent on the phone. But it's tough, you know? I've tried a bunch of studios, and I'm getting nowhere with getting hired. I need work. It's very frustrating."

I suggested that he might want to revamp his portfolio, since his current samples didn't seem to be getting him bites. He agreed that was a good idea.

I get these types of phone calls from time to time, so maybe it's a good idea for me to dissect where the animation business was, where it is now, and where it's likely going:

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, the sleepy subset of the movie and television business known as animation exploded. Disney had wild success with a string of animated features (maybe you remember) and multiple studios jumped into the game. All of a sudden, the demand for qualified employees outstripped available supply, and two things happened.

1) Everybody who could hold a pencil and draw got hired, and

2) Wages went up.

A version of the same thing happened in t.v. cartoons. Syndication got rolling in a major way, the networks were still buying for their Saturday morning slots, and cable networks that used animated fare were being formed. (Cartoon Network, anyone?) There was a magical moment when Disney, Time-Warner and several others were expanding their facilities and output, hiring like mad, and hanging onto hired crew whether they had assignments for them or not. (They were that afraid of losing them to a competitor.)

So what the hell's happened over the last decade and a half? And what does the landscape now look like?

* Hand-drawn feature animation's boom years were short-lived. Disney competitors couldn't replicate Disney's success at 2-D features, and Disney couldn't sustain its run of blockbusters. By 2000, employment at studios doing traditional, long-form cartoons was down by 60%.

* Television animation continued (and continues) to have a good amount of production, but supply long ago caught up to demand. Many displaced feature employees migrated to t.v. work, and the talent pool expanded to the point where studios didn't feel the need to hang onto staff during slack periods. Or pay sky-high salaries.

* Fees for syndicated animated fare shrank precipitously, and the glory years of "The Disney Afternoon" and the Warner Bros. Animation bloc on broadcast television went away. This put more of a squeeze on industry hiring and pay levels.

* Digital technologies surged to the forefront of feature animation. People who were wizards with Maya, Renderman and other software were in high demand (but even here supply caught up to demand.) Artists adept only with paintbrushes and pencils found themselves faced with long stretches of unemployment. In television animation, paper storyboards became a thing of the past -- Cintiqs are now at almost every work station.

Today, almost every studio has screening processes for artist-hires. They want portfolios submitted on-line, and they want tests to be taken. The Animation Guild has no objection to tests in principle -- an employer has the right to ascertain that portfolio submissions are the work of the submitting artist -- but we have strong objections to long tests where artists crank out lots of board panels for free.

It's been relatively easy to get studios' general agreement that long tests are a no-no. It's been next to impossible to get studios to stick to the concept, because upper management pays no attention to what this or that show-runner is doing down in the bowels of production. And if longer tests creep back into the game plan, most execs are unaware (or perhaps semi-aware?) of the problem.

So what we have today is an industry with employment for folks with the right skill sets, but a number of hurdles to jump through before getting onto studio premises and into the cubicle. Artists working in the biz find out about jobs the same way they have for fifty years: some contact us, many network and share information with co-workers, some just march up and pound on doors until one of those doors pop open. Facebook, blogs, and e-mails are now a part of the mix, but the basic dynamics remain the same. There's got to be a job opening, and an applicant has to own the talent and skill to fill it. That was true in 1931, and it's still true seventy years later.

Tomorrow, Jeff Massie's take.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Hey! Where's the Interview?!

You may have noticed there's no new podcast up.

There's a reason for that. I've been out of town, and the one interview remaining in the hopper needs work, and I've been too busy to line up new sit-downs. (There are commitments to do more, but no dates set up. Aggravating ...)

It was all going like clockwork for awhile, but then a cramped schedule intruded on my well-laid plans, and so ... the cupboard is empty.

By and by the interviews will resume. But I make no promises about exactly when.

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Burton Bows Out

The former Disney animator and character designer won't be doing the live-action sequel/prequel to Sleeping Beauty.

Tim Burton has moved off of Maleficent ... [but] Disney is not about to put Maleficent into a suspended-animation sleep. The studio is now on the hunt for a new director. ...

Too bad. I think it would have been kicky to see Mr. B.'s take on the story. Would he have followed Eyvind E.'s design lead or taken the picture elsewhere in terms of visuals? Alas, we'll never know. But Ms. Woolverton is (apparently) still on the case.

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Fox to go Prehistoric

Word of Seth MacFarlane's latest animated venture has just made the trades:

Seth MacFarlane is getting into the Flinstones business.

"One of the first things that I drew when I was 2 years old was Fred Flinstone," MacFarlane told a roomful of ad buyers gathered in New York on Monday.

Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly said the series came together in the past couple of days and will begin production right away. The Flinstones will premiere on Fox in 2013. This follows recent animated orders Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite, which will roll out in the fall and midseason, respectively.

Its always good to hear that our signatory studios are vying to capitalize on what's working while discovering new and, well .. not so new, ways to increase revenue. We'll be interested in seeing Mr. MacFarlane's interpretation of the Flintstones family and friends, as well as all new productions at Fox TV Animation.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cal Arts Presents!

Seems there was a do in North Hollywood for a number of Valencians.

On Thursday night, CalArts presented its annual Character Animation Producers' Show, which showcased some of the best of the best from this year's students. Twenty-three cool, inventive and oftentimes funny shorts played to a packed audience at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood.

Pixar director, Oscar winner, and alum Pete Docter (Up) gave out the awards this year ...

I went to a number of these presentations, back in the merry nineties. I was always impressed with the level of creativity, talent and all-around joie de vivre the shorts displayed. Animation studios were hauling the films' creators away to full-time employment shortly after the theater lights went up, many of them long before graduation.

As to the number of animators/creators who get spirited away now, I've no idea.

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Maytime Foreign Derby

... Where the parrots continue to frolic.

... Ranking No. 4 on the weekend was 20th Century Fox’s Rio, tallying $10.4 million from 7,331 screens in 67 markets. Foreign gross total of the family-oriented animation about a domesticated macaw has shot past the $300 million mark ($306.3 million). ...

Rio is doing less well domestically, but the feature will bump up against the half billion mark before it's through. Meanwhile Hop has earned $63.4 million beyond the seas, for a worldwide accumulation of $170.2 million. (Animated titles often roll up way higher grosses in foreign markets, but apparently the Easter Bunny loses something in translation.)

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Afford to Retire?

We've talked about putting sufficient money away during your working life so you won't be consuming Purina during the sunset years. John Bogle -- founder of Vanguard Mutual Funds -- sounds an additional cautionary note:

What percentage of my net growth is going to fees in a 401(k) plan?

... [A]n individual who is 20 years old today ... has about 45 years to go before retirement -- 20 to 65 -- and then, if you believe the actuarial tables, another 20 years to go before death mercifully brings his or her life to a close. ... If you invest $1,000 at the beginning of that time and earn 8 percent, that $1,000 will grow in that 65-year period to around $140,000.

Now, the financial system -- the mutual fund system in this case -- will take about two and a half percentage points out of that return, so you will have a gross return of 8 percent, a net return of 5.5 percent, and your $1,000 will grow to approximately $30,000. One hundred ten thousand dollars goes to the financial system and $30,000 to you, the investor. Think about that. That means the financial system put up zero percent of the capital and took zero percent of the risk and got almost 80 percent of the return, and you, the investor in this long time period, an investment lifetime, put up 100 percent of the capital, took 100 percent of the risk, and got only a little bit over 20 percent of the return. That is a financial system that is failing investors ...

The point Mr. Bogle makes is that over time, high fees in a 401(k) Plan or Mutual Fund can eat you alive. One or two percent sounds relatively small, but when you multiply that over thirty ... forty ... forty-five years, the magic of compounding allows those percentages to eat you alive.

In my reckless youth, I didn't get this concept at all, and so I allowed a "Financial Advisor" to take two percent of my total nut right off the top. And over time my total assets were gnawed down a lot.

As John Bogle points out, if you're into saving and investing for the long haul, low fees are essential, otherwise your returns will take a major hit. But go read the interview linked above. Bogle pinpoints a lot of the problems faced by young investors (workers?) socking money away in a choppy environment.

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The Final Grosses

We have it on good authority that this is the last week of earth's existence. That being the case, while there's still a bit of time we'll share Friday's grosses with you ....

1. Thor 3D (Marvel/Disney/Paramount) Week 2 [3,963 Theaters] Friday $9.2M (-64%), Estimated Weekend $32M, Estimated Cume $114.5M

2. Bridesmaids (Universal) NEW [2,918 Theaters] Friday $7.8M, Estimated Weekend $21.5M

3. Fast Five (Universal) Week 3 [3,793 Theaters] Friday $5.9M, Estimated Weekend $18M, Estimated Cume $167.2M

4. Priest 3D (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [2,864 Theaters] Friday $5.5M, Estimated Weekend $14M

5. Something Borrowed (Warner Bros) Week 2 [2,904 Theaters] Friday $2.3M (-51%), Estimated Weekend $7.5M, Estimated Cume $26.1M

6. Jump The Broom (TriStar/Sony) Week 2 [2,035 Theaters] Friday $1.9M (-53%), Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $25.2M

7. Rio (Blue Sky Studio/Fox) Week 5 [2,929 Theaters] Friday $1.4M, Estimated Weekend $5.5M, Estimated Cume $122.5M

8. Water For Elephants (Fox 2000/Fox) Week 4 [2,425 Theaters Friday $1.2M, Estimated Weekend $4M, Estimated Cume $48.4M

9. Madea's Big Happy Family (Tyler Perry/Lionsgate) Week 4 [1,449 Theaters] Friday $550K, Estimated Weekend $1.8M, Estimated Cume $49.8M

10. Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict/Sony) Week 6 [1,449 Theaters] Friday $475K, Estimated Weekend $1.5M, Estimated Cume $38.9M

Rio doesn't look to be a monster in its stateside incarnation, but overseas it's at the $300 million level. Fox will probably be staying in the feature animation business.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Walt Disney Family Museum of S. F.

I am up in San Francisco this weekend for the I.A. District 2 Convention, and had a few hours to while away at the Disney Family Museum ...

The museum, housed in a large brick building inside what used to be the San Francisco Presidio, is the brainchild of Diane Disney Miller and unaffiliated with the Walt Disney Company. There have been any number of reviews for DFM, but I'll refrain from restating the positive reactions and the word "awesome." Here's the meat of the matter:

The museum has ten galleries on two different floors, arranged in the chronological order of Walt Disney's life. We meet Walt's family, we see Walt's early life (with Walt narrating same.) There are the childhood jobs of candy butcher and newspaper delivery boy; there is his time as an ambulance driver in Europe near the end of World War I. Then it's on to a career in cartooning in Kansas City, and when that doesn't pan out, a train trip to Hollywood without money or many prospects at the ripe age of 21.

(Interesting factoid: Disney believed he was "too late" getting on the animation bandwagon, and would have no chance of success against already established studios.)

Gallery by gallery, era by era, we travel through the twenties, thirties, wartime forties, all the way to Walt Disney's death from lung cancer in the second half of the sixties. Exhibits are layered and multi-dimensional. You can listen to interviews with Walt's family, hear the reminiscences of Walt's staff. (The Nine Old Men are well-represented.) You can be a fly-on-the-wall at a Disney recording session for a 1964 World Fair Exhibit, where you'll hear Walt fumble takes, talk to the booth about reading a line over, even screw up the word "supercalifragilisticexpialitocious" (and I'm probably screwing up the spelling.)

One hell of a lot of thought went into the museum's presentations and layout. The early exhibits, showing Disney as a working class kid struggling to get a toe-hold in Tinsel Town, are displayed in spare, simple brick spaces. As the years roll by and the Mouse House prospers, the exhibits become increasingly elaborate (a fine and subtle touch.) You could easily spend eight hours submerging yourself in the artwork and audio, in the film clips and t.v. interviews and interactive nooks and crannies that the Disney Family Museum has to offer. Sadly, the Mrs. and I only had four hours.

So what I'm telling you is, take a full day and explore the place, linger at the cases glittering with Oscars and gawk at all the flat-screen monitors. Listen to Walt's spoken memories. You'll find that it's time well spent.

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Ratings Win

One of Warner Bros. Animation's major entries has had a kind of rocky development. But the show has now launched, and the studio can breathe easier:

... Cartoon Network’s newest animated series The Looney Tunes Show (8 p.m.) premiered Tuesday night as the #1 show in its time period for all boy demos, posting double and triple-digit growth across the board compared to the 2010 time period. ...

I was talking to a Warner staffer shortly before I left for the Bay Area. He related:

There were some puckered sphincters around here. Everybody's happy that the show scored. If it hadn't, there would have been some careers that were changed ...

I haven't seen the show, but I've listened to Warner artists over the last few months and read some of the reviews. Whether or not TLTS is the ultimate reboot for Bugs and Co., it's always nice when a show fulfills rating expectations. It means that artists will keep working ... and our fine entertainment conglomerates will be more willing to underwrite more animated projects.

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Doodles of fun

I confess to the occasional mixed feeling on the subject of Google Doodles, those often funny and sometimes moving little animations (sorry) that pop up on the main search page on various occasions.

I know they got Yoko's permission to honor John Lennon's seventieth birthday, and I'm incapable of passing up any opportunity to hear Imagine, but I was a little weirded out at the use of his self-portrait for the o's in the logo. Bottom line, it's a good idea to remember that these are commercials, albeit well-done commercials. (And of course the Beatles were total idealists who never indulged in anything commercial. I probably should get over myself here.)

On the other hand I was very taken by Wednesday's entry, not just because it comes from TAG member Ryan Woodward but because it so elegantly honors the 117th birthday of Martha Graham.

A Washington Post writer offers his favorites.

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We're back!

As many of you have probably noticed, the site has been inactive since sometime early Wednesday. It was a system-wide issue with Blogger.com; for most of the period we were getting error pages when we tried to post, although a few times I couldn't even get back on the page.

Crossing our fingers that all is better now. Resume your previous activities.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Unprofitable Disney Animation

We're not talking here about the unfortunate Mars Needs Moms, but this:

... Disney disclosed late Tuesday that the operating loss at its interactive business, which makes video games and runs Disney-branded websites, had more than doubled to $115 million in the second quarter through April 2. That highlights just how much of a black hole the operation has become. ...

Diz Co. has been in the video game biz for a while now. Some years back, TAG made a run at organizing the gaming unit. Sadly, we didn't get major traction, but then as now, Disney's digital subsidiary was encountering bumps on the road to profitability. And a number of Disney employees -- all holding term employment contracts -- were getting let go. ("Cost cutting" is a never-ending job.)

When people complained to us about their personal service agreements being truncated, TAG was pleased to provide legal advice, and we helped a sizable number of vid game workers get larger payouts from the Mouse.

This happened long ago in the glorious nineties, when Disney Feature Animation and Disney Television Animation were near their pinnacles. History might not repeat itself, but for Disney Interactive, it seems to be a rhyming couplet.

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Daytime Emmy Noms Announced

**Now with freshly scooped Add-On after the jump ..

AWN reports on the announcement of the nominations for the National Academey of Television, Arts and Sciences Daytime Emmy Awards. In the article, they have listed the animation related categories and their nominations.

Congratulations to all TAG members and signatory studios recognized for your efforts!

After reading the Academy's nomination list, we discovered that winners have been announced in the category of Individual Achievement in Animation:

Today’s announcement of Nominees includes four Winners in the category of Individual Achievement in Animation chosen by a juried panel of peer judges. They are:

  • "Diamond" Dave Merritt, Background Design for Toot & Puddle, NICK Jr.,
  • Vince Toyama Background Design for Transformers Prime, The Hub
  • Christophe Vacher Color Design for Transformers Prime, The Hub
  • Kaz Aizawa Background Painter for T.U.F.F. Puppy, Nickelodeon

Congratulations to TAG members Vince Toyama, Christophe Vacher, and Kaz Aizawa!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

VFX: the experts speak

The latest entertainment industry conference was held in Stuttgart, Germany last week. FMX, which started as a local biennial gathering for students, has grown into an annual "must-attend" meeting for anyone interested in animation, visual effects, games and interactive media.

Two notable speakers at this year's conference were visual effects supervisor and recently re-elected chairman of the Visual Effects Society Jeffrey Okun, and former LucasFilm executive, Digital Domain founder and latest visual effects industry blogger Scott Ross.

Jeff Okun's presentation was titled VFX Politics. Reading a description from an attendee, Mr. Okun describes the rampant nepotism and personal agendas within the vfx and film industry as well as the general insanity that takes place on set during the making of a feature film. In keeping with his direct manner of speaking, Mr. Okun ends his presentation with the following warning:

“What only matters is what ends up on the screen. Nobody will ask you whether everybody had a great time or you barely made it out alive.” ... "[A]lways be aware of the agendas and politics of the people around you."

Scott Ross' contribution to the conference was a report on his views of the current state of the visual effects industry and where he foresees its future. He restated his views on the non-viability of visual effects studios due to unattainable profits, high cost of vfx artist salaries, overseas tax incentives and outsourcing. His solutions center around studios following the example of Pixar and Dreamworks in capitalizing on full ownership of content.

The article points out:

“The VFX community are the people driving the box office, and the film studios know it.”

[Mr. Ross] then points out that on a list of the 20 biggest box-office movies, one is CG animation and 19 are blockbuster visual effects films – and there’s only one really bankable ‘film star’: Johnny Depp. The next 20 entries feature two CG animated movies and 17 VFX movies.

After digesting the two points of view offered from these industry veterans, the option of collective representation for visual effects artists becomes abundantly important. Mr. Okun points out the Industry Is Crazy and doesn't much care about you. Mr. Ross points out VFX Drives Sales and vfx studios need to be desperate in their strategies to stay viable.

The contract achieved through collectively bargaining with visual effects artists through the IATSE would help protect against the insanity that is prevalent in the visual effects world. By delineating workplace standards and providing portable health and pension benefits, visual effects artists would construct a shield for some of the Crazy Mr. Okun describes.

We have argued that signing an IATSE contract could be a cost savings measure to a visual effects studio. Having recently been shown that studios will find necessary funds to complete visual effects when necessary, a union contract with contributions for portable health and pension benefits may now also be a line item cost that vfx studios can add to help shore up profits, thus addressing Mr. Ross' viability concerns.

The IATSE will not be the golden key to solving the problems highlighted by the two presenters or that are prevalent in the industry today. We will be a large factor in providing a stable, healthy and long-term industry to the artists who strive to succeed within its ranks. We feel this is an important factor in remaking the industry and invite all artists to take part.

Sign a Representation Card

Contact Jim Goodman, VFX Organizer for IATSE

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Fox renews Family Guy and Cleveland

BroadcastingCable.com reports that Fox has signed up for a tenth season of Family Guy and a fourth season of The Cleveland Show.

Hardly surprising, but renewals are always good news. Congrats to everyone involved.

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Viki and Kurt Anderson -- Part II

Here is the second half of our TAG interview with board artists Viki and Kurt Anderson ...

TAG Interview with Viki and Kurt Anderson

*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

Viki counts her time on The Iron Giant as one of the most rewarding parts of her career, while Kurt looks back at his eight years at Walt Disney Television Animation as among the most enjoyable in the business. Both are amazed at how much animation has changed from the time they walked through the doors of Hanna-Barbera.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

In the land of the one-headed cartoonist ...

... two-headed cartoonists were king last Friday as "The Two-Headed Cartoonist," a show of comic and fine art by members of the Comic Art Professional Society, opened at Gallery 839.

The show can be seen on Friday, May 13, 20 and 27, from 11 am to 2 pm.

Coming up in June: the work of André Nieves.

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Talking to the Andersons -- Part I

Kurt and Viki Anderson have lent their artistic talents to a myriad of animation projects over the years, everything from television series to features to short subjects ...

TAG Interview with Viki and Kurt Anderson

*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

Kurt is an east-coaster, educated in Rhode Island. He came west with a buddy and landed a job at Hanna-Barbera five minutes after they got a look at his portfolio, and he's been working at a board-artist, director and layout person ever since.

Viki was born and raised in Southern California. She started as an animation assistant at H-B and Disney Feature Animation, becoming a full-blown animator soon thereafter. But she found herself drawn to storyboard work, and now works full time at that part of the business.

We spoke in the conference room of the Animation Guild on April 29, 2011.

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