Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Craft Meeting #2 -- Timing Directors and Animation Checkers

Animation Directors and Animation Checkers met at 1105 N. Hollywood Way at 7 p.m. on August 22nd for the second TAG Craft Meeting.

The Business Representative reviewed current employment (now north of 3500 staff and freelance employees) and the numbers of shows in work at different studios.

Footage rates, part of the contract for the first time, were discussed at length. The current rate of $3.35/foot was thought too low by many, especially if lip assignments are included as part of the job. ..

It was also pointed out that action shows with casts of thousands took more time to do than two-character comedy shows. The current rate will be in effect for 12 months, at which time the footage rate will rise to $3.45/foot.

Directors thought there should be proposals to revise the footage rate in the 2018 contract negotiations, and also revise weekly and daily wage rates. It was noted that the footage rate for timing had been $3 per foot for twenty years, and that reported Pension and Health Contribution hours were "all over the map", with some freelance animation directors being paid 20 hours for a week's work. Under the current contract, for every 100 feet of freelance animation timing, 8 hours of health and pension contributions are provided to the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

It was felt that freelancers should make more than staff animation directors, incentivizing studios to being animation directors in-house. The Business Representative noted that the Guild negotiates wage floors, not ceilings, and directors, board artists, designers are free to negotiate about the minimum rates. No freelance board artists work at the unit rate minimums because no studio used them.

Freelance directors could budget the time spent on assigned footage. Discussion of quantity vs. quality; some attendees thought that it was important to maintain quality to keep the work in Los Angeles. Almost all directors attending were working. The Business Representative said he knew of few directors who weren't working either staff or freelance.

This was a major change from five years ago, when there was far less working many directors weren't employed. Cartoon Network, which has many successful shows, uses timing directors on almost all its productions and most enjoy solid ratings. Many in the room attributed the success of CN's timed shows to more timing work at other studios.

Animation checkers are under pressure to work uncompensated overtime, which continues to be an issue on various shows at different studios for many classifications.

Meeting adjourned at 9:35.

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Adios, Jeffrey

Mr. Katenberg bids farewell to his troops:

... As I've said to many of you over the past week, my work is my happiness. And for 22 years, my happiness has been DreamWorks. But DreamWorks isn't the beautiful campus, the fountain, the panini maker or even the movies, TV shows and incredible entertainment we've created together.

To me, DreamWorks is all of you, the people, who have made it all happen over the years, and who will continue to do so after I drive through those gates for the last time.

But, as Jakob Jensen, a longtime colleague of ours recently reminded me (via Dr Seuss): "don't cry because it's over, be happy because it happened." ...

Jeffrey K. has been heavily involved with the making of cartoon features ever since he rolled onto the Disney lot in the mid eighties and Michael Eisner said to him, "See that building? It's filled with animators. They're your problem now."

Mr. Katzenberg had a seriously successful run creating hand-drawn cartoons at Walt Disney Productions, then more hand-drawn features at DreamWorks Animation. When CG came in, he leaped the great divide and became one of the leaders of the CG revolution. (There was Pixar, there was DreamWorks Animation, and then there was Blue Sky Studios).

DreamWorks Animation had a run of twenty hit pictures in a row, then hit a rough patch. One under-performer followed another, and corporate cash flow ebbed. The studio sold its physical lot in Glendale and then leased the property back, gaining badly needed working capital in the process. Jeffrey K., taking a cue from Uncle Walt's 1950s business model, diversified the stand-alone company, moving it into television, the internet, merchandising and amusement parks. (The only thing DreamWorks Animation didn't take from the earlier Disney model was getting into live-action features.)

Jeffrey spent years working to find a buyer for his cartoon studio, but one deal after another failed to reach consummation. With the rapid construction of a television animation division providing content for Netflix (an earlier version had fizzled out in the middle 1990s) DreamWorks slowly turned itself around. Then Universal Comcast came knocking, a merger was reached, and Jeffrey found himself exiting the company he had helped found.

So for the first time in thirty-plus years, Jeffrey Katzenberg will be a mogul without a big-time movie studio. But please keep your crying hankies pocketed, for Mr. K. was given a nice chunk of change prior to departure. And he's still in his sixties, so there is time for him to grow yet another corporation.

And no doubt he will.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Los Angeles Animation Production

Every so often we review animation productions happening in and around Los Angeles. This is one of those times.

As always, we'll put up a list of shows, but the list will be "ongoing". Meaning, if you see a title that's wrong or a title that's missing (always a sad possibility), post a correction in comments. Adjustments will be made.

And now the list. ...

ANIMATED PROJECTS IN LOS ANGELES *

Bento Box

Bob's Burgers
Legends of Chamberlain Heights

(Other projects in development)

Cartoon Network

Adventure Time
Ben 10
Mighty Magiswords
OK K.O.
Powerpuff Girls
Regular Show
Samurai Jack
Steven Universe
We Bare Bears

(Also shows in development)

Disney TVA

Big Hero 6
Billy Dilly (wrapping up)
Country Club
Duck Tales
Elena of Avinore
Future Worm
Lion Guard
Mickey Mouse shorts
Mickey's Road Racers
Milo Murphy's Law
Penn Zero (wrapping up)
Pickle and Peanut
Puppy Capers (Wild Canary)
Star Vs. Forces of Evil
Sheriff Calley (Wild Canary)
Tangled

(Multiple shows in development by Disney-owned Advanced Media)

DreamWorks Animation (feature)

Trolls
The Boss Baby (production work out of county)
Captain Underpants (prod. work out of county)
The Croods 2 (in development)
Larrikins (in development)
How to Train Your Dragon 3 (in development)
Shrek 5 (recently announced)
Untitled Shadows Project

DreamWorks Animation TV

DreamWorks Dragons
Monsters vs. Aliens
VeggieTales in the House
All Hail King Julien
The Adventures of Puss in Boots
Dinotrux
Dawn of the Croods
Voltron: Legendary Defender
Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh
Trollhunters
Spirit Riding Free
Cow Boy

(Other shows in development.)

Fox Animation

American Dad
Family Guy
The Simpsons

Hasbro

Transformers
Transformers Rescue Bots
Micronauts
Stretch Armstrong
My Little Pony (scripts)

Marvel Animation

Avengers Assemble
Guardians of the Galaxy
Spiderman (newer version)

Nickelodeon

Bug Salad (6 eps)
Bunsen Is A Beast
Fairly Odd Parents (scripts)
Glitch Tech
Harvey Beaks
Hey Arnold
Loud House
Pig Goat Banana Cricket
Pinky Malinky
Shimmer and Shine
Sponge Bob Square Pants
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Renegade

Tom & Jerry (non-Guild)

Robin Redbreast (Titmouse)

Home: Adventures with Tip and Oh (DWA tv series for Netflix)
Future-Worm! (Disney series)
Nikko and the Sword of Light (Amazon series)
Big Mouth (Netflix series)

Rough Draft

(Multiple Disney projects - T.B.A.)

Shadow Machine

Bojack Horseman (non-Guild)

Splash Entertainment

Chloe's Closet (non-Guild)
Norm of the North (2 short features - non-Guild)

Stoopid Buddies Stoodios

Buddy Thunderstruck (non-Guild)
Camp WWE (non-Guild)
The Grand Slams (web series - non-Guild)
Robot Chicken (non-Guild)
Supermansion (non-Guild)

Warner Animation Group

Lego Batman Movie
Lego Ninjago Movie
Smallfoot
S.C.O.O.B.

Warner Bros. Animation

Justice League Action
Be Cool Scooby Doo
Wabbit
Mike Tyson Mysteries
Teen Titans Go!
D.C. Girls
Green Eggs and Ham (limited Netflix series)
Vixens (web series)
Unikitty
Bunnicula
Wacky Racers
Dorothy of Oz

(Also various video features in work)

Universal Cartoon Studios

Curious George
Alvin and the Chipmunks
Land Before Time

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Moana (nearing end of production)
Gigantic
Wreck-It Ralph 2

(Plus various projects in development.)

There is ongoing re-structuring going on in the Los Angeles animation industry. Disney TVA is outsourcing more production to local studios such as Wild Canary, Robin Red Breast, and Rough Draft. Walt Disney Animation Studios (Diz Co.'s feature arm) is completing the refurbishing of the Hat Building on Riverside Drive; with a gap between Moana and the next feature, it's also reducing staff somewhat.

Hasbro is moving its L.A. production offices to the former Yahoo Building just south of the Burbank/Bob Hope Airport. Fox Animation is now producing The Simpsons, with the production located in the Pinnacle complex in Burbank (not at Fox Animation's Wilshire Boulevard studio).

Matt Groening's new Netflix series is in development, but we haven't pinned down exactly where it's being developed. So this show (whever it is) we can consider "in process".

* Kindly note that almost all TV animation production in L.A. is pre-production (scripts, storyboards, designs, background keys, etc.) and post-production (editing, dubbing, etc.)

Most feature work is done in Southern California, soup to nuts, but there are some DreamWorks Animation features and all Warner Animation Group features that are produced outside of California. Illumination Entertainment (of Universal Comcast) does some pre-production of its theatrical long-forms in Southern California, but production work is done in Paris, France.



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Monday, August 22, 2016

The Top Title of '16

If you were wondering, it's this:

'Finding Dory’ Still Top Movie of 2016 ...

The Pixar entry's global earnings to date are $915,943,343.

Over the weekend it was still in 450 theaters stateside, and took in just under a million bucks. (This after ten weeks of release.) It's made $478.4 million across the fruited plain.

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Marriage Consummated

From a noontime announcement.

Comcast Corp. has closed its $3.8 billion acquisition of DreamWorks Animation, four months after announcing its plans to buy the studio.

Dreamworks Animation will become part of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, which includes Universal Pictures, Fandango and NBCUniversal Brand Development and is headed by Jeff Shell. Comcast made the announcement after the market closed Monday.

The deal calls for DWA stockholders to receive $41 in cash for each share of DWA common stock. DWA shares will no longer be listed on the NASDAQ. ...

DreamWorks Animation employees have asked: "Is the studio going to stop being Guild after it changes ownerhsip?"

A DWA lawyer confirmed with us this afternoon that DreamWorks Animation (feature and television) is still under TAG's collective bargaining agreement. Nothing changes, except that the company ceases being a corporation with its own stock and now exists as a division under the Universal-Comcast umbrella.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

INTERNATIONAL BOX OFFICE

The Secret Life of Pets is chewing through the global box office.

Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

The Secret Life Of Pets -- $45,000,000 -- ($674,500,000)

Suicide Squad -- $38,000,000 -- ($572,700,000)

Jason Bourne -- $11,300,000 -- ($278,800,000)

Ben-Hur -- $10,700,000 -- ($22,100,000)

Finding Dory -- $6,700,000 -- ($915,700,000)

War Dogs -- $6,500,000 -- ($20,800,000)

Ice Age: Collision Course -- $3,430,000 -- ($314,909,701)

Sausage Party -- $2,100,000 -- ($71,326,019)

The Jungle Book -- $2,100,000 -- ($955,500,000) ...

A fine trade journal gives us highlights:

... With a $45M weekend in 53 markets, The Secret Life of Pets leapfrogged over another motley bunch as Suicide Squad came in with a $38M third session in 64. ...

Kubo and the Two Strings opened in eight international markets with an estimated $900K. ...

Sony’s Sausage Party stuffed $2.1M into the bun on 540+ screens in 13 markets. The overseas cume is $6M. ...

Disney’s The Jungle Book swung a 30% drop in its second weekend in Japan to post a $2.1M frame. That was after strong midweeks. The total there after 11 days is $13.7M.


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Jurassic Park's Visual Building Blocks

"Computers are a tool."



You hear the above said a lot. The well-worn "computers are just one of many wrenches and screw-drivers in the production tool box." But today, they are often the Main Event. The thing that producers of big-budget, event motion pictures rely on.

Jurassic Park holds up almost q quarter-century after its making because it relies on animatronic puppets and close-ups of skin and eyes and claws to make the audience believe the dinos are there.

Two and a half decades later, it's easier to make the CGI do the heavy lifting. Which makes the cumulative power of some (many?) of the screen images weaker.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Wander ...

... Over Yonder.

It's cancellation was announced some months back, but this:

... News of [Wander Over Yonder's] cancellation reached the team after season two had been written but before it had even premiered–Disney thought that 80 episodes was “enough,” and the fact that the show garnered better ratings in repeats than premieres seemed to bolster that. While the crew was both open and optimistic in their discussions about Disney’s handling of the show, ... it was pretty disheartening to see that Disney both refused to let the show take a serialized turn in season 2 (which discourages repeat viewings) and then doubling down on that by cancelling. ...

The compromise the writers reached after being turned down for serialization–to have four 22 minute “plot” episodes and the rest as 11 minute stand-alones–earned the series a bit more time in the spotlight (including a review slot on the AV Club), but also some accompanying frustration from fans who came in looking for a more narrative-driven, Gravity Falls sort of experience rather than a stylistic hybrid. Wander Over Yonder is a weird, earnest show that was only starting to find its niche before it was cancelled. ...

Word circulates that Disney TVA is restructuring a bit. There are more shows being outsourced to smaller L.A. studios (this saves the Big D money) and some series receive smaller episode orders. Both Netflix and Disney have decided that fifty-something episodes work just fine.

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End of Summer Box Office

Three animated features inhabit The List of Ten, but Kubo does not start strong.

WEEKEND DOMESTIC BOX OFFICE

1). Suicide Squad (WB), 3,924 theaters (-331) / 3-day cume: $20.9M (-52%) / Per screen avg.: $5,315 /Total cume: $262.4M/ Wk 3

2). Sausage Party (SONY/APP), 3,103 theaters (0) / 3-day cume: $15.5M (-55%)/ Per screen: $4,991 /Total cume: $65.5M/Wk 2

3). War Dogs (WB), 3,258 theaters / 3-day cume: $14.7M / Per screen: $4,507 / Wk 1

4). Kubo And The Two Strings (FOC), 3,260 theaters / 3-day cume: $12.6M / Per screen: $3,868/Wk 1

5). Pete’s Dragon (DIS), 3,702 theaters / 3-day cume: $11.3M (-47%)/ Per screen avg: $3,066 /Total cume: $42.9M Wk 2

6). Ben-Hur (PAR/MGM), 3,084 theaters / 3-day cume: $11.2M / Per screen: $3,633 /Wk 1

7). Jason Bourne (UNI), 2,887 theaters (-641) / 3-day cume: $8M (-42%)/ Per screen: $2,777 /Total cume: $140.9M/ Wk 4

8). Bad Moms (STX), 2,811 theaters (-377)/ 3-day cume: $7.9M (-30%)/ Per screen: $2,827 /Total cume: $85.7M/ Wk 4

9). The Secret Life Of Pets (ILL/UNI), 2,404 theaters (-554) / 3-day: $5.9M(-35%)/ Per screen: $2,446 /Total cume: $346.8M / Wk 7

10.) Florence Foster Jenkins (PAR), 1,528 theaters (0)/ 3-day cume: $4.4M (-34%)/ Per screen: $2,869 /Total cume: $14.5M/Wk 2

11). Star Trek Beyond (PAR), 1,966 theaters (-611) / 3-day cume: $3.9M (-43%) / Per screen: $2,007 / Total cume: $146.9M / Wk 5 ...

Sausage Party declined a precipitous 66% first week to second, but a lot of schools are now back in session, so that was probably inevitable. No picture had a strong box office hold. The well-reviewed remake Pete's Dragon will have earned $42,500,000. Its overseas rollout has scarcely begun.

Kubo's international performance remains to be seen.


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Friday, August 19, 2016

The Powerhouse Known As Animation

Five Thirty Eight, known as a polling aggregator for American politics, and also a sports blog (it's owned by ESPN/Disney) has done a breakdown and analysis of animated features and the studios that make them.

The domestic box office made $11.3 billion last year ... [of which] animated movies pulled in $1.4 billion. ...

So far this year, digital animation has accounted for 21 percent of domestic box office revenue. ... Although the annual number of tickets sold overall is down since 2000, that’s not true for animated movies — those numbers are up, entirely thanks to the genre’s digital branch. ...

Five Thirty Eight shows, in various graphs and charts, the grosses for animated features going back twenty years, pointing out that digital animation has exploded over the past two decades, enriching a plethora of companies and causing even more product to be made year after year. The website's conclusion?

... The animation field is ... somehow bigger than all the studios [doing animation].

“The Lego Movie,” the top-grossing animated movie of 2014, was made by none of [the regular animation producers]. It was produced by Warner Bros., (animation by Animal Logic), and there are sequels and spinoffs to come.

“Sausage Party,” which I understand is essentially pornography but still made $34 million in its opening weekend, was not made by any of these wholesome firms. Rovio, a cell phone game maker, commissioned an “Angry Birds” movie, which went ahead and made $100 million domestically. The commercialism is getting out of control! ...

In actual fact, animation is proving that it has broad global appeal, even when it comes in an R-rated format. As TAG blog has previously noted, cartoons are a form of story presentation, not a genre.

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Then There's THIS Regarding Board Artists

The craft meeting last Tuesday covered a lot of workplace issues, but it didn't cover one hugely important subject, raised by a veteran board artist:

... I decided to take my pension. It was a hard decision. Who wants to leave their career?

I had well over 60,000 hours, so it was doable. I have also segued into teaching.

Here's what pertains to our industry and me personally:

For me, this was a stress and eye related move. Storyboard has become untenable. It's been mentioned for years. And I know that nothing will change.

With the advent of cintiqs, board artists are ruining their eyes, [staring endlessly at computer screens]. I have gotten letters from so many artists, a number of them from Pixar. They are having retinal detachments.

Wacom says the cintiqs were designed for four hours of work a day. Staring into an LED blue light is the light that damages the retina.

I called UCLA a while back and asked them if any studies had been done on the effect of cintiqs/LED light. I explained that artists stare close to the monitor for eight hours. The research/clinical trial person told me there would be no trial unless wacom paid for it.

We are canaries in the coal mine and I am hearing more about it. Artists will not speak up about it because they do not want to rock the boat.

-- Sharon Forward

We should point out that while wacom tablets are terrific, innovative devices, artists' faces peer down at them from inches away. It's like sitting a foot from your wall-mounted flat-screen tv eight or more hours per day.

So besides damaged, misaligned backs and blown wrists from repetitive-stress injuries, artists need to watch out for eye damage:

... A 2015 report from The Vision Council, "Hindsight Is 20/20/20: Protect Your Eyes from Digital Devices", found that 61 percent of Americans have experienced eye strain after prolonged use of electronic devices — nearly 2 out of every 3 people. Long-term damage or not, we have an outbreak of eye strain. ...

One difficulty for artists in the business is, there's not a lot of long-term research about eye damage from sustained viewing of computer screens. even so, it's good to take precautions. Industry veterans have told us:

1) Wear yellow-lensed glasses while working to reduce blue light;

2) Take rest breaks; walk around and stretch your back;

3) Don't put your nose too close to the cintiq.

Paper storyboards are over. Artists must do what they can to proect their eyes and physical well-being.

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Biggest Welfare Queens Around Are Movie Conglomerates

Some fool shooting off his mouth:

“Every studio can get the work done cheaper now. All they have to do is outsource it to a job shop, and let the job shops bid on the work, and they’ll lowball each other to get [the work]. It is a low-margin business, because everybody is bidding against one another.” ...

"Sending work to Canada] makes good business sense; if you can get some chucklehead — in this case, the Canadian taxpayer — to cough up 50 cents on the dollar for you to do your movie up there, why not? It doesn’t make sense not to. The biggest welfare queens around are movie conglomerates. All they do is go where there’s free money. If you’re poor and getting a subsidy, you’re beneath contempt, but it’s perfectly OK if you’re a large corporation.” ...

Okay, so maybe the "fifty cents on the dollar" remark was a wee bit hyperbolic. The subsidies are moving around a bit, but you get the idea.

When you've got a nice tax credit, a good exchange rate, and a work force that doesn't have to be paid overtime because of favorable provincial labor regulations, large entertainment conglomerates, and the studios that suckle at their large full teats, stampede to your door.

I've had more than one entertainment potentate explain to me how the major studios now look at which geographical locations offer subsidies, and go where the Free Money is.

It's hard to blame them for it makes good business sense, but let's call this practice what it is: government welfare for the good folks we call entertainment companies.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Combatants??

A fresh food fight has erupted between Cartoon Brew and Rick and Morty, baked lasagna flying with carefree abandon:

Class act @JustinRoiland loved his Rick & Morty crew so much that he created a shell company to avoid having to give them health care. ...

This looks to be old news to us, because R & M has been signed to a Guild agreement from some time. TAG responded: ...

@cartoonbrew @JustinRoiland To let folks know, "R and M" has been a fine TAG 839 show for a while now, No issues.

Rick and Morty today chugs merrily along, with the crew getting full health and pension benefits under the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

Also too, the Guild makes regular visits to Rick & Morty's offices in Beautiful Downtown Burbank. There are no complaints, and the show is rolling right along.

Add On: And the Brew tweets:

@839_BizRep Aware of that. But JR decided to rehash a two-year-old story b/c it still rankles him that we covered the unionization efforts. ...

Maybe everyone should let this lie, yes? But then, Twitter wars are the new non-contact sport.

Add On Too: Further research shows that old Twitter posts went viral again because of the situation in Vancouver ... and events took their course. (Old Zombified issues occasionally come back to life, proving the immortality of all things internet!)

To reiterate: the past is the past, and R & M crew is doing fine.

And here comes Season #3:

... [W]e’ll be getting to know some of the characters in the Galactic Federation prison. ...

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A Disney-Hasbro Marriage?

Seeking Alpha (an investment site) wonders.

... The Walt Disney Company is adopting the evolving industry trends after losing more than 7 million ESPN subscribers since 2013. Disney has responded to continued cord cuttings with seemingly small but crucial investment in BAMTECH, which will help the company roll out an ESPN-based multi-sport streaming service.

Disney is implementing a long-term plan that revolves around penetrating direct-to-consumer video streaming market. In the meanwhile, Disney is working on the multi-year expansion of theme parks and resorts by adding new attractions to compete with Dalian Wanda Group and Comcast. Similarly, Disney has scheduled movie releases well into the next decade to benefit from expected growth in global per capita film spending. ...

Disney is not very good at selling toys, which is evident from the disappointing sales performance Playmation and substantial discounts on Marvel-based connected wearables. Hasbro, on the other hand, utilizing franchised and licensed brands to generate healthy sales and profits growth.

Hasbro is one of the primary beneficiaries of favorable toys & games industry dynamics due to its strong storytelling abilities. According to Euromonitor, with a substantial improvement over the past five years, the U.S. toys & games industry sales will grow at a CAGR of 3% by 2020. However, on the global scale, the growth prospects are even brighter due to improving per capita income in emerging markets. ...

Of course, Hasbro is also in the cartoon-making business, which is well inside Diz Co.'s wheelhouse.

But that wouldn't stop the Mouse if it thought buying Hasbro would be a good buying opportunity. (Disney has purchased cartoon companies before, after all, because John Lasseter and Ed Catmull. And if Hasbro is a toy/game powerhouse and Disney believes that it needs one of those, why not do a buyout?)

The question is, does the purchase of Hasbro make corporate sense to Robert Iger and co.? And what would become of Hasbro's animation arm? And new Irish studio? These are things to ponder.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why All The Success?

Now that the old meme "Animation is failing because all the animated features are cannibalizing each other!" has faded into the roiling mist, a trade journal ponders... and answers ... the question above:

... [A]nimation has been the story — and savior — of the disappointing 2016 box office.

Three of the ten highest-grossing animated movies of all time hit theaters this year, with “Dory” in the top spot, as it gulped down $476.8 million at the domestic box office and $897.6 billion worldwide. Disney’s “Zootopia” and “The Secret Life of Pets” from Universal’s Illumination Entertainment placed ninth and 10th, with $341.3 million and $336.2 million, respectively. ...

One distinct advantage of animation over live action is that it’s not terribly difficult to produce customizable alternate language versions that look perfectly natural, with characters’ mouth movements aligned with the specific soundtrack. ...
but the fact that these movies are good helps even more. ...

Hollywood hasn’t forgotten how to make good movies in at least one genre. The kids are not just all right — they’re keeping the box office afloat.

It's eve simpler than that.

Animated features, though they've become more captive to Hollywood's corporate movie-making machinery than previously, are still less caught up in the live-action power structure.

Board artists who know the craft still have considerable input with story development.

Newer talent can move up to director slots.

Some studio management does understand that animation development can't be done in the same way as live-action. (The more successful stuff is driven by visuals, not dialogue.)

And the media is finally accepting the reality that animation is a mode of story-telling, not a genre. When a live-action feature fails, neither Variety, the L.A. Times nor Deadline blather on about "cannibalization" or an "over-crowded live-action lineup." They say the movie kind of sucked, and so it didn't make much money.

The same exact cause-and-effect applies to animation. No cartoon eats another cartoon. The bad cartoons simply fail. (Simple, no?)

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Surf's Up Once More

For those who don't recall, Surf's Up was Sony Pictures Animation's second animated feature, and a movie that, by and large, received glowing reviews. It opened at #4 at the box office in June 2007 and went on to gross $58,867,694 in North America, and $90,176,819 in the rest of the world. (The total take was $149,044,513).

Chris Buck and Ash Brannon helmed the original. Mr. Buck subsequently returned to Disney and co-directed Frozen. Mr. Brannon has since directed Rock Dog, scheduled for American release in early 2017.

Henry Yu the sequel Surf's Up 2: Wavemania, coming in early 2017. Today a short trailer for the feature dropped:



The first picture was produced in Culver City, California. The second was done by CG studio Rainmaker Entertainment, Inc. located in Vancouver, Canada. There are a lot of CG animation and visual effects facilities in Vancouver, due to large amounts of Free Money being handed out by the provincial government. (The Free Money is working.

Most of our fine entertainment conglomerates are in Vancouver and other Canadian provinces, vacuuming up cash as they do live-action productions, animated productions, and loads of visual effects. This is now the way the game is played: locate a generous subsidy, go and slurp it down.

Welcome to the brave new world of Free Enterprise.


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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Craft Meeting #1 -- Storyboard Artists and Storyboard Revisionists

photo - Bronwen Barry.

Tuesday night, one hundred and thirty artists packed the upstairs meeting hall of the Animation Guild to discuss the state of the animation industry, finer points of the contract, and how professional lives can be made better inside studio walls. ...

THUMBNAIL NOTES

One year into the 2015-2018 contract, there are 3750 people at signator studios.

Staffing levels continue to be robust, and board supervisors at some studios continue to say it's difficult to hire and hang onto seasoned talent.

Disney Television Animation is doing some restructuring, and outsourcing some shows to Rough Draft (recently signed to a contract), Wild Canary, and Robin Red Breast/Titmouse in Hollywood.

New Media (Streaming Video On Demand and other internet-delivered content) will be one of the major negotiating items during 2018 contract negotiations. A number of new artists are working below minimum wage rates because their jobs happen to be under the New Media sideletter, and none of the New Media productions reach budgetary tiers that trigger higher minimums.

The Business Representative noted that the sideletter in the 2015-2018 contract reflects live action budgets that are considerably higher than TV animation budgets. But the sideletter is almost identical to other New Media sideletters, and one size doesn't really fit all, but that's what we've got.

Studio tests have been a hot button topic at recent General Membership Meetings. A Guild Testing Abuse Committee has been created and is reviewing a sample studio test. It's recommended that the test be no longer than thirty panels with ten of those panels being "clean-ups". It recommended a 72-hour turnaround time for each test. The committee is now waiting to hear back from the studio on its proposal.

Uncompensated Overtime. The biz rep said that uncomped o.t. has been a long-term problem. Artists continue to work free extra hours because production deadlines are too tight and a number of artists are perfectionists regarding their work. Several veteran board artists said that individuals need to stop working free o.t. and sepak to production when schedules can't be met. Too many employees do uncomped work because they're frightened of blowing a deadline.

It was pointed out that that artists need to communicate how much work they can get done in forty hours, and work looser where necessary. Several artists said that production needs to be told "no" when something can't be done. Quality artists who are somewhat slower than the norm continue to be employed because talent remains at a premium in the Los Angeles labor marketplace.

Several artists stated it was important for story crews to communicate among themselves and share information. Exchanging work-load info about different shows in on a TAG 839 private Facebook page operated by members was noted as a good way for artists to know how much work was expected (and done) on various TV series

Many Production Schedules are tight and unreasonable because production managers have a distorted idea abut how much work can be done on a forty-hour basis because of uncompensated overtime. Several artists said a culture and community needs to be built that can push back on free work being done.

Freelance Work. The business agent and two executive board members reviewed the Unit Rate Wages in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (pages 76-79). All three noted that the minimum wage rates are low and no studios use them. The bigger problem are the Pension and Health contribution hours are low, although they were raised 30-35% in the last contract negotiation.

Questions were asked about daily minimum wage rates vs. weekly minimum wage rates. The business agent said that daily rates are 117.719% above weekly rates, 10% of which is a premium, while 7.719% constitutes vacation and holiday pay.

Animatics were discussed. The business agent emphasized that animatics work is under the jurisdiction of the Editors Guild, not the Animation Guild. The biz rep said that the Editors have filed a grievance against Cartoon Network over animatics, and under which guild's jurisdiction it should be placed. Several Warner Bros. Animation artists said that Warners has them doing animatics work. The business representative stated he'd reported this to the Editors Guild.

It was noted that many board artists do animatics where the Editors Guild has no contract. The biz rep said artists should charge for the time they do animatics because it's important they be compensated for their time. One board artist said that since employees are asked to be layout artists, storyboard artists, writers and animatics editors, they should be paid for each of those jobs. The business agent said if the extra work puts them into overtime as storyboarders, they should charge overtime for it.

There was general agreement that members need to push on issues that could become bargaining proposals in 2018.

The meeting, which began at 7:02 p.m. was gaveled to a close at 9:32.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

The Teasers Keep Coming

Moana, even as the surfacers and lighters finish their work ...



And don't forget the Warner Animation Group.



The feature rolls out in September.

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Trouble in Vancouver?

From the Times:

... On the animation news website Cartoon Brew, several animators who identified themselves as members of the “Sausage Party” crew talked of unpaid overtime, poor working conditions and walkouts at Nitrogen, the Vancouver, Canada-based animation studio that made the film. ...

“The production cost were kept low because Greg would demand people work overtime for free,” said one Cartoon Brew commenter. “Over 30 animators left during the coarse [sic] of the production due to the stress and expectations.” ...

Nitrogen Studios Chief Executive Nicole Stinn disputed this account.

“These claims are without merit,” Stinn said in a statement. “Our production adhered to all overtime laws and regulations, as well as our contractual obligations with our artists.” ...

Me, I don't know if alleged animators' alleged claims have merit or not.

And I'm not versed in British Columbian labor regulations, so who knows?

What I do know is that animation contractors often low-ball their bids to land a project, then squeeze the crew to bring the production in on budget.

Is this what happened with Nitrogen and Sausage Party?

Naw. Sony probably went with the high bid because "quality" was their tippy-top priority, profits be damned.

This is what I wrote to Cartoon Brew when they asked for a statement:

Long, unpaid hours aren’t the norm in feature animation studios covered by labor contracts, but it happens often in low-budget grind shops. Sony is in Vancouver for two reasons: 1) the animation studios are non-union and often willing to offer a competitive (i.e. low) bid to get projects inside their walls, and 2) the Free Money that the provincial tax payers (bless their generous hearts) hand out to entertainment conglomerates is substantial.

The fact that the supervisors on “Sausage Party” [allegedly] demanded that animators hit their deadlines without overtime or additional compensation is a feature of these kinds of productions, not a bug. And a young crew, desperate to break into animation, will put up with the abuse and general horsesh*t because they are keen to hang onto their jobs (underpaid though they may be). The watchwords are “don’t rock the boat”; the goal is to just hang on until the show wraps. Understand that most staffers are in their twenties, and (sadly) a kind of Stockholm Syndrome develops.

[The allegation] that animators were denied screen credit because they didn’t toe the line would, if true, demonstrate an amazing level of petty vindictiveness. But it’s occurred before on animated projects and will likely rear its ugly head again. ...

Of course, maybe the production was above board as Ms. Stinn claims.

Maybe no threats, pressure or retribution went on.

And maybe this person commenting at CB is a troll:

This was my first job on a feature film, after watching it the other day I was very impressed how everything came together and how good it looked. Feeling super proud to be a part of this groundbreaking project.

The awe & excitment quickly turned sour after the credits had rolled with my name not showing up. I was on the animation team for just over a year, at the start of production, but had to seek employment elsewhere due to visa issues. Through emails towards the end of my contract, I felt I left on good terms with the studio.

Apparently not.

The people I worked with at Nitrogen were incredible. Some of the most friendly and down to earth folk I have ever met. It's a massive shame we weren't credited for all the hard work we put into this movie. I honestly can't understand the angle Nitrogen was going for and why you'd want to burn bridges with all this great talent after your first feature.

I've been at this union gig too long, because I've seen this sort of stuff go down many times before. At Klasky-Csupo. At Bluth-Sullivan. Even at union studios where a production supervisor got a teensy bit overbearing.

When low budgets collide with the crew's health and well-being, the people cobbling the movie together fourteen hours per day often lose. It's a reality as old as film-making.

More on the fun at Nitrogen here and here.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Latest Animated Hit

... is more Fritz the Cat than Toy Story 3. An entertainment journal explains why it prospered:

1. It’s one of a few original concepts. ...

2. Fans who saw it early liked it. ...

3. A very popular trailer. The trailer was viewed more than 182 million times when it dropped, marking the biggest red-band trailer launch in Sony history. ...

4. Sizzling reviews. The film started last week with a super-high 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, which settled into a still-glowing 83 percent. ...

5. Timing was key. ...

6. Seth Rogen got creative with marketing. He ... was featured in a video with a talking cantaloupe. And Rogen narrated original food recipe videos — just to name two examples. Indeed, the movie’s marketing budget was spent on online promotion — approximately four times more than the 12 percent that’s usually allocated. ...

Also too, Rogen has spent years building the Rogen brand. This is the End, Superbad, Neighbors, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Knocked Up, come on already. Seth is known for raunchy comedies, and SP sails right down the middle of that fairway.

Various critics are amazed audiences turn out for a naughty cartoon, but they apparently missed the memo (now widely circulated) that animation is a style of presentation, not a genre. R-rated animated features should be ... and eventually will be ... no rarer than R-rated live-action comedies. (That other Seth, the one named MacFarlane, also knows a lot about edgy animated and live-action comedies, having made his share).

Sausage Party also has the benefit of being produced with Free Money, since it was made in Canada. And when production costs stay low, it becomes easier to see your movie go into profits. Seth's latest animated feature looks to be making money in relatively short order.

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International Box Office

This week's overseas (and world) totals.

WEEKEND FOREIGN BOX OFFICE -- (WORLD TOTALS)

Suicide Squad -- $58,700,000 -- ($465,400,000)

The Secret Life Of Pets -- $40,000,000 -- ($592,600,000)

Sausage Party -- $2,600,000 -- ($36,200,000)

Jason Bourne -- $18,600,000 -- ($246,200,000)

Finding Dory -- $8,100,000 -- ($897,400,000)

The Jungle Book -- $6,200,000 -- ($947,800,000)

Pete's Dragon -- $5,100,000 -- ($26,600,000)

The Legend Of Tarzan -- $4,100,000 -- ($347,008,688)

Ice Age: Collision Course -- $6,100,000 -- ($305,942,747)

Star Trek Beyond -- $2,500,000 -- ($211,279,949)

Independence Day: Resurgence -- $1,300,000 -- ($382,570,912)

X-Men: Apocalypse -- $3,100,000 -- ($539,701,327)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $1,700,000 -- ($239,012,726) ...

Kindly note that, as it is with domestic box office, so it is with international. Lots of CG cartoons, and lots of live-action with animated visual effects. There seems to be a trend.

... An $8.1M weekend lifts Finding Dory to $420.6M internationally and $897.4M worldwide. ...

Swinging up a further $6.2M in four territories, Disney’s The Jungle Book opened notably in Japan, its final market. The four-day haul in Japan was $6.2M. That wasn’t good enough to top The Secret Life Of Pets, but there’s no need to shed a tear for little Mowgli and big Baloo, as the film closes in on $950M worldwide. ...

Skating past $300M globally, Ice Age: Collision Course added $6.1M this frame in 52 international markets. France was the top holdover at $854K for a 47% drop in its 5th week. The cume there is $20.1M. Germany also held well in its 6th frame for a total $22.6M. ...

Never underestimate the power of pet owners. With a $40M weekend, The Secret Life Of Pets helped push Universal Pictures International over the $1B mark for the 10th consecutive year. ...

Sausage Party is just getting started overseas where rollout began in nine markets this frame to ring up $2.6M from over 470 screens. ...

Pete's Dragon opened to $5.1M. With an A CinemaScore domestically and great reviews, it’s still got a lot of play to go overseas. The major launch markets were Russia, Italy and the UK. ...


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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Seventy-Four Years Ago ..



Disney's Bambi opened in theaters nationwide. Today the film looks quaint but in its time many artists felt it was as realistic as artists could attain.

Joe Grant told me Designer Rico LeBrun had a hunter friend bring in a real deer he shot in the Sierras. LeBrun set up drawing and anatomy sessions to study the dead animal.

But LeBrun was so inspired by the opportunity he refused to dispose of the carcass even after several days. And it began to smell badly and attract flies. Finally the other animators waited until LeBrun had left for lunch and tossed the rancid thing. Walt arranged to bring in some live deer.

-- TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito (aka "Mr. History")


My favorite Bambi story was told to me by Disney veteran Frank Thomas:

The picture was finished and a bunch of us went with Walt to a sneak preview in L.A.

The movie started showing and was going over pretty well. Then it got to the scene where Bambi's mother is shot, and Bambi wanders through the snow crying out "Mo-ther! MO-ther!" You could hear a pin drop. Then some wise guy up in the balcony shouts back: "Here I am Bambi! Here I AM!"

I leaned out and looked down the row at Walt. You could almost see the steam coming out of his ears." ...

Bambi today is a well-loved classic, but it didn't turn a profit until its second release in 1947. The first animated feature into development after Snow White, it was the last pre-war animated feature to be released. There wouldn't be another until Cinderella in 1950.

Add On: Screenwriter William Goldman, in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, has this to say about Walt Disney's fifth animated feature:

... Deer Hunter told me [what] I already knew and believed in: No matter how horrid the notion of war, Robert de Niro would end up staring soulfully at the beautiful, long-suffering Meryl Streep.

So I say in spite of its skill and the seriousness of its subject matter, we have a well-disguised comic-book movie. Nothing shook my world.

Okay, Bambi.

If the shower scene in Psycho was the shocker of the sixties, and for me, it sure was, then its equivalent in the entire decade of the forties was when Bambi’s mother dies.

And what about that line of dialogue ‘Man has entered the forest’?

And the fire, and the incredibly strong anti-violence implications […]

I know it was a cartoon. I know Thumper had one of the great scene-stealing roles, I know there was a lot of cuteness.

But I left that movie changed.

It had, and has, a terrifying sense of life to it, and not life as we like it to be. You may think I’m crazy, and you may be right, but Bambi still reverberates inside me. ...

So says Willian Goldman, author of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, All the President's Men and on and on.

And he ought to know (even though Goldman maintains that "Nobody knows anything.")

Despite the assertion, I say William G. knows his movies.

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Your American Box Office

Animated features keep landing near the top of the Big List, Sausage Party being the latest.

DOMESTIC WEEKEND GROSSES

1). Suicide Squad (WB), 4,255 theaters (0) / $13.3M Fri./ $17.9M Sat (+34%) / $12.5M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $43.8M (-67%) /Total cume: $222.9M/ Wk 2

2). Sausage Party (SONY/APP), 3,103 theaters / $13.6M Fri (includes $3.25M previews)/ $11.4M Sat (-16%) / $8.7M Sun. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $33.6M / Wk 1

3). Pete’s Dragon (DIS), 3,702 theaters / $7M Fri. / $8.4M Sat (+20%) / $6.2M Sun. (-26%) / 3-day cume: $21.5M / Wk 1

4). Jason Bourne (UNI), 3,528 theaters (-511) / $3.9M Fri. /$5.9M Sat (+53%) / $3.8K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $13.6M (-39%)/Total cume: $126.9M/ Wk 3

5). Bad Moms (STX), 3,188 theaters (-27)/ $3.6M Fri. /$4.5M Sat (+26%) / $3.4M Sun. (-25%) / 3-day cume: $11.45M (-18%)/Total cume: $71.5M/ Wk 3

6). The Secret Life of Pets (ILL/UNI), 2,958 theaters (-459) / $2.5M Fri. / $3.7M Sat (+46%) / $2.6M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day: $8.8M(-23%)/Total cume: $335.9M / Wk 6

7). Star Trek Beyond (PAR), 2,577 theaters (-686) / $1.8M Fri./ $3M Sat (+62%) / $2M Sun. (-32%) / 3-day cume: $6.8M (-32%) / Total cume: $139.7M / Wk 4

8.) Florence Foster Jenkins (PAR), 1,528 theaters / $2.1M Fri. (includes $190K previews) /$2.65M Sat (+27%) / $1.85M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $6.58M / Wk 1

9).Nine Lives (EUR), 2,264 theaters / $1.1M Fri./ $1.4M Sat (+31%) / $990K Sun. (-31%) / 3-day cume: $3.5M (-44%)/Total cume: $13.55M/ Wk 2

10). Lights Out (WB/NL), 1,652 theaters (-929) / $985K Fri. / $1.4M Sat (+38%) / $880K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $3.2M (-46%) / Total cume: $61.1M / Wk 4

...

Farther down the box office roster you will find Ice Age: Collision Course and Finding Dory. The Pixar feature is an unalloyed hit, tracking north of $475 million, but Ice Age, in release for a mere 22 days, has fallen flat, with $57,223,271 in the tote bag.

Happily, the picture has done much better overseas, and has now earned $236,117,791, 80.5% of its $293,341,062 worldwide gross.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Employment At L.A. Animation Studios

As is TAG blog's habit from time to time, we give you the employment numbers at our larger* signator studios.

TOTAL EMPLOYEES BY STUDIO

Bento Box -- 89
Cartoon Network -- 300
Disney Television Animation -- 382
DreamWorks Animation -- 584
Dr4eamWorks Animation TV -- 309
Fox Animation -- 243
Marvel Animation -- 66
Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios -- 288
Paramount Animation -- 65
Rick and Morty -- 54
Robin Red Breast (Titmouse) -- 117
Original Force Animation -- 23
Six Point Two -- 27
Sony Pictures Animation -- 85
Walt Disney Animation Studios -- 570
Warner Animation Group (WAG) -- 47
Warner Bros. Animation -- 275
Wild Canary -- 45
Woodridge (Hasbro) -- 35 ...

Animation work in Los Angeles has grown steadily over the past four years. Studios still strive to hold down costs, however, laying crews off as soon as a current project has ended. But show supervisors continue to complain "We just can't find enough qualified people out there!"

Some studios are restructuring, and some shows are outsourcing storyboards and design work to Canada, but the Los Angeles animation industry continues to do well, even with the cascade of Free Money happening north of our national border.

Globally, animation continues to be a growth industry, booming in Canada, growing in the United Kingdom, making gains at various studios across Europe and South America. China and India are also growing their domestic animation studios, and China is setting up satellite studios (like Original Force) in Southern California.

* Studios with less than twenty (20) employees are not listed.

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Why They Keep Making The Cartoons

This:

Cartoon Network Enterprises announced the addition of new apparel and accessories partners for Rick and Morty, Adult Swim’s animated series. Joining current apparel and accessories partners Ripple Junction and Zen Monkey, Underboss, Bioworld, Hot Properties Merchandising, Daylight Curfew, Hyp and Surreal Entertainment have all signed on to create ranges of products based on the popular original series. ...

Bioworld (Booth #25099) will introduce an assortment of new Rick and Morty accessories including bags, wallets, belts, headwear, wristbands and more, which will be available at specialty stores nationwide this fall.

Hot Properties Merchandising is set to debut key chains, magnets, patches, buttons and stickers this fall at specialty stores nationwide.

Adding to their existing offering of Rick and Morty t-shirts and sweatshirts for men and women, Ripple Junction (Booth #26019) introduced enamel pins earlier this year.

Daylight Curfew introduced limited edition, co-branded apparel, including t-shirts and sweatshirts, as well as a collaboration with Run The Jewels this May. The collection is available on DaylightCurfew.com. ...

And so on and so forth.

It was a challenge getting Rick and Morty under contract. Cartoon Network/Turner treats its Adult Swim content as edgy/experimental/ lower budget fare. And the policy of the suits in the executive suites is to have a lot of AS series ... including R & M ... be non-signator.

Of course, a lot of this "lower budget" product, where the crews work for sub-par wages and benefits. reaps enormous profits for the fine, entertainment conglomerates that own the shows. A lot of those profits come from the t-shirts, jackets, bandanas, leather straps, video games, action figures, and apps for your favorite mobile devices that (let's face the reality squarely) rake in large amounts of currency. This enables the corporations (plus profit participants, if any) to make out like freebooters sailing the South Seas.

Free enterprise, fck yeah!

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

THIS Will Test the Waters

The Reporter tells us:

... Sausage Party, debuting in roughly 2,800 theaters, has the potential to be a breakout hit, thanks to a modest budget, glowing reviews and producing duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team behind This Is the End. The pair partnered with Annapurna's Megan Ellison and Sony to make the movie, which is about a brave sausage who leads his fellow hot dogs on a quest to learn what really happens when they leave the grocery store. ...

Ah, but it's so much more than a tale of food exiting the market. ....

SP has 83% of discerning critics saying "This is a bit of okay!" with a 95% want-to-see rating.

Over the next four days, we'll discover what that high percentage desire translates into at the American box office.

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A Moment In Time

Observe top movies (per Box Office Mojo) released worldwide ...

HIGHEST GROSSING MOTION PICTURES

1. Captain America 3 -- $1,151,887,060
2. Zootopia -- $1,023,138,866
3. The Jungle Book -- $941,315,813
4. Batman v Superman -- $872,662,631
5. Finding Dory --$872,504,409

Three of five moving pictures with the highest worldwide grosses are animated features.

There's Zootopia, a picture with funny animals in clothes. Then The Jungle Book, a picture with funny animals (and some scary ones) without clothes.

And a movie about talking fish.

The other two? They're live-action films with layers of animated visual effects. So it's probably safe to say that animation has made giant inroads into modern movie-making.

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Nick Cartoon's 25th



I went up to Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios this afternoon, but all the cubicles were empty and the lights were off. A tech guy told me: "Everybody's gone to the Equestrian Center for a Nick 25th anniversary party."

Twenty-five years. A lot of animation studios don't last twenty-five years.

Vanessa Coffey (former NickToon exec): ... Because I was into animation, I looked up Nickelodeon as the only game in town for kids. I didn’t know anything about them. I basically cold-called them. They said, “We can’t really afford to do animation, but let’s have you do a special and, while you’re producing this special, we’re going to hire you as a consultant to go see if you can find some original programming.” ...

I basically just started hunting. I went to LA for two weeks in late ‘88 and did pitches every hour. I put the word out to animators: “I’m looking for ideas, I’m looking for concepts. The less developed, the better. I want drawings, not a big pitch.” Nickelodeon gave me an hour and a half that we were going to fill as a block. My idea — and Nickelodeon’s consensus — was to go find whatever you want. I didn’t want a consistent look like Disney. I specifically wanted and was desperate to have three projects that looked completely different. ...

Of course, NickToons has changed a lot since the early nineties.

Now it's heavily corporate. There's more bureaucracy, more superstructure and focus groups, many more chefs sipping the broth (and giving copious notes).

But that's how much of the cartoon business rolls these days. It's not just Nick that's grown thick layers of administrative barnacles. It's every studio that's owned by one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates. Nickelodeon, however, does have its challenges: Disney knocked Nick from the TV animation high perch a few years back; it's had executive turnovers; there is turmoil at the higher reaches of Viacom.

But the division marches on, with several shows in work and a new Burbank office tower on Olive Avenue almost completed. The present (and the future) could certainly be worse.

Here's another fine article on Ms. Coffey and her early days at Nickelodeon, when it was all fresh and new.


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