Sunday, June 30, 2013

TAG's President Emeritus Remembers

June 30, 1933 - A group of actors meet in secret at Frank (the Wizard of Oz) Morgan's house to form the Screen Actors Guild. The secrecy was because studios threatened to blacklist anyone who so much as breathed the word union. Among the founding members that night are James Cagney, Groucho Marx, Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Frederic March, Robert Montgomery and Boris Karloff.

(Karloff is a fascinating man. In the 50s he tried to help makeup man Jack Pierce sue Universal over rights to the famous Monsters. There is little in Shelley's book about what Frankenstein's monster looked like. Pierce made up the famous image of flat-top and bolts in neck. But all he got was straight salary and a layoff when he got too old.) ...

-- Tom Sito, Animation Guild President (emeritus)

In the Land of the Free, most salaried creators are "workers for hire." Which means anything they dream up while on salary belongs to the employer. (No "moral rights" for you!) This was, sadly, Jack Pierce's fate.

The struggle to unionize Hollywood workplaces went on for years after that 1933 meeting. As Ken Orsatti, former SAG executive director, relates: "In 1937, the studios ... signed a contract with the Guild that, for the first time in Hollywood, gave actors a sense of empowerment."

Other workers in Hollywood also had long struggles working to unionize the big studios. Before entertainment guilds and unions gained footholds, there were no standards, few rules, and everybody made his or her own deal. Workers on sets worked killing hours (as one of them said: "We worked until we fell down.") It was the same for animation artists. Long hours and six day weeks were the norm, and there was no additional compensation for the sixth day, only a box lunch (if the artists were lucky.)

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was the engine that propelled many labor unions to victory (and collective bargaining agreements) in Hollywood. It wasn't until 1941 that cartoonists came under the Screen Cartoonists Guild. Eleven years after that, the Animation Guild (then the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists) was born.

The fight to achieve better treatment and more money never really ends. In the 21st century, visual effects artists are working to gain the rights that editors, makeup artists, writers, actors and directors have enjoyed for seventy years. As in the 1930s ... 1960s ... 1990s, it's about leverage.

If the big stars hadn't lined up behind the Screen Actors Guild at Frank Morgan's house at the bottom of the Depression, SAG might never have happened.
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International Box Office

Your foreign takings.

International -- Weekend Take -- (Accumulation)

1) World War Z -- $70,100,000 -- ($135, 300,000)

2) Monsters University -- $44,200,000 -- ($129,300,000)

3) Man Of Steel -- $52,200,000 -- ($271,100,000)

4) Despicable Me 2 -- $41,500,000 -- ($50,000,000)

5) Now You See Me -- $5,000,000 -- ($48,700,000)

6) Fast & Furious 6 -- $6,100,000 -- ($448,700,000)

7) The Hangover 3 -- $7,700,000 -- ($227,500,000)

8) Epic -- $5,100,000 -- ($130,500,000) ...

What leaps out at me is that two of three animated features are doing extremely well in the global marketplace.

Disney has a sizable hit with Monsters University, and Universal/Illumination Entertainment wil be owning have a blockbuster. DM 2, going head-to-head with Monsters in Australia, is the animated feature that came out on top.

There's going to be large numbers of animated features opening this summer; many (most?) will do big business at the turnstiles.

As for the latest international entry, the Nikkster informs us:

Despicable Me 2 opened #1 in five of its 6 new territories this weekend for an early cumulative total of $28M through Friday from the UK-Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, French-speaking Switzerland, and Sweden.

The weekend estimate is for an early total of $48.6M through Sunday. As a comparison in the same seven territories, DM2 is performing well ahead of the original Despicable Me as well as DreamWorks sequels Kung Fu Panda 2 and Madagascar 2 and 3. Gru and his manic minions open in North America in limited release Tuesday night and go wide on Wednesday before the Fourth Of July holiday.

Expectations are for new records in the 38 territories with the U.S./Canada opening next weekend. ...
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Gonna Be Big

This non-Pixar/Disney/DreamWorks/Blue Sky cartoon has been percolating a bit of a while:

Over the weekend, the Universal and Illumination Entertainment sequel -- returning the character Gru and his army of minions to the big screen -- grossed $41.5 million from only seven international markets for an early foreign total of $50 million (it opened in Australia last weekend).

Universal insiders pointed out that Despicable Me 2 came in No. 4 internationally for the weekend, even though Man of Steel, World War Z and fellow animated tentpole Monsters University are playing in many more markets. Disney and Pixar's Monsters U, for example, is playing in 37 territories and earned $44.2 million for the weekend. ...

Despicable 2 -- bowing in North America on Tuesday, the eve of the lucrative July 4th holiday frame -- is pacing ahead of Despicable Me, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Croods, Shrek Forever After and the last two Madagascar pics in the same seven territories.

And in Australia, Despicable 2 is beating Monsters U (a hit in its own right, having crossed $300 million worldwide in its second weekend). Australia is the only market so far where both toons are playing. ...

There's been the worry that animated features will cannibalize one another as they over-saturate the market, but we haven't seen much evidence of that.

Monsters U is doing well and Despicable Me 2 is already tearing up the track in its early release pattern. When there is a movie audiences want to see, they go see that movie. Nobody sits around saying:

"Oh ... wait a minute! We've used up our viewing quota on animation for the month! No more animated features for us!"

Just like nobody ever says that live-action features are over-saturating the market. (Well, maybe live-action features about the White Houe being taken over, but outside of that ...)

If a picture pleases the viewing public, that public will show up to watch it. The format has little to do with ultimate box office performance.
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cartoons' Multi-Media Future

Video streaming belongs to the chil-dren.

... While shows like political drama House of Cards, resurrected sitcom Arrested Development, and Amazon’s slate of comedy pilots have hogged all the media attention, the online streaming services have been spending bundles of cash on programming that skews toward a younger demographic. It’s these kids’ shows that will play a large role in determining who comes out on top in the streaming wars ...

[T]hat explains why Amazon and Netflix are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to scoop up the best kids’ content from cable and to fund production of original shows that they hope will become the next Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob.

Netflix’s biggest original content push so far isn’t the very expensive House of Cards —- it’s actually a deal with DreamWorks Animation for 300 hours of brand new cartoons based on the company’s film franchises. ... Amazon, meanwhile, is also shelling out big bucks for kids’ shows on its Prime Instant Video service. Last month the online retailer announced a multi-year deal with Viacom, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, that will give Amazon exclusive streaming rights to hit Nickelodeon shows. ...

Amazon and Netflix will also be producing a lot of children's programming (can we say AN-I-MA-TION?)

Amazon has already produced eight pilots -- none, sadly, under an Animation Guild contract, but we expect that to change -- so animation professionals will have more producers in the mix of cartoon makers going forward. And independent studios will likely grab some of the work.

The disappearing status quo -- cable and broadcast television -- have remained viable as long as they have thanks to the elementary school set:

Kids still watch a ton of regular TV. In the first quarter of 2013, children aged 2 to 11 watched more than 112 hours of television per month, according to Nielsen. They watched video through the Internet only four and half hours in comparison, but that number has doubled since 2011. ...

One thing we can bank on: Over the next few years children will be looking at a lot more cartoons on lap tops, iPads and smart phones.
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Box Office in the Hot Summertime

Animation appears to be prospering.

Paul Feig's Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy headliner The Heat is off to a stellar start at the Northern American box office for 20th Century Fox, grossing $13.6 million on Friday for a projected $39 million weekend.

The news was grim, however, for Roland Emmerich's White House Down, pairing Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. The $150 million film, from Sony, took in around $9 million on Friday to only narrowly beat World War Z ($8.9 million). ...

Disney and Pixar's Monsters University is holding at No. 1 in its second weekend, grossing roughly $14.3 million on Friday for an eight-day domestic cume of $139.1 million. By Sunday, its total is likely to hover around $170 million. ...

The above proves that

A) It's bad to be the second "Attack on the White House" movie into the marketplace, and

B) It's good to be a Pixar sequel.

Friday Box Office (Total Domestic Box Office)

1) MONSTERS UNIVERSITY -- $14,283,000 -- ($139,108,000)

2) THE HEAT -- $13,600,000 -- ($13,600,000)

3) WHITE HOUSE DOWN -- $9,000,000 -- ($9,000,000)

4) WORLD WAR Z -- $8,941,000 -- ($102,863,000)

5) MAN OF STEEL -- $6,015,000 -- ($233,855,000)

Add On: Yep, definitely bad to be the second White House Attacked! But cartoons, they are doing good.

Weekend Domestic Totals

1. Monsters University 3D (Pixar/Disney) Week 2 [Runs 4,004] G Friday $14.2M, Saturday $17.0M, Weekend $44.5M (-46%), Cume $169.0M

2. The Heat (Fox) NEW [Runs 3,181] R Friday $13.6M, Saturday $13.1M, Weekend $40.0M

3. World War Z 3D (Paramount) Week 2 [Runs 3,607] PG13 Friday $9.0M, Saturday $11.4M, Weekend $29.2M (-56%), Cume $123.0M

4. White House Down (Columbia/Sony) NEW [Runs 3,222] Friday $8.8M, Saturday $9.2M, Weekend $26.0M

5. Man Of Steel 3D (:egendary/Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 4,131] Friday $5.9M, Saturday $8.2M, Weekend $20.5M, Cume $248.3M

6. This Is The End (Columbia/Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,710] R Friday $2.5M, Weekend $8.3M, Cume $74.3M

7. Now You See Me (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 5 [Runs 2,564] PG13 Friday $1.7M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $104.7M

8. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) Week 6 [Runs 1,550] PG13 Friday $705K, Weekend $2.3M, Cume $233.2M

9. Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount) Week 7 [Runs 1,035] PG13 Friday $535K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $220.3M

10. The Internship (New Regency/Fox) Week 4 [Runs 1,008] Friday $415K, Weekend $1.3M, Cume $41.6M

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Friday, June 28, 2013

The "Free Money" Trap

The question of the day:

Can the Visual-Effects Industry Survive the Pitfalls of Free Money?

Free money isn't always free -- in fact, it can actually be downright disastrous for an industry.

That was the dilemma at the heart of the panel "Visual Effects and Tax Incentives: A Race to the Bottom?" at TheWrap's Grill@Locations conference Friday at the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center. ...

Namit Malhotra of Prime Focus and Mark Driscoll of Look Effects discussed the difficulty of staying afloat in the visual-effects industry in the current global business environment.

Driscoll and Malhotra discussed how the already struggling industry has been hit even harder by the tax incentives from different governments across the world that lure studios to farflung areas -- and forced visual-effects companies to reinvent themselves.

"There's more and more of us getting into the business, we're diversifying to take advantage of the spectrum of the subsidy zones around the world," Driscoll (at left) offered. "But if you combine that with the reduction and the concentration of the movies being made, it tends to create this environment where we're basically just trying to kill each other to get the next job." ...

This dynamic isn't new.

Seventeen years ago, I stood in a Disney Northside* hallway with CG supervisor Jim Hillen and discussed how CG houses were cutting each others' throats by low-ball bidding sub-contracting jobs from the big studios.

This was in or around 1996.

So what, exactly, has changed? Except that things are now worse because governments here and abroad are throwing tax-payer dollars at big companies to subsidize the work?

Exactly zip.

What would be good is if every part of a production interlocked in some kind of synch. If directors worked in-studio with the CG crews the way they do with their production crews, and review the work as it happens. That's the way it is with animated features, but not as much with their live-action cousins.

Two CG veterans at Disney were griping about this very thing today, when I was going through Walt Disney Animation Studios.

* Disney Northside was the high-water mark of Disney Feature Animation. It was located a couple of blocks from the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, and housed 'Dinosaur" and a couple of other projects. It was open for a few years, with frequent bus shuttles back to the main lot, and then disappeared when the division shrank. Today, Disney Feature/Walt Disney Animation Studios is housed in its entirety inside the hat building next to the 134 freeway.
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At the Diz

I spent a large part of the afternoon at the Hat Building on Riverside Drive (Burbank edition). I got to see some impressive scenes from Frozen; it's going to be one fine-looking movie, and the characters in the snippets I saw look compelling. A staffer on the Hat's first floor said:

The last screening of the picture, everything was working well. It's like happened with Thangled, they're adding some nice action sequences, and they're fleshing out character development, adding some connective tissue that helps.

After July 4th, we're going to be pressing the pedal to the metal around here and working longer hours and more days to get Frozen finished. We haven't been working six days yet, but that's going to change after the 4th. ...

I'm told that Big Hero Six is still in story work (with production to start in a couple of months.). And Ron and John's project will soon be having a table read*.

I'm told.

* Table reads are a group of folks reading a script around a table to get the flow and tempo of the story. There, now I've let the cat out of the bag.
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Wage Survey Progress

As of Start of Day on Friday, we are up to 690 returned surveys out of 3,575 mailed out.

That brings us to 19.1% in total responses.

Fill out and return your survey today!! If you can't find the one we mailed you, use the Online Form.

The Wage Survey is one of the tools we are most proud to provide the members of the animation and visual effects industries. We compile the responses from the membership and provide that for you to use in your wage negotiations. This is information the employers already have! Providing it to you helps level the field by making sure both you and your potential employer are aware of the "going rates" and helps to stop possible wage depression of our craft.

If you haven't yet, please take the time to fill out and return this survey to us. Help us help the industry remain viable and strong!

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The President of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios says:

“For artistic reasons … it’s really important that we do an original film a year,” says Catmull ... “Every once in a while, we get a film where we want or people want to see something continuing in that world — which is the rationale behind the sequel. They want those characters, which means we were successful with them. But if you keep doing that, then you aren’t doing original films.” ...

It's good that Ed Catmull is pushing for original films.

But for monetary reasons, the conglomerate for which he works is (likely) pushing for sequels whenever and wherever possible. Because sequels make lots of money. And the "ka-CHING" is what Disney, Viacom, News Corp. and the rest really care about.

Original movies? Meh.
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Entertainment Healthcare Summit 2013

The Motion Picture and Television Fund (founded by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith in 1921) reported to assembled IATSE Business Agents this afternoon about the Industry Summit that happened on Thursday, May 30th. Among the takeaways:

Annual Per Capita Healthcare Expenditures

Italy -- $2,852

Finland -- $3,093

Belgium -- $3,969

Canada -- $4,205

New Zealand -- $3,022

Switzerland -- $5,270

United States -- $7,910

A couple of weeks ago, a supervisor at one of TAG's larger animation studios said how much he likes the health coverage he's gotten through the years from the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan. He then told me about a buddy working in Canada who hates the nationalized, single-payer coverage he gets up there.

I replied that he might find it terrible, but the Canadians get better results from their provincial plans than we get down here, to wit:

Life Expectancy

Canada -- 80.2 years

United States -- 78 years

Infant Mortality Rate Per 1000

United States -- 5.9

Canada -- 4.78

(Regarding life expectancies, Forbes Magazine presents a counter argument here. It says if we take out the car accidents and the gun fatalities, the U.S. is number one in longevity.)

The problem, per the Summit:

"The dollars spent on health care are not yielding the desired return on investment by any measure."

"The U.S. health statistics in any age group are worse than 16 other high income countries. Yet we spend almost twice as much of our Gross Domestic Product (17.2%) on health care."

This is all old news, I guess. We have a health care delivery system (actually multiple health care delivery systems) which is expensive.

There are various remedies, none ideal. but then, there are no perfect solutions, only better and worse. Switzerland, with the next most expensive health care system, has private insurance that is heavily regulated. We're going to try a mixture of market competition, subsidies, and regulation.

We'll see how it goes. (My bet: We will still have the most expensive health care system going. But maybe we can, as they say, "bend the curve.")
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The Mouse In the EIghties -- 13

So now we reach Chapter Thirteen in the continuing series.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN – Change Sweeps Over the House of Mouse

When I arrived at Walt Disney Productions in the mid-seventies, the studio’s physical plant hadn’t changed much from the days Walt walked around the place: same art deco buildings from the forties; same stucco cracker-boxes dragged over from the old Hyperion Studios. Same sound stages.

The only new addition was an ugly concrete monstrosity called “The Roy O. Disney Building” inside the wall along Buena Vista Street. It housed publicity and a few other departments. A smart-ass traffic boy told me it was ugly because the structure was the end-result of the lowest bid from the outside architect and contractor who put it up. Multiple stories of gray concrete, the building looked like a government bunker from East Berlin.

Yet even though the lot SEEMED like a sleepy backwater, there were changes going on inside the company: Tokyo Disneyland was in the works. EPCOT at Disney World was on the drawing boards. And after years of mulling the idea over, the company launched “The Disney Channel,” as a cable network. But the Channel’s low-rent programming caused a lot of employees – me included – to predict an early death for the company’s television brainchild.

We turned out to be way wrong. ...

Disney Productions BME (Before Michael Eisner) was often derided by Hollywood wags as "the movie lot time forgot," divorced from the go-go tinsel town mainstream. Life was laid-back there, with a handful of live-action comedies made each year, and of course the occasional animated feature.

But as I look back on Walt Disney Productions, circa 1980s, it was changing, even as it struggled with the reality of "Disney After Walt."

It made runs at making BIG pictures (Pete's Dragon, The Black Hole, Tron, Something Wicked This Way Comes), and it sometimes went for projects that were higher class than it's middle brow comedies. Candleshoe, for instance, was a picture that began life as a David Swift project, with the director/writer of the original Parent Trap performing the same tasks on Shoe. Swift, however, left the project under a cloud and the movie turned out to be less than it might have been.

The other thing that happened BME was The Disney Channel. The idea of doing a cable network had been kicking around since the late seventies, but in 1983 it finally happened. The reaction of most of the young snot-noses in animation was "Oh my Gaawd! What a piece of crap!"

Because in the early days of the Channel, everything was low-rent. There was a Winnie-The-Pooh half hour with actors in animal suits, which was being shot in Hollywood on a tiny rental stage with chroma key, on a total shoe string. There were Disney story analysts who were writing half-hour scripts for the show outside of their day jobs, getting paid $2000 per teleplay. (Non-union, of course.)

And Disney staffers were producing documentaries for no money. And there was endless reruns of stuff from the vault.

Despite all the cheapness, the Channel took off. And today it's a powerhouse. People think it was an Eisner creation, but it wasn't. Michael Eisner pushed WDP into television animation and direct-to-video animation, and the studio made a mint. But the Channel was born during Ron Miller's tenure.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sets and Mattes Are So Yesteryear

Continuing the visual effects theme of the day:

1500 digital shots? More? Who's counting?

The visual effects business might be in "free fall," but it's easy to question how free the fall is when visual effects are so dominant in the movie biz.

Take The Great Gatsby. The movie's grossed $313,196,207 to date, but it's more than Leo and Toby who are pulling the crowds in. Gatsby's visuals are big and gaudy, immersing you in a dreamlike 1920s New York. If sets had been built and extras hired for all the soaring shots, the film would have cost way more than its $105 million price tag.

Movie conglomerates might not want to pay CG artists what those artists are worth, but they'll cut back on CG effects around the same time Mike Huckabee volunteers for Grand Marshal of New York City's Gay Pride parade.
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The Next Step

Last night I was privileged to participate in the VFX Townhall on IATSE. I sat on the panel with representatives from Locals 600, 700, 800 and 871, as well as Dave Rand, outspoken pro-union VFX artist, and 839 members Jason MacLeod and Brock Stearn.

The discussion also included satellite locations in Vancouver where Local 891 Executive Board member and Organizer Dusty Kelly held a similar panel with representatives and members from Locals 669 and 891, in San Rafel, CA at 32 Ten Studios where members of the local VFX community gathered, and Diana Wells from Montreal who spoke eloquently about the troubles with New Breed Studios and her desire for change.

The one takeaway I hope vfx artists got from the meeting is that the IATSE is ready and able to support them in their desire for meaningful change. However, it is up to those same artists to be the drivers of that change.

VFX Supervisor Gregory Lemkin tweeted the following message which was read by Kaitlyn Yang (2:04:30 in the above linked video):
"Two of the best opportunities to unionize in the history of VFX occured in Los Angeles in the past six months, Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues, what did the IA do?"

My answer embodies the current state of VFX organizing, everywhere. There hasn't been a time in history when organized labor is more aware of the plight of visual effects artists and ready to help. Meetings both public and private are taking place, blogs and websites are dedicated to educating and information dissemination, authorization cards are being distributed and (some) returned. However, the next palpable step in the formation of a VFX Local in the IATSE lies solely with those who would populate that local.

The IA did what the IA will continue to do with regards to the organization of Visual Effects: support YOUR effort to make that change.

IATSE International Representative Vanessa Holtgrewe wrote a piece called "The Evolution of Momentum" for the page. In that writing, she addresses the need for the vfx community to act in their own interests in order to move the organization effort forward:

Now that we’ve marched, spoken to the press, changed our Facebook profile picture to green, now what do we do? How do we get a seat at the table, sitting across from our employers, with a unified voice?

The answer is both simple and very much not so: You organize.

[The IATSE] can’t walk into your workplace and order your boss to sign a union contract so you can have health, pension and enforceable working conditions. We need your support to help you organize. To be successful, consensus among the majority of your co-workers must be established. That support is built from inside by people, such as yourself, helping to educate and build a strong base of employees eager for a voice in the workplace. We will help you go through that process every step of the way.

The next step in this process is for VFX artists to submit their information on the online repcard page, or fill out a repcard and send it back to the IATSE. Repeat that process at each new workplace. Speak to your peers, ask questions and share information.

The IATSE is ready, capable and willing to support your efforts to change the vfx industry for the better. It has a large amount of leverage of its own that it can bring to bear the up-coming fight. But, visual effects community, the fight belongs to you to undertake.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rupert's Minions

... want you to know:

Fox Broadcasting had 8 of the Top 20 programs among Adults 18-49 [over the past week], including Family Guy Encore (No. 14), American Dad Encore (No. 16, tie), BOB’S BURGERS Encore (No. 20 tie) and THE Simpsons Encore (No. 20 tie). ...

Added to that, there were 9 of the Top 20 programs among Adults 18-34 including Family Guy Encore (No. 10), American Dad Encore (No. 11, tie), THE Simpsons Encore (No. 14 tie), BOB’S BURGERS Encore (No. 14 tie), and American Dad Sun-7:30pm (No. 19). ...

And finally Fox had 7 of the Top 20 programs among Teens: American Dad Encore (No. 6 tie), Family Guy Encore (No. 6 tie), ... BOB’S BURGERS Encore (No. 15 tie), and THE Simpsons Encore (No. 19 tie). ...

As we've said before, Fox is the sole entertainment conglomerate that is making multiple fortunes with prime-time animation. (You'd think some of the other congloms, Disney-ABC in particular, would be making runs at this market, but noooo ....) Click here to read entire post

Fantasia III

Nothing heavy here, just a wee bit of semi-abstract animation.

Actually a Mickey D. commercial. From Finland. It was created by the Helsinki-based animation studio Pinata.

Then there is this:

I don't know how I would have reacted to these if I'd viewed them in my college days, thirty minutes after I'd ingested a controlled substance.

Hat tip:

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Job Haters

It's been a kind of grim time in Cartoonland. Lots of layoffs, and lots of people worried about getting laid off; (Even though animation employment is high overall, the gigs are shorter. This makes many artists nervous.)

But animation isn't an isolated corner of the national workplace. Gallup has conducted a national poll that reports a high number of workers are actively disengaged from their jobs, and the high number (18%-20%) has been remarkably stable over the last dozen years.

An alarming 70% of those surveyed in a recent Gallup poll either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged, and not even incentives and extras can extricate them from the working man's blues.

30% of the 150,000 full and part-time workers surveyed honestly enjoyed their jobs and their bosses.

A full 20% of respondents are what Gallup classifies as "actively disengaged," the ones who are muttering complaints at the water cooler and using their lunch breaks to scour job postings online.

The remaining 50% of U.S. workers are "disengaged," according to the report, meaning that while they show up for work, they are not "inspired by their managers." ...

The above tracks what I'm finding in Los Angeles animation studios. Work loads aren't going down, many managements play Jedi mind games with their employees, and the employees are growing tired of it.

Last week, for instance, I encountered a procession of artists complaining about long days on tight schedules and unresponsive management. Most animation employees have a fear of sticking their heads up above the parapet, so executive unresponsiveness (mostly) goes on. The refrain is: "We're happy to have a job, so we're not going to rock the boat."

As New York Times writer Timothy Egan says:

... [T]here are two great tragedies in professional life: not having a job, and having a job you hate.

So, what to do? For starters, companies that have been sitting on record piles of cash could start spreading it around with their employees, which would have the immediate benefit of letting them know they were wanted. You hear the evangelists for low-pay states, people like Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, preaching the virtues of the corporate free ride and the perils of raising the minimum wage. But the unemployment rate in Washington State, which has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.19 an hour, is well below the national average. In the Seattle area, it just dipped to 4.7 percent, a level some economists call “full employment.”

What the Gallup survey makes clear is that the easiest way to make life better in the workplace is the simplest: all those unctuous, self-important, clueless bosses out there could notice the toiling subordinate who’s been taking up space for many years.

Happily, there bright spots in the cartoon business. I see animation departments that are well run and tight-knit, where employees put down on their time cards the hours they actually work, and who get paid overtime because they stand together and watch each others' backs. Nobody gets slipped the axe because people stick together.

Fear, paranoia and resentment don't necessarily have to rule artists' lives.
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Painting With Virtual Light

Pixar's Saschka Unseld discusses The Blue Umbrella.

... While I worked on the story for it, I never thought of how it would look visually. How we did it visually kind of followed what the idea of the story was, so it was based on that. It was based on tests I had shot just for fun on my phone actually, of faces in the city, and I had loaded them on my computer one week and animated them. That was part of the pitch I showed, just to show what I mean with the city coming to life.. ...

[W]e used the Global Illumination technology that Monsters used as well. So that helped us massively in getting everything lit more realistically. ... [The Global Illumination system] bounces off of surfaces; off the walls. If there’s a red wall, the light bounces off and actually takes on red light and all these complex things that happen with real light.

So basically you switch on one light and you get all this complex stuff happening, which is fascinating because you get to a point where you have happy accidents happen. ... We had the moment when the red umbrella is being held over the blue, and there’s this reflection on blue which is the bounce of her light. That was never planned for. That wasn’t boarded like this, it wasn’t something we gave direction to for the lighter. He put on these couple of [virtual] lights, sent out the render, and this thing happened. And we were like, “This is fantastic, let’s use it.” ...

One more Oscar contender. Click here to read entire post

The Wage Survey March

We are now up to 612 returned surveys out of 3,575 mailed out.

That brings us to 17.1% in total responses.

Get your survey in today!
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

South African Viewpoint

One CG generalist's view from the cape.

... The global recession is hitting Europe (and in turn South Africa) hard.

'Emerging' industries like India and China are challenging established municipalities and, with the knock on effect of such technical sectors, the ripples extend outwards into greater economic effect, affecting the larger balance of 'power'.

Technology is ever-changing. Off-the-shelf software solutions result in more high-end animation and visual-effects becoming easily available to content producers. Smaller studios are doing great work and freelancers are finding it a frenetic time.

Africa, in particular Kenya, is becoming more attractive to foreign IT and technology investment. IBM recently set up Africa's first research lab in that country. ...

Some things however have not changed.

Skilled artist are still the most sought after commodity in the industry.
Audiences still demand great entertainment.

Perhaps most pertinent, artists still consider career satisfaction a priority.

Locally, South Africa has a lot going for it. Our industry, although very small, is very fluid. Artists can, with perseverance and hard work, rise very quickly to become senior artists. ...

I don't agree with Bradley Stillwell's observation that unions are an industry negative and a hindrance to progress. (I would submit that paying crap wages isn't to anyone's long-term self-interest. But maybe I have a skewed perspective.)

But Mr. Stillwell makes the case that CG production can be done (and IS done) everywhere. And that the biz is global, not local. (But we kind of knew that, didn't we?)
Click here to read entire post

Synergistic Profits

You have a hit in one corner of the media universe, you want to enlarge it to the other corners.

Disney Interactive Media Group is still licensing select movies for stand-alone game experiences (like Disney’s Planes), but the August 18 launch of Disney Infinity will literally change the licensing game moving forward for Walt Disney Pictures’ live action and animated movies. Monsters University, which just debuted at the box office, will join The Lone Ranger as two big tentpole movie experiences that will expand within the new gaming platform.

Disney Infinity, which will be available across multiple consoles, isn’t just a game. It’s an expandable gaming world (similar in some ways to Activision’s Skylanders) that can plug in new stand-alone play sets featuring the casts of movies like Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredibles. These original story lines will offer 6 to 10 hours of gameplay, which is about the average that traditional stand-alone Hollywood licensed games would offer.

“A great example of expanding these movie worlds is Monsters University and what’s going on with Fear Tech, which is the rival university that we’re exploring in this game,” said John Pleasants, co-president of Disney Interactive. ...

It's about maximizing value, boys and girls. You have yourself a hit movie, you want a hit tv series ... and mobile app ... and video game to go with it.

Then, naturally enough, there are the little silver disks, e-books, and plush toys that the kiddies will whisk off the shelves of Toys R Us. And the worldwide licensing opportunities and t.v. playoffs. The idea is to squeeze all the juicy goodness from the property, then go on to the next sequel.

It's why tent poles are so popular. The support big, stretchy tents made of money.
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Foreign Takings

The candidates you would expect to rule world markets do indeed rule.

"Man of Steel" dominated at the international box office this weekend, adding $89 million from 52 foreign markets to raise its global total to nearly $400 million. ...

"Monsters University” and Paramount’s “World War Z” were second and third. Disney/Pixar’s 3D prequel took in $54.5 million while Brad Pitts zombie thriller took in $45.8 million. ...

There's a number of animated features in the International list (seen below the fold).

Monsters University ranks at number one, Epic is now at $225 million (worldwide), and Despicable Me is justing beginning to hit world markets with a strong early opening in Australia of $6,400,000, good enough to outpace MU. ...

International Box Office -- Weekend -- (Worldwide Total)

1) Monsters University -- $54,500,000 -- ($136,500,000)

2) Man Of Steel -- $89,000,000 -- ($398,305,947)

3) World War Z -- $45,800,000 -- ($111,800,000)

4) Fast & Furious -- $11,200,000 -- ($665,912,705)

5) Now You See Me -- $6,600,000 ($134,450,976)

6) After Earth -- $13,400,000 -- ($171,492,209)

7) This Is The End -- $00 -- ($57,791,524)

8) The Hangover 3 -- $8,600,000 -- ($325,501,468)

9) Star Trek: Into Darkness -- $4,900,000 -- ($430,010,916)

10) The Internship -- $3,200,000 -- ($48,164,505)

11) Despicable Me 2 -- $6,400,000 -- ($6,400,000)

12) The Great Gatsby -- $5,500,000 -- ($312,970,103)

13) Epic -- $3,300,000 -- ($224,985,125)

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Your Weekend Box Office

For animation, the turnstiles whir merrily:

Brad Pitt’s zombie thriller “World War Z” blew past expectations with nearly $25 million on its first day at the box office Friday, and is heading for a $65 million opening weekend. But that won’t be enough for the top spot.

Disney’s “Monsters University” is doing better than expected as well. The 3D animated family movie is on pace for an opening weekend north of $75 million, after debuting with an estimated $30 million Friday. That would make it the 14th consecutive Pixar film to open at No. 1 ...

Apparently, animated features have not yet worn out there welcome. ...

Friday Box Office (Total Accumulation)

1) MONSTERS UNIVERSITY -- $30,507,000

2) WORLD WAR Z -- $25,000,000

3) MAN OF STEEL -- $12,700,000 -- ($181,491,000)

4) THIS IS THE END -- $4,100,000 -- ($48,892,000)

5) NOW YOU SEE ME -- $2,450,000 -- ($89,031,000)

Add On: Epic drops out of the Top Ten, even as it ticks over $100 million. The Croods (further down the list) earns $485,000 for a domestic total of $183,548,000.

Click here to read entire post

Newly Elected

Speaking of unions and democracy ...

Paris Barclay was elected president of the Directors Guild of America, the union announced on Saturday.

"I am profoundly honored to be elected President of the DGA," said Barclay to the assembled delegates after the vote.

"The DGA has worked for more than three-quarters of a century to advance the creative and economic rights of directors and their teams and I look forward to continuing this strong tradition of service. As the son of a glass blower and a tile maker from Chicago, I am extremely humbled to have the honor to serve in the footsteps of the legendary leaders of the DGA like Frank Capra, Robert Wise and Gil Cates."

Barclay is a well-established television director, having directed over 130 episodes of television, including: Sons of Anarchy, Glee, Smash, House, Cold Case, NCIS: Los Angeles, In Treatment, The Good Wife, CSI, Lost, The Shield, The West Wing, ER and NYPD Blue. ...

The DGA is one of the most effective entertainment unions out there. The Guild is particularly adept at negotiating its contracts. Officers and staff research, the confer with members, and then go into meetings with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers focused on where they want to go, with a plan to get there.

It's had one strike over contract negotiations in its history. The strike lasted fifteen minutes.

The Animation Guild works with the DGA on foreign levy issues, since the Directors Guild distributes residuals from overseas to TAG directors. Congratulations to all the new DGA officers.
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So far.

Chris Keyser will run unopposed for president of the Writers Guild of America West, the nominating committee announced on Friday. The committee did select someone to run against Keyser, but the individual declined.

Someone could still run against Keyser if they draft a petition that secures signatures from at least 50 members. The deadline for submissions is July 23. ...

The same dynamic has occasionally come to the surface in Animation Guild elections: Too many offices. Too few candidates. Click here to read entire post

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bento Box and Original Programming

Bento Box, an animation studio that's only been around a handful of years, looks to do more development, and not just be a job shop for the Big Players.

Bento [Box} plans to partner with creative talent to develop wide range of animated programming — including traditional hand-drawn 2D, digitally hand-drawn 2D, CG and 3D animation, puppets, stop motion and live-action animation hybrids — for broadcast and cable networks as well as digital and emerging technology platforms. “Mark, Joel and Scott are true forward-thinkers who in a short time have built Bento Box into a great studio,” [veteran comedy exec Mike] Clements said. “I am very excited to join them in this new chapter as we strive to create some animated hits.” ...

Developing and producing original content is a fine idea, but it's harder to do in this corporatist age, where our fine entertainment conglomerates can distribute ... and own the entire cartoon enchilada.

There was, once upon a time, absolutely nothing unusual about smaller, independent animation studios developing their own properties, then licensing same to the broadcast networks. Hanna-Barbera did it as a matter of course. But it was easier in the days of actual, enforced regulations. Distributors were prohibited by law from owning content and the theaters and television networks that showed it. There were these anti-trust laws that discouraged overt monopolies.

Today, however, anti-trust regs and statutes are considered quaint relics from another era, and inside our corporatist state almost anything goes. So I'm not sure how keen Time-Warner, Viacom, Diz Co. and News Corp. will be about smaller entities creating and owning original content. There are, of course, all those "new media" platforms that the congloms don't control, but is there much in the way of Real Money to be made there?

I guess we'll just wait and see how this "creating original shows" idea pans out.
Click here to read entire post

VFX Town Hall on IATSE

Since the announcement of the Rhythm and Hues bankruptcy filing, the global visual effects community has undergone an upheaval geared toward awareness and change. After the Oscar Day protest, a series of Town Hall meetings have discussed the current state of affairs for vfx artists and vfx shops in the face of pressures from the production entities and the forced use of entertainment tax subsidies.

The latest in these discussions focuses on the unionization of the vfx artist workforce and the benefits of representation through the IATSE. There are three physical locations where those interested can gather: IATSE Local 80 Sound Stage in Burbank, PAL Theater in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and 3210 Studios in San Rafel, California. As has been the standard with these meetings, it will also be available through Google Hangout and a live stream will be on the vfxtownall website.

The speakers in Los Angeles will include representatives from the Editors Guild (Local 700), the Art Directors Guild (Local 800), as well as members and yours truly from the Animation Guild. Vancouver has slated representatives from the International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600 and Local 669), Art Directors Guild (Local 800) and Local 891 as well as artists from the community. The Vancouver meeting starts at 7pm, an hour before in order to facilitate a local conversation beforehand.

We encourage all who can, to attend at one of these locations and participate in the discussion. The visual effects industry faces the same pressures and is experiencing the same struggle animation did close to seventy years past. The time to use the leverage inherent in the skills of the artists to set conditions and standards that dictate a sustainable and viable industry is here. This organizer looks forward to sharing that message and hopefully empowering those attending to help make that change.
Click here to read entire post

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Bit More on Board Tests

I got a number of gripes today. About board tests. About uncompensated overtime. About board artists who now also get to be animatics editors ...

A supervisor from one of the bigger t.v. studios asked if it's kosher for board artists to be doing editors work. I said not if they're not being paid for it. And not if there is an Editors Guild presence/contract at the studio, since animatics is Editors Guild work.

The supe asked what I would do about the infractions. I said I would file a grievance ... provided people stepped forward to participate in it. (I have a hard time filing grievances without names. The studio asks: "Somebody didn't get paid overtime? Who? We need a name so we can cut a check." It's also helpful to have a warm body at an arbitration hearing to testify.)

And I went on to say that I had no problem with board artists creating animatics if

1) There was no Editors Guild around.

2) They were getting paid for the work.

Because the big issue is, if schedules aren't lengthened to account for the extra work, and then people put in late night for free, there's a contract violation that needs to be addressed, but the Guild needs to have an upright mammal with opposable thumbs who will sit in the witness chair at the arbitration and help bolster the case with clear, concise testimony.

Of course, many are reluctant to do that because of possible blowback, but it's really the best way to enforce the contract. Many times it's the only way.
Click here to read entire post

Animated Television

The good news is, a broadcast network not named Fox is ordering up some animation.

NBC has greenlit the animated holiday musical special “How Murray Saved Christmas” from four-time Emmy-winning writer and executive producer Mike Reiss (“The Simpsons”).

The hourlong program is based on Reiss’ best-selling children’s book of the same name. The story centers on cranky deli owner Murray Kleiner, who is forced to fill in for Santa one Christmas and does a weirdly wonderful job. ...

The bad news is, it's a one-hour one-off. And produced by Rough Draft (a non-union studio in Glendale.) But hey. They're doing the pre-production work here in town, so artists from the Los Angeles area will be getting work. And if the special performs well, who knows. Maybe there will be more work.

Let's focus on the positives.
Click here to read entire post

High Animation Costs?

Slate offers the kind of simpleton article that makes me crazy:

Why Do Animated Movies Cost So Much?

A good animation movie can take $50 million or more to produce. Animation is a highly labor-centric work. During my undergrad, some of our classmates worked on a three minute animation film for a college event. That took about two months for a team of eight people. Multiply the quality by 1000X and the size by 100X and you get a Pixar movie. ...

1) The story, direction, and sound: An animation movie might have no human actors, but it does have human story creators, screenplay writers, art directors, and sound effect people. It takes a lot of effort (and wages) to create the smooth story that will capture the audience. In a regular movie, an experienced actor might carry the show even with a bad story line and could do a lot of spontaneous things. There is no saving in an animated movie.

2) Art work creation: A single frame of an animation film can have millions of moving parts. For the Sully character in Monsters, Inc., there were 2,320,413 individually named hairs on his body. When he moves, the animators have to animate each hair in the body to create a highly realistic effect. ...

3) Studio costs: Studios such as Pixar have 600 or more creative people working on a movie for three to four years. They need to be housed and provided a creative environment and tools ...

4.Server costs: Animation is a highly computing-intensive task. Each individual frame has to be rendered to integrate all the moving parts. ...

Here's a news flash: It ain't the CG, Virginia. Animation has always been pricy, relative to lower budget live-action films. But at the same time, animation costs have always varied radically, even as they were lower than many A-list movies. A few scattered examples:

Pinocchio was the most expensive movie of its time, if you base it on running length. Gone With the Wind (released at the same time as Pinoke) cost $4.25 million (three hours and forty minutes) to Pinocchio's $2.35 million (86 minutes). Do the math.

But animation could also be cheaper than its live-action competition. Twenty months after the debut of the little wooden boy, Disney produced Dumbo for under a million bucks, way less than Technicolor live-action extravaganzas of the period (Adventures of Robin Hood, Wizard of Oz, Northwest Mounted Police) many of which cost more than $2 million.

In our time, animation costs still run neck-and-neck with live-action pictures but still vary widely in cost. Of current top-drawer animated features, the high-priced specimen would be Tangled, weighing in at $250 million. (When a picture is in production for ten or twelve years, costs explode.) And the low-cost candidate is Illumination Entertainment's Despicable Me, down in the $75 million range. (Chris Mededandri runs a lean ship.)

And what would be the "median cost?" for the modern animated feature? Probably something in the $100 million to $170 million range, which is right on track with budgets of modern live-action flicks. (You don't believe it, go look at Box Office Mojo and compare various budgets. Super-hero tent poles cost as much or more than the product coming out of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and Blue Sky Studios. And way more than movies produced by Illumination Entertainment.)

So to the question, "Why do animated movies cost so much?" the only sane response would be:

"Compared to what?"

Animated features have always had similar levels of costs relative to A-list live-action, no matter what era you care to do budget analyses. As it was in 1940, so is it now. CG has nothing to do with it, it's the medium.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Mickey, Old Mickey

There's a variety of Mickey Mouses rolling down Diz Co.'s various assembly lines:

... A new short-form series of 2-D, old-school Mickey Mouse cartoons debuts on Disney Channel on Friday, June 28 at 8:30 p.m. with two more episodes following consecutively on Saturday, June 29, and Sunday, June 30.

Disney touts this version as a throwback, bold design, much like the classic 1930s Mickey, with backgrounds in a 1950s/60s style. And according to Disney, true fans will be able to find hidden icons from other Disney classics in the cartoons as well.

I've seen a couple of the Disney TVA produced shorts, and they are good fun: minimal dialogue, and an abundance of sight gags. The styling of the shorts is somewhere between 1930s Mickey and Cartoon Network Mickey ... if there was such an animal.

But TV Animation isn't the only Diz Co. division with Mickey Mouse in its pipeline. Walt Disney Animation Studios (the company's Burbank feature division, if your keeping track at home) has more than one Mickey Mouse project in work, plus there is New Media!:

Disney Interactive said today that it would release Where’s My Mickey? on Thursday, June 20, the latest entry in the puzzle series that began with Where’s My Water? in 2011. It will release the game simultaneously on iOS, Android, and Windows tablets and PCs. The game’s eye-catching art will be based on the new series of Mickey Mouse shorts that Disney announced in March; more of these new cartoons will debut on the Disney Channel at the end of this month.

By my count, there are three different Disney divisions producing/working on Mickey projects. But it's about time they got things moving with the Corporate Icon. He should be more than just a period cartoon character.
Click here to read entire post

Why Digital Domain Went Belly Up

The sad history (inside a loong article) as recounted by DD's (former) CEO John Textor:

The main reason for the collapse of Digital Domain Media Group (DDMG) – or at least the trigger on the hand grenade that blew up last year – was Wall Street, according to its former CEO Textor. ...

His view of what happened may be coming from someone wanting to re-write his place in history, but as he pointed out: public policy is being formulated right now based on what people think happened. At the very least, he feels the industry will not improve if it does not examine what he thinks DDMG did wrong and who boxed them into a “death spiral” ...

* Textor today points out that he never thought that abandoning the VFX ‘services industry’ was a good idea. While it may have been necessary to change, he says he would prefer to see a change that had the industry paid a “premium for its artistry” and would have preferred “the industry to play out such that artists were rewarded more for their creativity.”

* Textor claims the key problem was not the studios. He believes the industry is broken and that it needs to change; he cannot believe that the industry is so polite in its negotiations and discussion. Textor seemed as tough he was particularly surprised at the lack of anger expressed to Ang Lee over not acknowledging the VFX contribution at the Oscars. But issues with the studios, Textor feels, are not the single thing that broke DDMG. “There are problems…and we have discussed those, but even with those the bankruptcy did not need to happen.” ...

* Textor: “The reason we failed is that we had a bank in the middle of 2011, and they went bankrupt, a bank called Lydian. In the middle of 2011 they started seeking a buyer of their [Digital Domain] notes (loans) they were owed a certain amount of money by us, and they also owned stock options which had become quite valuable and they viewed selling their loan and ownership position in Digital Domain as a way to raise emergency cash. They sold their position to a group lead by Florida power and light, an investment fund, and a group called Comvest, opportunistic investors, they bought this as a discount, and not by our choice, our bank went bankrupt, they sold their position and now we have a hedge fund as a lender.”

So, per Mr. Textor, Digital Domain was the victim of unhappy circumstance. The company would have survived (and prospered?) if only some bad outside occurrences hadn't happened.

But then there is this from a previous DD Chief Executive Officer.

Mr. Textor once said that while Scott Ross may know a great deal about the VFX industry, that he, John Textor, knew a great deal about high finance.

Given the outcome… it sure looks like John Textor didn’t know much about either.

I wonder about the Tenor Capital deal… they lent DDMG [Digital Domain] $35M… I wonder how much they received from BK? I believe that DD went for $30.2M, so that leaves $4.8M plus attorneys fees that they needed to recoup just to break even…. did they recoup that and more? Maybe Tenor Capital looked at DDMG’s balance sheet and felt BK was the only option to recoup any of their money?

So, it was Wall Street that tanked DDMG?

It wasn’t bad management decisions? It wasn’t the Paradise Lost/Enders Game deals? It wasn’t opening up an animation studio in FLA and funding outrageous buildings/furniture and fixtures? It wasn’t Mr. Textor's and upper management's considerable salaries and perks? It wasn’t getting into businesses that had no revenue streams yet had considerable costs and overhead? It wasn’t bad business decisions on Mr Textor’s part to enter into financial deals that were onerous? It wasn’t buying out Mr. Bay and Mr. Plumer’s contracts? It wasn’t the decision by the courts that Mr. Call was awarded the $2M settlement for unlawful discharge by Mr. Textor? No….

It was beauty that killed the beast!

-- Scott Ross

John Kennedy and Count Galeazzo Ciano (Benito Mussolini's foreign minister and son-in-law) separately observed: "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."

What we've got above is defeat, and a parent who's saying:

"Hey now! That ain't MY kid! It's somebody else's! ANYBODY else's!"

I guess people will have to make up their own minds. But the one indisputable fact is that Digital Domain did indeed go belly up.
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jeffrey Speaks

Now with Video Add On right here.

About the t.v. business.

DreamWorks Animation will generate $100 million in TV production revenue this year, Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg said, lessening the company’s dependence on films.

That amount will increase to $200 million or more in 2015, Katzenberg said yesterday on a conference call with investors and reporters to discuss contracts the company has secured to produce programs for Netflix Inc. (NFLX), the online video service, and Germany’s Super RTL channel.

By expanding television production, Katzenberg is taking steps to reduce the studio’s reliance on scoring hits with each of its theatrical releases. DreamWorks Animation, which has considered creating its own cartoon cable network, is now focusing on Netflix’s growing subscriber base to deliver cash and brand recognition for its properties. ..

Diversification is the name of the game.

In 1995, Geffen, Spielberg, and Katzenberg were doing diversity right out of the gate. They started this company called DreamWorks SKG, and were doing live-action movies, video games, animation, and television. But over time, the games initiatives didn't pan out, and television wasn't a big profit center. Also, the big studio in Playa Vista never happened.

Ultimately DreamWorks got split into two companies and it was the animation piece that was more successful. DreamWorks (the live-action company) now resides at Disney, while DreamWorks Animation lives in its own studio in Glendale, on the sun-kissed banks of the L.A. River. Steven Spielberg still does productions out of Amblin' Entertainment and Geffen is ensconced in Malibu, keeping the riff-raff off his beach.

So now DWA is branching out, and why the company has not done live-action flicks ... or at least some hybrid features a la Illumination Entertainment and Sony, is a mystery known to Jeffrey but few others. As I've said, DreamWorks Animation will either A) be gobbled up by News Corp., or B) become a mini-Disney with fingers in many pies. (Live action, amusement parks, hybrid animation-live action features and all kinds of television.)

But perhaps I'm over-thinking this. Maybe the final chapter is "DreamWorks is swallowed up by the Fox News Corp, and everyone lives happily ever after."
Click here to read entire post


First a Land, now a movie.

In between live-action assignments, Phil Lord and Chris Miller do animation. Cloudy with Meatballs broke out a couple of years ago. Though they aren't directing the sequel, due in September, they have supplied notes. The synopsis for their new picture:

The 3D animated adventure tells the story of Emmet, an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously underprepared.

The movie isn't stop motion, but certainly looks it.
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TAG Wage Survey -- 2013

Add On: As of Wednesday, we are up to 459 surveys. Keep them coming, please.

As of Monday, June 17 we've had 313 wage surveys returned for tabulation -- 270 by mail and 43 online. This is 8.75% of the surveys the Animation Guild sent out.

If Guild members have not yet filled out the survey, please, PLEASE, PLEASE take five minutes and complete the one-page form. (You can use the survey you got in the mail or complete it online at our website.)

The studios know what artists, writers and tech directors are making, it's important that we know too. It only takes five minutes. Knowledge increases leverage and leverage increases the money we all make.

(Samplings from earlier surveys below ...)

Wage Survey Median Salaries

Staff Writers (TV) -- $2,125 (2011) -- $2,202.50 (2012)

Directors (TV) -- $2,550 (2011) -- $2,500 (2012)

Storyboard Artists -- $2,000 (2011) -- $1,987 (2012)

Visual Development -- $2,100 (2011) -- $2,100 (2012)

Lighters -- $1,742.11 (2011) -- $1,913.16 (2012)

3D Animators -- $1,808.41 (2011) -- 1,911.77 (2012)

3D Compositors -- $1,860.00 (2011) -- $1,911.58 (2012)

Add On: Great response today! Another 75 online surveys came in, along with 21 more via snail mail. We are now at 409 surveys ... and counting.
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Eva Schneider, RIP

Years back, we posted this Eva Schneider caricature by John Sparey. (At the time of the caricature -- 1954 -- Eva was a Disney assistant. The other person there is Wes Herschensohn, another 1950s Disney artist.)

Eva departed the industry in 1981, and we wondered where she had disappeared to. We were quickly enlightened:

Eva Schneider is alive and well.

After Eva retired from a long career in animation, she moved to --(can you guess?) New Orleans.

Refusing to leave, Eva Schneider rode out the storm and survived hurricane Katrina. A photo of Eva and her dog appeared in Vanity Fair magazine some months ago.

-- Floyd Norman, September 19, 2006 ...

(Floyd wrote more about Eva here.)

Then, two and a half years later, there was this:

[Eva] lives in a neighborhood call the Faubourg Marigny - just a stones throw from the French Quarter.

She has a new dog now, and walks to the store every day. ...

Then, yesterday, we received this:

Eva Schneider has lived in a living center in New Orleans for the past 4 years. I was not her care giver but from the first time I spoke to her, I found her most interesting and loved her from that day.

I wanted to say she has been a blessing to me and an inspiration. She passed this Fathers' Day, 6/16/13 @ 3:45 AM. During her stay, she told me many stories of Walt Disney and her time spent there. She also told me stories of her time when she traveled with the circus.

Before she passed, I printed everything and anything I could find on Eva and Thursday last week, we started to read all the articles. Eva would fill in what the articles missed. I knew her time was growing very short, so I spent as much as I could with her. She was a very amazing and strong woman! I will miss her much.

Rest in Peace, Eva. You were one of the trail blazers for women in animation, and you won't be forgotten.
Click here to read entire post

Monday, June 17, 2013

News Flash!

Apparently late nights are involved.

A survey by a movie industry veteran shows New Zealand special effect workers put in longer hours than many other countries.

The survey of 30 countries showed that only 3% here do a 40-hour week, with the rest doing 50 to 80 hours and up to 100 hours during busy periods. ...

My hunch? The reason New Zealand thinks its visual effects artists work longer hours is because they actually track the hours. My experience: Over here in the lower forty-eight, time records are not real accurate. Time cards (when a company has time cards) are documents to be falsified. Click here to read entire post

DreamWorks Animation Wheels and Deals

Like they've never whelt and dealt before.

Netflix made another aggressive move to become the HBO of online television Monday by announcing a deal with DreamWorks Animation, which will create more than 300 hours of original programs based on fan-favorite films such as “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda.”

The multi-year deal with DreamWorks is the biggest of its kind to date for Netflix, which has been gaining subscribers by offering new, made-for-streaming series like the “Arrested Development” revival that debuted Memorial Day weekend.

Financial terms were not announced, but the companies said in a press release that the first DreamWorks shows are expected to appear in 2014 and “will be inspired by characters” from the studio’s movies, which also includes “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Madagascar.” ...

Seventeen years ago, DreamWorks Animation The T.V. Unit was on the cusp of producing animated content for the ABC network. Then Michael Eisner and Diz Co. swept in and purchased ABC, and there went that deal. Soon thereafter, Dreamworks got out of the television animation business.

Today, however, they are pushing into the television production business once again. The question I have is, where will this work be created?

(I was over at DreamWorks' Lakeside building this afternoon, and there are lots of empty cubes, so I don't think production will be taking place in Glendale. On the other hand, most pre-production on DreamWorks Animation product, features and otherwise, has been done in California, so there's a fine chance that lots of that work will be brain-stormed and created here.)
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Sunday, June 16, 2013


... who's building a new animation empire? The Washington Post gushes.

... [Nick Weidenfeld] may even be the boy genius of cartoons, having served as head of development for Adult Swim, which is Cartoon Network’s late-night block of irreverent programming.

Now he presides over a 120-person Los Angeles animation studio that Fox built just for him.

His mission: to wrest the coveted 18-to-34-year-old-male-spendthrift demographic from DVDs, YouTube, the Internet and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — the altar at which comedy lovers worship.

He is building an “animation block” of Saturday-night television and Internet programming that he has dubbed “ADHD,” for “Animation Domination High-Def.” ADHD will debut this summer with its own edgy content. ...

The question is, will he pay the artists decently?

Not so far, but maybe TAG can get him to sign a guild contract. Be a step in the right direction.
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Missing the Stock Run-up

Long ago (2000), my significant other got out of the stock market at just the right time. It was the wrong reason (she was concerned about Y2K, but it happened at the right time. Fortunate her.

For people who got out of the stock market in early 2009, and stayed out, unlucky them. Investment guru Barry Ritholtz shines a light on the problem:

So, you missed the big market rally. U.S. stocks have moved nearly 150 percent since the March 2009 lows, and you sat out most of those gains.

I’ve heard all the reasons: Maybe you jumped out of stocks in 2008 and stayed out. Perhaps you were in at the lows, but after the first 20 percent advance, you lost your nerve. The Flash Crash of May 2010 sent you running for cover? Or was it the 19 percent drop before QE2 was announced in August 2010? ...

And Barry offers solutions:

1) Acknowledge the error: First thing you need to do is own up to the mistake. No, this wasn’t the fault of the Fed or President Obama or some algorithm trading server somewhere in New Jersey. It is your portfolio, your retirement account, your future. You cannot fix it if you are still blaming everyone else. ...

2) Stop beating yourself up: This market has confounded amateurs and pros alike. Unless you came to an early understanding of how the Fed has been driving liquidity and, therefore, equities, it was easy to miss. ...

3) Change your sources: Most of the people I speak with who have missed this huge move have been consuming a diet of doom and gloom. ... Constantly reading about hyperinflation and the collapse of the dollar and the end of the United States as a world power and the student loan crisis and omigod Obamacare is going to crush America and the Chinese are taking over the world and . . . STOP! Right now. It is recession porn. ...

4) Look at the rest of your process: How do you make investment decisions? Are you careening from stock pick to stock pick, after watching too much financial TV? Do you even have a process?

Whatever it is you have been doing obviously has not been working. It is likely you are missing two important components of an investment plan: the plan itself and an error-correction method that allows you to reverse the inevitable mistakes that will occur.

5) Create an asset-allocation model: Of course, if you missed the entire rally, you don’t have much of a plan. You need a full-blown investment strategy.

Own five to nine broad indexes, typically in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or low-cost mutual funds. In decreasing amounts (35 percent, 30 percent, 20 percent, 5 percent), you should own: large caps, small caps, emerging markets, global equities, technology, real estate, bonds (corporates, Treasurys, munis) and commodity indices.

6) Deploy your capital: You need to make your capital work for you, not sit in cash. Deploy this capital based on time, on market levels, on a model or any objective metric, just so long as it is not driven by your gut instinct. ...

7) Dollar-cost average: You can allow time to work in your favor by deploying your capital in 12 monthly (or four quarterly) equal amounts. This avoids the classic market timing issue, and allows any market volatility to work in your favor. ...

8) Rebalance regularly: You now have a simple model with various asset classes held in different weightings (35 percent to 5 percent). Over time, some will do better or worse than others. Eventually, the model drifts. The process of returning the portfolio to its original percentage weightings is called rebalancing. ...

9) Be diversified: We own stocks and bonds and real estate and commodities (pretty much in that order). When one market or asset class is falling, others tend to go in the opposite direction. ... A balanced portfolio approach tends to underperform markets on the way up but suffer much less on the way down. ...

10) Understand your time line: People have a foolish tendency to lose sight of the long term in the midst of the day-to-day noise. Most of you have an investing timeline between 10 to 40 years. (If you plan to start withdrawing money to live on in 10 years or less, you will need to be more conservative).

I don't agree with everything above (you can invest the market quite nicely in the classic Three-Fund Portfolio), but Mr. R.'s points are largely on target: Invest widely on a regular basis, and take only as much risk as you need to. All the rest is flapdoodle.

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Your Foreign B.O.

The caped one is causing the turnstiles to spin.

Man of Steel grossed $17.6 million at the foreign box office on Friday, scoring some of the best numbers ever for a superhero film in the U.K. and pushing the tentpole's three-day total to $25.9 million.

That puts Man of Steel's worldwide cume at $82 million through Friday when accounting for the $56.1 million earned so far in North America, where it is headed for a weekend debut in the $125 million range. The tentpole's performance is a victory for Warner Bros. and Legendary as they look to resurrect the marquee franchise.

Some "Meh" reviews haven't dampened the viewing public's eagerness to see the latest incarnation of Superman.

Meanwhile, Epic has collected $105.4 million overseas, a bit more than half its worldwide total. (Domestically, it holds down the seventh position and will pull down $3.5-$5 million over the weekend.)
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hidden Feature

With all the animated full-length movies rolling into multiplexes over the next few months, here's one (sort of) that is (kind of) traveling a different route:

Now that more games have been revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) for the next-gen PS4 and Xbox One consoles, it’s clear there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed when the systems are released by the end of the year. ...

But how about a next-gen game that can make you laugh? Sony’s PS4 launch title “Knack” looks to fill a void.

In development from Mark Cerny, the PS4′s system architect, “Knack” is his attempt to bring “Pixar-quality graphics and storytelling” to the new platform. Cerny told Hero Complex on Wednesday at E3 that essentially what amounts to a full-length feature film is inside the game.

“We’ve embedded pretty much what is a full CGI movie into this game,” he said. “It’s a family story.”

And while he cited Pixar earlier, tone-wise Cerny put the feel of “Knack,” a cartoonish platformer featuring goblins and an unlikely, shape-shifting hero, more in line with the DreamWorks film “How to Train Your Dragon.” As for the “embedded” film, that’s unveiled throughout the game in cinematic sequences.

The trailer looks like an animated feature that the Weinstein Co. might put out.

Not quite theatrical quality, but hey. It's a freaking game. Besides which, games and animated features have been merging for a while. One day soon a game company will release their edited interstitials into neighborhood AMCs the way Disney, next month, will be releasing the direct-to-video Planes onto big screens.

It's about the synergy, friends and neighbors, and what kind of cash flow the property can generate.

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Annecy Winner

Rio 2096 took home the big trophy from a cartoon fest in France.

Annecy jurors fell in love with Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury, giving the Brazilian film the animation festival’s top prize at its closing ceremony Saturday night. Director Luiz Bolognesi will be taking home the Cristal Award for best feature for the fantastical love story which follows a couple for six centuries as they survive several tumultuous time periods of Brazil’s history and into an imagined future where the country is at war over water. ...

You see? Hand-drawn features DO get recognized. Click here to read entire post

The Plush Toys! The Plush Toys!

This is what makes America (and Japan) great:

Sony Pictures Entertainment‘s Consumer Marketing EVP George Leon announced Friday it has lined up one of the studio’s largest ever worldwide promotional campaigns to support the July 31st launch of The Smurfs 2.

Studio sources tell me the hotly anticipated sequel has $150 million being put up by these tie-ins with 100 corporation and licensee and retail global partners — from McDonald’s to Wal-Mart to Toys R Us to even blueberries. That’s huge dealmaking for Sony Animation family fare that’s not Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks branded. This 3D hybrid live-action/CG animated global pic was able to build on the success of 2011′s The Smurfs which took in $563 million at the worldwide box office. ...

The Smurfs are a lot like Scooby Doo. They go on forever. It did wonderfully well for Hanna-Barbera back in the day, and now Neil Patrick Harris is one of the passengers on the magic carpet.

And of course, the heirs and assigns of Belgian artist Pierre “Peyo” Culliford aren't doing too badly either.
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Man of Box Office Plenty

It's the super hero guy, the comedians, then everything else.

1. Man of Steel (Warner Brothers) [runs 4,207] Friday $49M, Weekend $120M, Cume $132M

2. This Is The End (Sony) [runs 3,023] Friday $6.85M, Weekend $21M, $32M

3. Now You See Me (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 3 [Runs 3,082] PG13 Friday $3.1M, Weekend $11.5M, Cume $81.2M

4. The Purge (Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,591] R Friday $2.8M (-83%), Weekend $8.5M, Cume $52.1M

5. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) Week 4 [Runs 3,375 PG13 Friday $2.5M, Weekend $8.4M, Cume $218.5M

6. The Internship (New Regency/Fox) Week 2 [Runs 3,399] Friday $2.2M (-65%), Weekend $7.0M, Cume $31.0M

7. Epic (Blue Sky/Fox) Week 4 [Runs 3,151] PG Friday $1.6M, Weekend $5.8M, Cume $95.2M

8. Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount) Week 5 [Runs 2,331] PG13 Friday $1.3M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $210.3M

9. After Earth (Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,432] PG13 Friday $1.0M, Weekend $3.5M, Cume $54.0M

10. Iron Man 3 )Marvel/Disney) Week 7 [Runs 1,649] PG13 Friday $650K, Weekend $2.6M, Cume $399.4M ...

Epic is closing in on $100 million. How far past that will it get? Who knows? As for the pictures on the top rung:

Superman Returns's (2006) five-day debut adjusts to $102 million; if Man of Steel hits that in three days, it's off to a very good start. Meanwhile, if This is the End exceeds $30 million through five days, it's also in solid shape. ...

Mojo's speculation is already out-dated, as MOS will take more than $100 million and the Rogen comedy will also do quite nicely.
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Friday, June 14, 2013

Voice Actors

New thesping gigs for A-listers

Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy teamed up for the action comedy, The Heat. Now both actresses are prepared for roles in animation films.

Bullock signed on in February to play next to co-star Jon Hamm in an spin-off of the Despicable Me series with the 2014 film Minions. McCarthy, on the other hand, has just joined the cast of B.O.O. (Bureau of Otherworldly Operations), which also stars Seth Rogen. ...

I like both Bullock and McCarthy, and seek out their live-action flicks for viewing and my local AMC.

But I've long had a gripe with big stars being cast in voice parts for animated features. Every time one of them gets the nod for a vocal job (and I understand the publicity angle, the marquee value, and blah blah blah) some mid-list actor trying to make a living ... who can probably bring as much (or more) to the table ... gets shut out.

Until the 1990s, casting big, top-line stars in animated features didn't happen*. Now it happens al the time. My griping about it isn't going to change things, but I'm going to gripe about it anyway.

* Okay, there was one exception I can think of: Bing Crosby in "Ichabod and Mr. Toad." Outside of that, nothing else comes to mind.
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"Giants' First Steps"

On July 22, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's annual Marc Davis Lecture in Animation will be held as the keynote lecture for SIGGRAPH, meeting this year at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The panel, entitled Giants’ First Steps, will explore the student works and early careers of the participating directors. Clips from their student films will be shown as part of the session. Among the panel participants are several Oscar® recipients and nominees including Pete Docter, Eric Goldberg, Kevin Lima, Mike Mitchell, Chris Sanders, Henry Selick, David Silverman and Kirk Wise.

This year's SIGGRAPH marks the fortieth anniversary of the annual computer graphics conference. For futher details or to register, go to the SIGGRAPH website.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cannibalizing the Release Slates

A fine trade paper relates:

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, "This will be the strongest summer for animation ever."

In a normal summer, having Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University would be more than enough animated fuzzy-wuzziness to satiate audiences. But when you throw in Epic, Turbo and Planes (and Smurfs 2 for good measure), suddenly the high-stakes animation race has never been so crowded. By the time summer 2013 is done at the multiplex, Hollywood will have the answer to a billion-dollar question: Is there enough audience to go around? ...

The unprecedented glut of product points to a seismic shift in the animation business as new players such as Universal and Sony finally gain a stronghold and established companies like DreamWorks Animation, Fox, Disney Animation Studios and Pixar up their games. ...

Late last month, Pixar and Disney Animation chief creative officer John Lasseter essentially declared war on Katzenberg by dating a slew of untitled Pixar and Disney Animation Studios films through 2018, going so far as to claim June 17, 2016, even though DWA already had put How to Train Your Dragon 3 there. Never before have a Pixar and DWA movie gone up against one another. Katzenberg and Fox, where Vanessa Morrison heads up Fox Animation Studios, retaliated by flooding the calendar through 2018 with their own untitled films, even planting one on June 16, 2017, a Pixar date. ...

Historically the current glut has some (faint, mild) precedent. In 1940, the Fleischer brothers released Gulliver's Travels and Disney released Pinocchio on top of each other. And in the nineties, several studios attempted to replicate Disney's red-hot run of blockbuster animated features (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King) and pretty much fell on their corporate faces. (But for forty-eight months or so, there was a lot of competition.)

CG animation has been something else again. Lots of studios have jumped into the game and lots of studios have succeeded at marketing their animated offspring. Disney, DreamWorks, Universal, Sony ... all of them have produced major hits.

So the field of elbow-throwing competitors has now widened and grown deeper, and the release schedules have become more crowded. And here we are, with a busload of animated features rolling down the summer turnpike. (The Reporter failed to mention Cloudy with a Chance of Meataballs 2, which hits in September, but that isn't exactly a summer release, now is it?)

The real question is: How many films can succeed in one three-month stretch? And will the feature animation business start devouring some of its own?
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The TAG Interview: A Brief History of CGI -- Part III

TAG Interview with Tom Sito - 2

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

College prof, feature director, animator and board artist Tom Sito continues his history of CGI:

... Most of 1985 was spent trying to find a buyer for the Graphics Group [Pixar], ten months of meetings and entertaining offers from buyers as varied as Seimens, Hallmark, Japanese manga publishers Shogakukan, and the makers of Silly Putty. ...

When talks with Steve Jobs commenced, on December 9, 1985, papers were filed that were approved in Fubruary of 1986 incorporating the Lucasfilm Graphics Group into a new company called Pixar Animation Studios. It was named for their signature retail product, the Pixar Imaging Computer. At first Jobs balked at Lucas's asking price of $15 million. After weeks of negotiation, getting the asking price down to just $5 million, with an additional $5 million in capital investment in the company, Jobs closed the deal on February 3, 1986. Doug Norby admitted later that had this deal not gone though, he had already decided to close Pixar down and fire all of its forty employees. ...

-- Tom Sito, Moving Innovation, p. 243.

(This concludes the Sito/CGI interviews. We apologize for the long gaps in the series, but the day job keeps getting in the way.) Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lucasfilm Animated Feature

The long-form cartoon started at LF before the Disney merger continues:

... Brenda Chapman revealed she’s completed work on an animated feature at Lucasfilm which is now being directed by multiple Oscar-winning sound man and Pixar director Gary Rydstrom.

The news came from an interview Chapman did with Animation Magazine, via Bleeding Cool. Last year, news broke Chapman was now consulting at Lucasfilm but it seems, since Disney took over, the project is still progressing, adding a director:

I have been working on a project with Lucas for quite some time — about six months. When Lucasfilm was handed over to Kathleen Kennedy, she asked me to consult on the film to help solve its story problems. It was an opportunity for me to work with her. I felt honored to be asked by her, after what happened at Pixar. DreamWorks was very generous to me in postponing my start date with them so that I could work with Kathleen, also. My work on the project is done. My good friend, Gary Rydstrom, is directing it now. ...

We know some of the folks working on this project, but little about the project itself. We're told it's pretty much a one-off, as Disney probably doesn't need four* feature animation studios in its future.

* The other three? Pixar (Monsters U.), Walt Disney Animation Studios (Frozen), and DisneyToons Studios (Planes).
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