Saturday, November 30, 2013

Women in Animation

What Walt Disney said shortly before the 1941 strike:

“If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man,” Disney said, according to studio archives. “The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could.” ...

Despite the sentiment, there weren't a lot of women in creative positions during Walt's lifetime.

Hell, there weren't a lot of women in creative positions in the '79s or '80s. Or now, for that matter. We're finally getting more women in higher creative positions. The trend was started by Jeffrey Katzenberg when he was at Disney; of late Walt Disney Animation Studios has been following along.

Quite a few women in administration positions, but they make up 17% of Animation Guild membership. This ins contrast to Cal Arts, where they occupy 50% of the school's animation seats.
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A Foreign Animated Feature

It's apparent that Frozen is going to clean up at the global box office, but what about animated features (of which there are many) nor created by Diz Co., DreamWorks, or Illumination Entertainment? For instance this candidate:

... French animation House of Magic is set to hit South Korean theaters earlier than other territories around the world. The family film by the makers of Sammy's [3-D] Adventures will open here on Dec. 24, a day before it hits French cinemas on Christmas Day.

nWaves Pictures has decided on the early release due to the local success of its previous films. Sammy's Adventures 2 brought in two million admissions, which is a considerable box office score for an animation or let alone family film in Korea ...

The report above is a wee bit off the mark. House of Magic was made by nWave Studios, which is, en actualement, situated in Brussels. But nWS is affiliated with Paris-based Studio Canal, so maybe that's where the confusion lies. Studio Canal has been around for twenty-six years as an international distributor and film producer, and used to own a chunk of Universal.

The company currently owns the third-largest film library in the world, so it's hardly surprising that it's moving into animated features.

In 2008, nWave Studios made its first full-length CG cartoon Fly Me to the Moon, which grossed $50 million across the globe. In 2011, nWave negotiated a co-production, co-financing and worldwide distribution deal for four new feature-length 3D animated movies with Studio Canal.

There's a number of foreign cartoon features that gross anywhere from $50-$100+ million in world markets. When the features have production budgets of $20 or $25 million, then they're making profits on the theatrical runs. And of course, the cartoons have long shelf lives afterwards on the t.v. and the little silver disks, providing steady cash flows.

If you can produce these features for the right price, there's serious coin to be made. And there's always the alluring possibility that a break-out hit will get made. (If Jeffrey Katzneberg and Chris Meledandri can do it, why not us?)
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Friday, November 29, 2013

Marvel's Expanding Animated Universe

The Disney subsidiary moves into long-form animation:

... Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United [is] Marvel Entertainment's first foray into long-form animated storytelling after fostering a popular Disney XD cartoon block. ...

Marvel's Avengers Assemble voice actor Adrian Pasdar plays inventor Tony Stark and his armored alter ego, and his co-star Fred Tatasciore is the Hulk (and puny human Bruce Banner). ...

DC Entertainment has been focusing on getting Batman, Superman and its heroes in direct-to-home-video animated features in recent years. Marvel, too, wanted to get into the space by expanding the work it's been doing in its animation group, says Loeb, executive producer of Heroes United and head of Marvel Television.

To find the right characters for a feature-length project, they looked to a key demographic: children.

Youngsters like Iron Man because Tony is able to solve problems with his brains and his armor, Loeb says, and to counterbalance that elegance, kids dig Hulk because he takes care of things through smashing. "You have a guy who is all tech-based and a guy who is completely not tech-based — he's just wearing a pair of pants. But that's what they really wanted to see."

The voice actors from the current cartoons were enlisted to maintain consistency, but also because they're just really good, Loeb says.

He doesn't think anybody has played the Hulk more in the animated medium than Tatasciore, who also stars as the character in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. The actor brings versatility to a big green guy who's much chattier than the one in The Avengers movie. ...

And Pasdar is fearless in having to live in the shadow of Robert Downey Jr., "who has so defined who Tony is in the live-action movies," Loeb adds. "He's brought to his version of Iron Man the snark that we love, brilliance that we love and arrogance we chuckle at, and at the same time, he's a hero." ...

Diz Co., more than Time-Warner in recent years, gets the synergy thing.

The conglomerate seeks to maximize all the intellectual properties it purchased in the Marvel deal by having the assets deployed in theatrical live-action features, animated television series, and now animated direct-to-video features.

Smart thinking.

I guess the next frontier is creating Hulk and Iron Man webisodes for smart phones.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, Day 2

So here's a card a long way from yesterday's offering: a bell in a Northeast belfry, crusted with snow. ...

This one is painted on illustration board with the usual paints, and hails from the 1950s. Stylized trees, doves and star field complete the effect. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Early Box Office Reports

Now with updated Add On.

The trades tell us:

... “Frozen” bowed Wednesday to $15.2 million and is expected to earn between $70 million and $80 million catering to families with young children this weekend. Though Thanksgiving Day isn’t generally a big moviegoing day, “Frozen” should see about 11% of its five-day haul from the holiday itself. ...

It's a nice chunk of change and an encouraging start, especially considering the high-octane competition that's out there.


1) Hunger Games: Catching Fire -- Wednesday $20.7 million, +34%. Early projection for five day weekend: $100 million.

2) Frozen -- Wednesday $15.3 million. Projected five day weekend gross: $90 million.

3) Thor: The Dark World -- Wednesday $2.4 million, +21%. Projected five day weekend gross: $16 million.

4) Homefront -- Wednesday $1.4 million. Projected five day weekend gross: $9 million.

5) Delivery Man -- Wednesday $1.3 million. Projected five day weekend gross: $11 million.

6) The Best Man Holiday -- Wednesday $1.2 million, +21%. Projected five day weekend gross: $12 million.

7) Free Birds -- Wednesday $781,099, down -16%. Projected five day weekend gross: $4.9 million

8) The Book Thief -- Wednesday $709.703, up 749% with higher screen count. Projected five day weekend gross: $5.8 million.

9) Last Vegas -- Wednesday $461,325, down 22%. Projected five day weekend gross: $3.7 million

10) Gravity -- Wednesday $442,372 (down 1%). Projected five day weekend gross: $3.7 million.

Add On: Midway through the weekend, there is this:

... After its sizzling $26.8 million Friday, Disney Animation’s 3D family film “Frozen” should wind up with a five-day total north of $90 million, easily topping the previous best $80.1 million five-day debut of Pixar’s “Toy Story 2″ in 1999. It will also be the biggest Disney Animation opening ever, ahead of another Thanksgiving release, “Tangled,” which brought in nearly $69 million in 2010. ...

So Walt Disney Animation Studios has a record-breaker. Kudos to the whole animation staff.

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Global VFX

Korea outsources to China:

South Korean visual effects group Dexter Studios has opened a production facility in Beijing in order to tap into the growing Chinese movie business.

Dexter says the Beijing outpost will allow it to “launch full-scale activities, obtain local VFX projects, and form partnerships for Chinese-Korean co-productions.”

Dexter was recently involved in the China-Korea co-production “Mr Go,” which used extensive motion capture effect to create a baseball playing gorilla, as well as Tsui Hark’s effects heavy fantasy “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon,” which was structured as a China-Hong Kong co-production.

Korean VFX companies have often been favored by China’s film-makers as providing an optimal balance of quality that is better than local Chinese firms and price that is lower than the top U.S. or antipodean houses. ...

Exter goes to China for the same reason DreamWorks Animation goes to China.

1) There are lower wage rates.

2) There are lots of production opportunities.

3) There are opportunities to tap into a HUGE market.

It isn't always about state subsidies. Sometimes other enticements are equally (or even more) alluring.

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The First Day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving! And we kick off the 2013 holiday festivities with a large Christmasy watercolor from the 1940s ...

Most of the Hulett holiday cards were done with Disney background paints on illustration board. This specimen, however, was on a watercolor half sheet, and is a bit looser than many of his cards, yet has a dandy touch of winter about it. (Hulett occasionally changed media, sometimes doing collages, sometimes using oil paints on masonite. It all depended on the subject, and what he wanted to put across.) Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The General Membership Meeting

On Tuesday night the Animation Guild held its November membership meeting. It always happens two days before Thanksgiving, and we usually get a turnout that could almost fill a broom closet. But this time we got a robust turnout of designers, art directors and board artists. ...

The reason is we tub-thumped a bit, spotlighting storyboard issues and oncoming contract negotiations. The meeting lasted an hour longer than usual. Some of the topics:

* Animation employment continues to grow on the T.V. side of the animation biz, and overall jobs have hit new highs. DWA TV has started hiring staff for its Netflix shows, Disney TVA and Nick are adding shows, The Simpsons was renewed for its 26th season; some Simpsons staff think the show will go thirty seasons.

* Health and Pension Plans are in good shape, and TAG's 401(k) Plan now has $160 million in assets with 2300 participants and an average account balance of $65,000. The ACA hasn't significantly impacted the MPI health plan, except that individuals can now keep children under MPI coverage until 26, and if a participant falls off the Plan, she/he has two options: extend coverage under COBRA (as before) or purchase a medical health plan on "Covered California."

* Executive Board election results were reviewed, and new board members introduced. (There are five new incoming e-boarders.) It was noted that the Costume Designers' Guild recently completed election with a 50% participation rate came about via on-line voting. There was a discussion about instituting on-line voting for the next Animation Guild election.

* There was lengthy discussion regarding unpaid overtime and work schedules that aren't expanded when there are union holidays.

* There was discussion about job classifications and expanded work responsibilities and the need for shop stewards to let the business representative know when artists are working out-of-category. There was a report on the growing roles of shop stewards at studio sites. TAG now has 23 shop stewards (including officers and board members, who serve as stewards in the studios.

* There were suggestions and discussions about rating studios' work environments and schedules on designated social media, also in craft meetings where information would be shared.

* The business representative gave a report on the just-concluded DGA (Directors Guild of America) and AMPTP negotiations. The DGA achieved 2.5%/3%/3% wage bump-ups over three years, also pension increases.

The biz rep noted that the DGA template will likely set a pattern for the WGA, SAG-AFTRA and IATSE contract talks yet to come.TAG negotiations will probably take place in the Spring and early summer of 2015. Early contract planning will begin in the first quarter of next year. ...

There were a lot of younger members in attendance, which bodes well for the future. Also a good number of veterans.

Happy Thanksgiving.
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Forty-Nine-Year-Old Winner

Is this a surprise?

A 49-year-old animated movie went against some of the most expensive shows on television last night and won. CBS’ rebroadcast of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (3.0, up 3% from last year) was the highest-rated program last night in adults 18-49, the demo category it itself is leading this year, topping NBC’s The Voice and ABC’s Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Rudolph drew 11.4 million viewers, up 13% and the second-largest audience last night behind ABC’s Dancing With The Stars finale (14.6 million, 2.4 in 18-49), helping CBS win Tuesday in 18-49 and total viewers. ...

I guess it shouldn't be. Peanuts specials, already aired a bajillion times, continue to get ratings. And animated features sell and sell and sell, even decades after production. I recall Jeffrey Katzenberg complaining, twenty-odd years ago, that a re-release of 101 Dalmations was among Disney's biggest box office successes, beating the newer, live-action releases.

So why wouldn't a stop-motion tale about a red-nosed reindeer trounce the competition on television?
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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sometimes There Are Unforeseen Complications

With Add On.

Yahoo asks:

Only yesterday it was announced that Pixar were cutting their staff by 5%. What this means is that 60 jobs will be lost at the animation studio due to a decision to postpone the release date of 'The Good Dinosaur'. ... This comes just six weeks after Pixar, Canada were forced to close their doors, making 100 staff jobless with a vague and nondescript reason.

Pixar's main man, John Lasseter, is now Chief Creative Officer for both Pixar and Disney, which begs the question: ... Have the demands of a busier workload put him under pressure to not only work on more projects, but to lose focus on specific Pixar-related ones? ... There's only so many projects a person can juggle at one time. ...

This is silly.

As regards the "busier workload" meme, Pixar/DWAS have, between them, two pictures coming out each year.

In a good year. And in 2015 there is one. (Okay, two. If you care to count the Planes sequel.)

Studio moguls in the long ago had dozens of film going out in each twelve-month cycle. Darryl Zanuck used to oversee story development, production, and post-production for 20th Century-Fox's entire slate of films with three or four assistants (called "Associate Producers.") Ditto for Hal Wallis, B.P. Schulberg and others.

The problem isn't development being stretched to the max; the problem is that stuff happens. Story development is art, not science. Nobody can press a button and spit a hit movie out. Cobbling features together with riveting, compelling characters and plots that work like a shop full of Swiss watches is tricky work. When stories go off-kilter, there's the temptation to say, "We'll fix that later" and keep plowing along. Then later arrives, and the movie still isn't working, and back-tracking is unavoidable.

That's when production layoffs become necessary. Pixar and WDAS are profit-making companies, and the main lot doesn't want people sitting around with nothing to do, so when the movie grinds to a halt, staffers get separated from employment. Nobody wants it, but business is business. Of course, there's the possibility that the layoffs are the result of too many whirling plates on the ends of too many sticks, development-wise. But I would bet my Aunt Sheilah's good holiday dishes (and soup tureen!) that the actual reason is:

Stuff happens.

Add On: Internet Commentators get stranger and stranger.

... The baton has been passed. With the release of Frozen, the latest feature from the wizards at Walt Disney Animation Studios, I’m now officially more excited about the stories barreling forth from this creative house than I am from Pixar Animation Studios. ...

Frozen is the movie that finally convinced me Disney's animation arm is operating at a higher level. It is a throwback to the formula that drove Disney through it's most recent Golden Age, when theater-swelling musical numbers burrowed into our brains and served the story. ...

Pixar? Well, they’ve settled into a comfortable pocket of prequels (Monsters University), sequels (Cars 2) and original stories that miss their mark (Brave). While Walt Disney animators are pushing the envelope by transporting crowds to new worlds populated by brilliant new characters (with wonderful new songs), Pixar’s tapping into the known. ...

Look here! Flapdoodle to the left! Flapdoodle to the right!

Pixar in Emeryville, run by Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, is doing prequels and sequels of their hits of yesteryear. And the occasional new misfires that win Academy Awards and make lots of money.

But in the meantime, down at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, run by John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, they are making magical fairy tale musicals that are very much like the magical fairy tale musicals of 1989-1994.

Which is, you know, a higher level.

Somebody on the internets needs a straitjacket, but I don't think it's me.
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The Outing

Daniel comes out of the shadows.

The anonymous blogger behind the Vfx Soldier blog revealed his identity today to lead the visual effects protest outside DreamWorks Animation in conjunction with President Obama’s visit.

Daniel Lay, a visual effects professional who has worked at Sony Pictures Imageworks, DreamWorks Animation, Digital Domain and other visual effects companies, said he felt obliged to reveal his identity for two reasons. First, the movement he helped found to fight back against foreign tax incentives is becoming a formal organization, the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians (ADAPT). Second, he said “people have been falsely accused of being Vfx Soldier and have been blacklisted, so this is the time for me to come out. That got my blood boiling.” ...

Steve Kaplan has known Mr. Lay's identity for a long while now. (Me too.)

He's a former active member of TAG, and a guy who cares about what happens to the industry to which he's devoted a lot of time and sweat and high energy.

Glad he revealed himself. This will prvent others from losing jobs because they were falsely accused by employers for being "Vfx Soldier."
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Monday, November 25, 2013

Walking Through the Hat Building

I spent part of my afternoon at the Hat Building, where a lengthy Frozen trailer is on display on a large monitor in the entrance hall, and a lot of employees are taking Thanksgiving week off. ...

According to artists up in the story department, there are six (maybe more) features in various stages of development. (Don't ask me what all the titles and subjects are, because beyond Big Hero Six and Zootopia, haven't really kept up.)

And one of the story artists said this:

"We finally have a lot of story development going on, because it's taken a long while for John [and Ed] to have confidence, I think, in what we can do.

"Back when we were working on Bolt, we were taking the picture up to Pixar all the time, to show Pixar the brain trust what was happening. That's not happening now. I don't mean that nothing gets taken up to Emeryville these days, but John is a lot more comfortable with the artists here. And because he's more comfortable, more projects are in work, and there's not as much input from Pixar.

"Because John trusts what the Disney artists can do now. I don't think he did, a few years ago." ...

Speaking of Pixar, there is this bit of exuberant admiration from Professor Bob Sutton.

Ed Catmull has been one of my favorite senior executives for a long time. I admired him from afar after reading about him in David Price's excellent The Pixar Touch. I admired him even more after talking to people at Pixar about what it was like to work with him. And then I got to him a little through several interactions I had with him as part of an authors' group here in the San Francisco area and also, when Huggy Rao and I interviewed him for our new book Scaling Up Excellence.

The most interesting, and I think revealing, interactions I have had with Ed, however, have not been in person -- they have come from the process of reading and commenting on an earlier draft of his book, and exchanging emails with him. And, most recently, reading the finished product. I won't go through all the twists and turns of the process, but Ed (and obviously his co-writer Amy Wallace, who I did not interact with directly) clearly were dedicated to getting it right, Even in that early draft, the astounding and intertwined stories of Ed's life and Pixar's development into one of greatest companies on the planet were riveting, as were his insights about building a creative company ...

Jeeze, Professor Sutton. If you have issues with Dr. Catmull, don't beat around the bush. Just come right out and say what they are.
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The Visit, the Demonstration

From the Wrap (now with Add On):

Visual Effects Workers on Planned Protest of Obama’s DreamWorks Visit: ‘We’ve Already Won’

The artists and effects wizards demonstrating near DreamWorks Animation want the president to acknowledge the outsourcing hurting their industry

Members of the visual-effects community are protesting President Barack Obama’s visit to DreamWorks Animation’s Glendale campus on Tuesday in order to draw attention to foreign and state film tax incentives that are luring work out of Hollywood.

[Meantime] ... White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday that the choice of DreamWorks Animation for Tuesday’s speech reflected the number of jobs being created by the company. The venue was not chosen because DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was a top bundler for Obama during the 2012 presidential election and one of his most important contributors.

Okaay. Nothing to do with political contributions. (What could everybody have been thinking?)

And I'm happy to say that, over the years, DreamWorks Animation has created a lot of jobs in Glendale. However, from mid 2011 to Spring 2013, the Guild is down around 200 jobs at DWA. (I know because I checked. But to be fair and transparent, the company is now in the process of hiring for its new television division. So there will be an uptick.)

Regardless of DreamWorks Animation's ups and downs, the larger visual effects community in L.A. has been absolutely kicked in the backside by the massive subsidies offered by other states and countries. Be nice to see a level playing field, but it would also be nice if we all got to frolic in rolling, verdant fields with pretty white unicorns.

And that ain't going to happen, either.

Add On:

... President Obama’s schedule on Tuesday includes a meeting with studio executives and other entertainment industry representatives at DreamWorks Animation, where economic issues specific to Hollywood are expected to be discussed, sources said on Monday.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has been inviting studio chiefs to the meeting, sources said, and among those expected at the closed-door event are MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, CBS’s Leslie Moonves and possibly Warner Bros.’ Kevin Tsujihara and Barry Meyer and Fox’s Jim Gianopulos. Although no agenda has been set, such issues as the economic impact of entertainment, as well as the fight against piracy, are expected to be brought up. ...

Maybe even ... oh ... outsourcing?

Add On Too: Obama on DWA's Glendale campus:

President Obama took to the stage today for a speech on the economy at DreamWorks Animation, the company run by one of his biggest Hollywood bundlers Jeffrey Katzenberg. After being introduced by Mellody Hobson — the DWA board chairman from Aerial Capital Management, a Chicago native and longtime friend — he thanked Katzenberg for inviting him before launching into a pro-Hollywood and pro-economy message tailored to the crowd estimated at 1800-2000 that included DWA employees and pretty much every entertainment mogul in the city. “His place in the entertainment business is legendary … don’t need to puff him up too much he has a healthy sense of self”, Obama joked about Katzenberg, with the president adding that “my ears were the inspiration for Shrek”. The president called the entertainment biz “one of America’s biggest exports” and “one of the bright spots of our economy”, adding that he’s figured out what his next job will be. “I told Jeffery I’d like to work here”, Obama said to cheers from the crowd. As he wrapped up, after his customary “God bless America” line, Obama said, “Can’t wait to see your next movie”.

The Glendale stop, on the second day of a two-day LA fundraising swing, drew a who’s who of Hollywood moguls including CBS Corp’s Les Moonves, NBCUniversal’s Ron Meyer, Jeff Shell and Robert Greenblatt, Sony’s Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, Paramount’s Rob Moore, Fox’s Jim Gianoplulos and Peter Rice, Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer, Warner Bros’ Kevin Tsujihara, Disney’s Bob Iger, Alan Horn and Anne Sweeney, LA Film Czar Tom Sherak and the MPAA’s Chris Dodd. Those execs participated in a closed-press meeting with Obama ahead of his speech ...
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stan Freberg and Cartoons

Cartoon Research posts about Mr. Freberg's animated commercials:

... Stan [Freberg] was no stranger to animation, having appeared in an unwholesome number of cartoons from Warner Brothers, Screen Gems, and UPA. He had great comic delivery, and could play a wide range of character types. At times it was hard to tell that he actually wasn’t all those different people. ...

Stan's old now, and if you're younger than a certain age, he's a dim and distant figure in America's popular culture. But if you're a Boomer or even older, memories of him shine bright.

Mr. Freberg worked with Bob Clampett on the original Cecil and Beany. (The show was a cartoon in the early sixties, but a T.V. puppet show in the late forties, which was the project Stan worked on.) And Stan had a variety show on network radio when that species was in the last-gasp throes of extinction. (The year was 1957.)

But Stan Freberg's crowning glory, in my opinion, was this gem:

"The United States of America, Vol. I," came out the summer of 1961 as a record album. It was a Broadway musical on vinyl, and I listened to it until the grooves wore out. The record was expensive to produce (as evidenced by the fragment directly above) and apparently didn't sell enough copies to trigger a Volume 2 (at least until way later.)

Sadly, not all of Stan Freberg's work made it into the public square. He and Ward Kimball collaborated on a feturette in the early seventies, but the cartoon was never completed.

Happily, lots of Mr. Freberg's completed work is out on the internet and elsewhere, waiting for the uninitiated to discover it.
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Foreign Accumulations

Animation box office in lands beyond our shores:

Weekend Foreign Box Office - (Global Accumulations)

Gravity -- $46,600,000 -- ($577,002,604 )

Free Birds -- $575,000 -- ($57,893,865)

Cloudy with ... Meatballs -- $5,000,000 -- ($207,400,425) ...

Despicable Me 2, still in a few hundred theaters in the U.S. of A., collected $342,000 domestically over the weekend and has a worldwide accumulation of $916,474,000, 60% of that number coming from overseas.

Turbo, still performing in some world markets, has a global total of $280,137,161, 70.4% of which was made abroad.

Planes did slightly better domestically than Turbo but worse overseas. It's global box office stands at $219,428,634. 59% of the take happened in foreign countries.

Monsters University, second highest grossing animated feature of the year, ended up with a final box office tally of $743,401,131, 63.9% of it from foreign turnstiles.
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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dave Rand on Green Shirts

As was discussed in an earlier post, we've been informed that members at Dreamworks Animation are being urged to wear green shirts on Tuesday during President Obama's visit to the studio. The goal is to bring awareness of the plight of visual effects artists caused by the global prevalence and market distorting effects of entertainment tax subsidies.

Tonight, the video above by TAG member Dave Rand was made available. In this video, Dave explains why he supports this effort, and what it hopes to achieve.

While TAG takes no official position on this action, we respectfully acknowledge our members acting in solidarity to bring better working conditions to the visual effects industry; an industry to which they are linked by skill, experience and training.

Members working at Dreamworks Animation interested in obtaining a shirt before President Obama's visit on Tuesday, should contact President-Elect Loofbourrow at the studio on Monday.

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Your Weekend B.O.

... is fragrant with the smell of Moolah.

(And now with Add On!)

Jennifer Lawrence's World

1) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -- Weekend Total: $153 million. Per-screen average: $36,824.

2) Thor: The Dark World -- Weekend Total: $14.4 million. Per-screen average: $3,873. Total domestic gross: $168.1 million.

3) The Best Man Holiday -- Weekend Total: $12.7 million. Per-screen average: $6,224. Total domestic gross: $50.6 million.

4) Delivery Man -- Weekend Total: $8.1 million. Per-screen average: $2,945. Total domestic gross: $8.1 million.

5) Free Birds -- Weekend Total: $5.1 million. Per-screen average: $1,646. Total domestic gross: $48.3 million.

6) Last Vegas -- Weekend Total: $4.4 million. Per-screen average: $1,520. Domestic Total: $54 million

7) Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa -- Weekend Total: $3.5 million. Per-screen average: $1,343. Domestic Total: $95.5 million.

8 ) Gravity -- Weekend Total: $3.3 million. Per screen average: $1,773. Domestic Total: $245.5 million

9) 12 Years A Slave -- Weekend Total: $2.8 million. Per-screen average: $1,882. Domestic Total: $29.4 million.

10) Dallas Buyers Club -- Weekend Total: $2.7 million. Per-screen average: $4,113. Domestic Total: $6.4 million.

Disney's Frozen, now in one theater in Hollywood (the fabled El Capitan) took in $66,500.

Add On: Ms. Lawrence rules.

The Jennifer Lawrence sequel’s $161M is biggest November opening ever in U.S. and it adds another $146M from overseas in first weekend for Lionsgate

Jennifer Lawrence and “The Hunger Games Catching Fire” scored a box-office bulls-eye this weekend, roaring to $161 million in its U.S. opening.

The domestic haul is the biggest November debut ever, the fourth-best all-time and the year’s second-best, behind only Disney Marvel superhero sequel “Iron Man 3,” which soared to $174 million in May.
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"Naked and Afraid" No More

At a little after 12 noon, word reached us on the picket line that agreement had been reached on Discovery Channel's "Naked and Afraid" labor dispute ...

Last week, 12 of 14 editor's on Discovery's new reality series walked off the job and picket lines were put up around the work site (see above.)

The Animation Guild was out on the line in support of Local 700, as were several other unions. Picketing went on all day from last Monday until ... well, until about 2 1/2 hours ago.

Our understanding is that the producer had a difficult time finding replacements for its absent editors, although the company gave it the old college try. (The picket line, we're told, helped dissuade possible scabs.) Complicating matters for Discovery was a tight schedule and the necessity of getting a "Naked and Afraid" special ready for air. (That pesky old leverage thing again. Local 700 had good traction, and the company was unable to break the half-nelson it found itself in.)

The result? A tentative contract between the employer and the editors. The company's attorney and the IA still need to do a final review of deal points, but assuming those things check out, the job action is over. Congrats to the IA and the Editors Guild!

See another story here.
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Friday, November 22, 2013


Now with Add-Ons.

They've reached, apparently, a new contract.

After just 18 days of negotiations, the Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced tonight that they have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year TV/theatrical contract. The deal will be reviewed Saturday at a special meeting of the DGA’s National Board; if the board approves it, the deal will be sent to the full membership for ratification soon afterward. ...

Steve Kaplan and I were lunching with a long-time union rep and organizer. He related that his writer-producer girlfriend has griped that the WGA strike of 2007-2008 ended up being "for nothing."

I said, "No. Wasn't for nothing. The WGA got New Media, which so far hasn't been worth a hell of a lot, but they got it. But the real winners then were the members of the DGA, which negotiated a better deal than the Writers, even though it was the WGA that went on strike. The Directors did better with the contract's fine print."

The DGA goes into contract talks knowing where it wants to go, and is skilled at formulating a plan to get there. I have no idea what the agreement just negotiated actually is. Nobody does. But it will likely suit the DGA's goals and purposes. And the contract will be the template for the contract negotiations to follow.

Add On: Some of the contract details:

... The deal, which took just two and a half weeks to reach, sees wage increases of 2.5% the first year and 3% for the second and third years of the agreement. It also sees a 0.5% raise up to 16% overall to the Pension Plan, though the DGA can divert that increase to wages if it chooses. Residuals will also increase 2.5% the first year and go up 3% in the second and third years except for network primetime which will go up 2% for each year of the new deal. Taking just over three weeks last time, the DGA/AMPTP negotiations in 2010 for the current contract saw a 2% yearly wage and residual raise and a 1.5% rise in health and pension contributions to 15.5% overall. ...

We'll soon get to see how this ripples across other contracts up for negotiation.
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Green Shirts

We're informed they will be worn at a certain speech.

As President Obama visits DreamWorks Animation’s Glendale campus on Tuesday, visual effects artists, frustrated by the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries that offer generous subsidies, are planning a rally outside the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale.

An effort also is under way to get those attending the speech — largely restricted to studio employees — to wear green shirts in solidarity on the issue and to call the president’s attention to the problem. The green shirts represent a blank greenscreen — the message being “This is your movie without visual effects.” The green color has been adopted as the symbol of protests over runaway vfx production.

Digital artists move freely between animation and visual effects companies, and many current DWA employees have worked at companies that are now shrunken or defunct as vfx work has followed subsidies abroad. DWA itself had layoffs in February, and those laid-off employees had fewer alternatives with vfx work gone from California. ...

One of the organizers of the demonstrations, former Digital Domain topper Scott Ross, said via email that the point of the green shirts is to raise the issue of “why are we letting vfx, one of the great American creative industries, be bought by foreign subsidies?” The goal among organizers is to get hundreds of artists at Obama’s speech to wear green. ...

This isn't complicated.

The goal here is to neutralize governments' abilities to bribe movie/visual effects companies into working in their jurisdiction. Corporations love financial incentives, but governments should be induced to not dole them out. The incentives should be the quality and talent of the work force. The rest should be up to the magic of the marketplace.

(Other articles on the same subject here and here and here.)
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Marc Breaux, RIP

The man who helped Dick Van Dyke dance atop chimneys and beside cartoon penguins, has moved on.

Marc Breaux, the choreographer who with his wife Dee Dee Wood created Dick Van Dyke's famous chimney sweep number in Mary Poppins and other spectacular dances for film and television, has died. He was 89.

After director Robert Wise saw Van Dyke's lithe performance in 1964's Mary Poppins, he immediately hired Breaux and Wood for another Julie Andrews classic, The Sound of Music, released a year later. Van Dyke also took the pair to work with him on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Breaux and Wood, proteges of famed choreographer Michael Wood, also designed dances for Norman Jewison's 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette, and The Happiest Millionaire (1967), with Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson.

The duo served as the choreographers on the 1960s ABC variety show The Hollywood Palace and created dances for many other variety shows in the '70s. ...

I never knew that Dick Van Dyke suggest Breaux and his wife as choreographers to Walt Disney. Glad it worked out. Click here to read entire post


Various news outlets report:

Pixar Animation Studios has laid off less than 5% of its staff due to the delay of its upcoming film “The Good Dinosaur,” according to a company spokesperson.

Earlier this year, “The Good Dinosaur” was pushed back from its original release date of May 30, 2014, to Nov. 25, 2015, leaving the award-winning company without a film in 2014.

“At Pixar, we are constantly re-evaluating the creative and business needs of our studio,” a Pixar spokesman said. “With the release date change of ‘The Good Dinosaur,’ we have realigned our production and support priorities. ...

"Realigning production and support priorities" is studio speak for

"Hey. We thought we had the picture by the balls, you know? Story development was percolating along, everybody thought everything was moving great (except for some issues in Act II, but we can iron those out, right?)

"So the production managers and coordinators sent two sequences down to the animators and tech directors because the production crew needed work. Then two more sequences got shipped to the boys and girls in front of the computer screens. And swear to God, the shots looked great, the character designs were knocking everybody's socks off. But then the Brain Trust looked at the whole movie strung together and saw that, oopsie! There's some big continuity and character problems. And some big pieces of the thing don't make much sense. And the jokes aren't funny enough.

"There were a shitload of notes, and the four sequences got pulled back to story. And all of a sudden production doesn't have anything to work on. And you can't just have everybody sitting around doing 'experimental test animation' or reading the paper or twiddling their thumbs, you know? So some people got let go. It's crappy, but what you gonna do?"

Okay, so it might not have gone down EXACTLY this way, but I've been around enough animated features to know the general drill. Things aren't working so you have to stop the parade in its tracks. And there is collateral damage in the form of employees who get pink slips because of production hiccups.

It happened in the seventies and eighties, and it happens now. (You will note that the studio's public relations person who talked to the reporter didn't give hard numbers about layoffs, only percentages. Smart move. A few years ago a Disney spokesperson told a Bloomberg reporter that Walt Disney Animation Studios was laying off 140 people and there was internal negative fallout. Diz Co. likely wants to avoid that road a second time.)
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oh My ...

Things look dark for Mr. MacFarlane's non-cartoon laugher.

The word is still out on Dads. Seth MacFarlane's lackluster foray into live-action comedy has been the lowest performer of Fox's freshman class, and after Feb. 11, the network has no formal plans for when further episodes will air. ...

Not exactly cancelled, but not exactly returning, either.

What is that? Cartoon purgatory? Sometimes people spread themselves too thin.
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The Prez at DWA

This is intriguing:

On his visit to Los Angeles next week, President Obama will deliver remarks on the economy at a visit to DreamWorks Animation in Glendale, a White House official said on Thursday.

“The motion picture and television industry is a growing industry, and continues to create thousands of jobs across the country,” the White House official said. ...

The DreamWorks visit is part of a swing through Los Angeles that includes events to raise money for House and Senate Democratic campaign committees. ...

Haven't been a lot of big elected officials at cartoon studios. Maybe the closest parallel is fifty-four years ago, when a future President was hosted by a well-loved animation mogul.

And even further back, Disney created a campaign spot for the man I consider one of the great 20th century Presidents, Dwight David Eisenhower.

YouTube says this was done under Roy Disney (I'm assuming Senior). The animation looks like it was drawn by Walt Disney Productions artists.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nice Work

... and Christopher's got it.

... Christopher Dodd, the CEO of the MPAA, earned compensation of $3.3 million in 2012, up from $2.4 million in 2011, his first year at the helm of the movie industry trade group, according to a tax filing obtained by The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.

However, the MPAA noted that Dodd only worked 9 months in 2011.

The organization that lobbies lawmakers on behalf of the movie industry spent more than $28.6 million on compensation and benefits for 200 employees, an average of more than $143,000 per worker. ...

By way of contrast, the top annual contract rate for a TAG artist is $101,320.96 ... IF they work a whole 52 weeks.

Some have, and some have less.

(If Mr. Mark Mayerson is correct, one of the next things that Chris and company will be lobbying for is an extension of copyright. Because there's nothing more needed in this world than our fine, entertainment conglomerates holding intellectual property rights in a vise-like grip into infinity and beyond.)
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Tinsel Town Restructuring

The Gray Lady informs us:

... A rolling realignment has knocked out top [Hollywood] executives, broken apart old alliances and shattered assumptions about corporate loyalties and the industry’s pecking order.

Is Jeff Robinov, edged aside in June as president of the Warner Brothers Motion Picture Group, now headed toward Sony Pictures, as Hollywood’s busy trade press has speculated? People briefed on Mr. Robinov’s dealings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the situation is in flux, said any such move was distant at best, and would rely on his willingness and ability to raise money for a small film slate and pay for his own staff.

But anything is possible at a time when Sony has hired Bain & Company to help identify $100 million or more in cuts, which would almost assuredly result in layoffs; nine senior marketing and communications executives have been fired across studios like 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks Animation and Relativity Media; no lesser a producer than Jerry Bruckheimer is without a home base; and Comcast has fired the chiefs of its Universal Pictures and Focus Features divisions. ...

On the picket line today, an Editors Guild rep complained to me about cuts in their membership ranks at Disney, as the cost-cutters go through everything with a sharp hatchet, cutting here and slashing there. And of course DreamWorks Animation carved deep into TAG membership ranks at the start of 2013, laying off hundreds.

So now executive heads are rolling, but it has always been thus in Hollywood. William Fox lost control of his company when Darryl Zanuck, who had exited Warner Bros. two years before, merged his Century Pictures with the large company and became the production honcho. And Bill Fox became history.

But the days of the long knives has been a Movieland tradition forever:

... My favorite Hollywood story is about the Warner Brothers, Jack and Harry. The day after Hal Wallis (who had been head of production at the studio) ankled and left them flat, there was deep gloom and a horrid sense of catastrophe at the executive lunch table.

All the boys huddle down at the bottom of the table to get far away from Jack Warner when he came in. All but one, a pushing young producer named Jerry Wald (supposed by some to be the original Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run) who sits down near the head of the table.

Jack and Harry Warner come in. Jack sits at the head of the table and Harry just around the corner. Jerry Wald is near and all the others as far away as possible. Jack looks at them with disgust and turns to Harry.

Jack: That sonofabitch, Wallis.

Harry: Yes, Jack.

Jack: A lousy fifty dollar a week publicity man. We built him up from nothing. We made him one of the biggest men in Hollywood. And what does he do to us? He picks up his hat and walks out and leaves us cold.

Harry: Yes, Jack.

Jack: That's gratitude for you. And that that sonfabitch Zanuck. A lousy hundred a week writer and we took him in hand and built him up and made him one of the biggest men in Hollywood. And what did he do to us? Picked up his hat and walked out on us cold.

Harry: Yes, Jack.

Jack: That's gratitude for you. Why, we could take any sonfabitch we liked and build him up from nothing and make him one of the biggest men in Hollywood.

Harry: Yes, Jack.

Jack: Anybody at all. (He turns and looks at Jerry Wald.) What's your name?

Wald: Jerry Wald, Mr. Warner.

Jack: (To Harry) Jerry Wald. Why, Harry, we could take this fellow here, this Jerry Wald and build him up from nothing to be one of the biggest men in Hollywood, couldn't we, Harry?

Harry: Yes, Jack, we certainly could.

Jack: And what would it get us? We build him up to be a big man, give him power and reputation, make him one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and you know what would happen, Harry? The sonofabitch would walk out on us and leave us flat.

Harry: Yes, Jack.

Jack: So why wait for that to happen, Harry? Let's fire the sonofabitch right now.

-- Raymond Chandler, 1949

The more things change, the more they really don't.
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Diane Disney Miller, RIP

A link to animation's past moves on.

Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney and a philanthropist who bucked powers-that-be in Los Angeles to keep architect Frank Gehry on the job during a crucial phase of planning the city’s new concert hall, has died. She was 79.

Miller died Tuesday at her home in Napa, Calif., from complications of a fall in September, according to close family friend Richard Greene, who co-wrote a biography of her father. ...

Walt's oldest daughter was not a Disney who worked inside her father's business. But she married a man, Ron Miller, who was employed by Walt Disney Productions for decades and was for a time its chairman.

She leaves behind seven children and thirteen grand-children. Also one great-grand-daughter.
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"Naked and Afraid" and On Strike!

The Motion Picture Editors Guild leads this charge:

Editors on Discovery Channel‘s Naked & Afraid walked off the show this morning seeking an IATSE contract. The Renegade 83 production is currently in post-production on a two-hour special scheduled to air in three weeks on December 8, leading Discovery’s weeklong “Discovery Unwrapped” holiday programming of premieres and specials.

I spent my morning hours supporting Local 700's effort to bring Renegade 83 under a union contract. At the time when their leverage reached its peak potency, the workers of Renegade 83 are now attempting to gain the best workplace conditions possible by forcing their employer to bargain with their union. I am glad to support their efforts to bring this production company under the same type of agreement a large bulk of "reality" programming has come to enjoy. Anyone interested in adding their support is welcome. Message me and I will share the details.

When I got to the picket line in the afternoon, people were tired and the days was getting cold. If you've never been on a picket line, I can tell you that they are tiring, they are boring, and they are often quite useful. How this one turns out, I do not know. But I know that they often offer surprises, sometimes pleasant ones.

If met my darling wife on a picket line.

-- Steve Hulett

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Contributing to GDP

... in large amounts.

The economic contributions of U.S. copyright industries reached new heights last year, for the first time contributing more than $1 trillion to the gross domestic product and accounting for 6.5% of the nation's economy, according to a new report.

The study tracks the economic effect and contributions of U.S. industries engaged in the creation and distribution of computer software, video games, books, newspapers, periodicals and journals, as well as motion pictures, music, radio and television programming.

Those industries contributed $1.01 trillion in value-added services to the nation's GDP in 2012. That's up from $965 billion in 2011 and $885 billion in 2009, according to research slated to be released Tuesday morning by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a private coalition representing the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and other groups. ...

It's always good to get reminded how much the entertainment business (and this means books, comics, video games, movies, television, shorts, etc.) contributes to the U.S. of A.'s economic well-being.

Of course, I've never been down with conglomerates and corporations owning copyrights and deriving all the cash flow that derives therefrom. Intellectual property is created by human beings, and human beings should own the fruits of their intellectual labors. But that's an argument that was settled in 1912, when congress waved its magic wand and made "work for hire" the law of the land.

I don't think that the United States will be recognizing the "moral rights" of content creators anytime soon. There's a trillion dollars at stake, and the movers and shakers of our charming corporatist state know this well.
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Monday, November 18, 2013

A New Record

Thanks to ...??

Universal Pictures today announced that the studio has set a new record for its highest-grossing year ever at the North American box office with a total of $1.352 billion through Sunday. ...

Propelling Universal’s success at the North American box office this year were eight films that claimed the number one spot including: Mama ($71.6 million), Identity Thief ($134.5 million), Oblivion ($89.1 million), Fast & Furious 6 ($238.7 million), Despicable Me 2 ($365.9 million), The Purge ($64.5 million), 2 Guns ($75.6 million) and Riddick ($42 million). ...

On a worldwide basis, Universal Pictures boasts the second and third highest-grossing films of 2013 with Despicable Me 2, having grossed $916.1 million to date, and Fast & Furious 6 with $788 million. Despicable Me 2 is the highest-grossing animated film of 2013 and is currently the fifth highest-grossing animated film of all time. Despicable Me 2 is also the studio’s second highest-grossing film of all time behind 1993’s Jurassic Park.

The last eighteen months, I've noticed that more and more animation projects have been getting underway. Artists who have been under-utilized have been getting more full-time, longer term gigs. There are more theatricals and way more television projects. DreamWorks Animation, after laying off hundreds of employees at the start of the year, is poised to hire hundreds for its new TV projects for Netflix.

More independent studios are coming online and doing work for various conglomerates. And the recent independent Illumination Entertainment has now come out of nowhere and created two highly successful features for Universal. And "Descipable Me 2" isn't just successful ...

... NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke told an earnings call this past July that DM2 is the most profitable film in the studio’s 101-year history. ...

Despicable Me 2 has made more money since the words above were written, and now stands near a billion dollars in revenue. Small wonder that animation is on a tear. Everyone wants in on the gold train.

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Our Weekend at the CTN Expo

This weekend, TAG representatives talked up the benefits and purposes of unionization in entertainment at the CTN Animation Expo. For the fourth year in a row, we spoke with members, students and animation enthusiasts until our voices gave out. Tina Price and the crew at CTN continue to impress as the scale of the show has once again exceeded the previous year. Two outdoor areas were set up to expand the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center space in order to accommodate the growing number of animation enthusiasts that attend this event.

The seminars, artist demonstrations, portfolio reviews and ample number of exhibitors provided plenty of ways to spend the three days of the event. We look forward to returning next year. For those so inclined, please enjoy the slideshow of pictures we captured after the break.

The CTN three-day expo gets larger every year. Lots of presentations. Many, many exhibition booths. Lots of portfolio reviews. A bit pricy for animation students, but many professionals were in attendance. I caught up with a lot of folks I hadn't seen in awhile and managed to talk myself hoarse.

-- Steve Hulett

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sharing Found Money

To expand on the post a couple of clicks down.:

There is no contractual or legal requirement for Fox to share any of the monster payout that The Simpsons will be earning on FXX with the crew that has turned out the show since Bush Uno was in office.


Still in all, the artists who have worked tirelessly on the show for decades, who have boosted the Yellow Family into the record books, would probably consider a few bills peeled off a roll that will shortly be larger than a small, orbiting moon to be a fine and wonderful gesture.

There are precedents ...

In the 1990s, when Disney animated features were making tall stacks of money with its animated features, the Mouse saw fit to hand out extra checks to the artistic staff that created them.

Here in the 21st century, DreamWorks Animation provided bonuses to artists and tech directors on the long series of hits that came out of Glendale and Redwood City over the course of years.

And it's not like Fox hasn't done the bonus thing before out of its sweet and benevolent heart.

After the first Ice Age came out, the picture made so much money that Rupert and his minions gifted the people who made it with an extra check equalling a year's worth of salary. The movie, released in March 2002, made $383,257,136 at the world box office, considerably less (like half a billion less?) than Fox stands to make on 500+ Simpsons cartoons that have long-since paid for themselves.

If Fox-News Corp. thinks about it, I'm sure it will want to reward the staff who helped make this latest tranche of Found Money possible.
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Animation's Overseas Box Office

The list is about as expected.

Foreign Weekend Grosses -- (Total Accumulations)

Gravity -- $18,500,000 -- ($514,855,614)

Free Birds -- $1,200,000 -- ($50,218,205)

Cloudy With ... Meatballs 2 -- $5,100,000 -- ($200,116,498)

Turbo -- $2,800,000 -- ($278,991,569)

Despicable Me 2 -- ???? -- ($916,040,000)

Planes -- ???? -- ($219,362,000 ...

Despicable Me 2 crossed the $550,000,000 marker in overseas earnings, with 60.1% of its $916 million gross coming from foreign venues. Sadly, I've found what it took in overseas this weekend nowhere on the internet. (Same with the Disney cartoon.)

Anybody that has them, feel free to put them up.
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Pixar South?

Don't really think so, but certainly a growing overseas player.

The "Pixar of South Africa," which has had success with "Zambezia" and "Khumba," will develop the first two films in a slate of five and targets releasing one movie a year starting in 2016.

South Africa's Triggerfish Animation Studios has secured development funding that it says will allow it to develop the first two projects in a slate of five movies, company executives said. ...

Triggerfish's first two features, Zambezia and Khumba ... have performed well in South Africa and beyond.

Here Be Monsters was selected for the Creative Focus pitch at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival earlier this year. It is based on an original story from writer Raffaella Delle Donne who worked on both of Triggerfish’s previous films.

"The funds will be used towards developing Triggerfish's slate of five animated feature films and to expand the studio’s digital department building on existing properties and exploring new ideas with apps and games," the studio said. ...

Zambezia, released last year, collected $30 million during its run, and Khumba rolls out next month. If Triggerfish is producing its features for $5 million or $6 million (and I don't know what the studio's costs are), then it's probably running in the black. Or close to.

There are a number of foreign-made animated features that have put up good numbers in world markets (like, for instance, this one.) There's no reason to believe that the brain trust in California has a lock on successful animated features. (Illumination Entertainment's Paris-made Despicable movies have certainly been mega hits.) But, thus far, California has created most of the animated box office monsters of the past seventy-five years.

That will likely be changing, because the animation business is now global as never before, so the odds are much higher that some animation genius will rise up in Australia .... or Europe ... or even South Africa.

And trust me, when that happens one of our fine animation conglomerates will swoop in to distribute the genius's output the way buzzards flap down to gobble fresh carrion.

Bank on it.
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Saturday, November 16, 2013


A wee bit of background: The Simpsons has been on the air for a quarter century, and has made a lot of people very rich. (Sadly, few of them are the artists who create the show, but that's another story for another time.)

Cash flow? Almost twenty-five years on broadcast network. DVD sales. Worldwide distribution. The money has gushed into Fox and Gracie Films coffers for like ever. And now there is this:

Twenty-four seasons into its run, The Simpsons is finally headed to cable.

In a competitive situation with five networks bidding, FXX has landed the exclusive cable as well as VOD/non-linear rights to the longest-running comedy series in TV history. The deal also is set to make TV history as the priciest off-network pact ever, expected to fetch at least $750 million, and the first one to include full digital rights.

The enormous size of the deal — which some say could potentially reach $1 billion if the series keeps producing new seasons — stems from the staggering volume of Simpsons episodes available: 530 when the show starts airing on FXX in August 2014 and growing to 574 by September 2015. ...

I walk around Film Roman-Starz Media (where pre-production on The Simpsons gets done) on a regular basis. When the 26th season of the show was green lit, the happiness and relief among directors and artists was palpable. Artists' positions have been cut steadily the last few years, but the survivors are glad to be there, even if salaries are stagnant. (Artists tell me that Fox is tight with a dollar. The studio, staffers say, has to fight for every penny it gets to produce the show.)

I'm an optimist. I have every hope that The Simpsons will be produced until it hits the magic number of thirty seasons. But I'm also a realist. (That's another word for "classical cynic.") The artists who have been working on the show for ten, fifteen and twenty years won't be getting any big bonuses, now that Fox/Gracie's humongous cash cow has waddled in from the distant pasture.

(As always, I'm happy to see my cynicism proven wrong.)
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Your American Box Office

Weekend grosses across the fruited plain appear to be shaping up this way:

B.O. Top Ten

1) Thor: The Dark World -- $10.5 Fri. ... $15.3 Sat. ... $9.2 Sun. -- $34.9 million weekend (-59%) -- Per Screen Average, $9,099 -- Total domestic gross $143.5 million.

2) The Best Man Holiday -- $12.5 Fri. ... $13.550 Sat. ... $6.3 Sun. -- $34 Million weekend. Per Screen Average, $14,033 -- Total domestic gross $34 million.

3) Last Vegas -- $2.4 Fri. ... $3.6 Sat. ... $1.9 Sun. -- $7.9 million Weekend (-28%) -- Per Screen Average: $2,441 -- Total domestic gross $46 million.

4) Free Birds -- $1.7 Fri. ... $3.5 Sat. ... $2.2 Sun. -- $7.5 million weekend (-33%) -- Per screen average: $2,135. Total domestic gross $41.4 million.

5) Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa -- $2.2 Fri. ... $3.1 Sat. ... $1.9 Sun. -- $7.189 million weekend (-37%) -- Per screen average: $2,254. Total domestic gross $89.7 million

6) Gravity -- $1.7 Fri. ... $2.9 Sat. ... $1.6 Sun. -- $6.2 million weekend (-28%) -- Per screen average: $2,411. Total domestic gross $240.4 million.

7) Ender’s Game -- $1.6 Fri. ... $2.5 Sat. ... $1.5 Sun. -- $5.6 weekend (-46%) -- Per screen average: $1,719. Total domestic gross $53.1 million.

8) 12 Years A Slave -- $1.3 Fri. ... $2.1 Sat. ... $1.2 Sun. -- $4.6 million weekend (-30%) -- Per screen average: $3,299. Total domestic gross $24.9 million.

9) Captain Phillips -- $1.2 Fri. ... $1.9 Sat. ... $1.1 Sun. -- $4.307 million weekend (-25%) -- Per screen average: $1,640. Total domestic gross $97.4 million.

10) About Time -- $1.0 Fri. ... $1.3 Sat. ... $0.8 Sun. -- $3.146 million weekend (-34%) -- Per screen average: $2,458. Total domestic gross: $11.3 million.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is just out of the top ten at #11, and has taken in $11 million and change through 51 days of release.

Turbo (gross of $82,891,569) is all but out of theaters. It's done way better overseas than domestically.

Despicable Me remains on a tiny handful of screens, and has accumulated $365,525,670 after 137 days of release.
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Friday, November 15, 2013

Executive Migration?

From Burbank to San Francisco:

San Francisco Bay Area independent animation studio Ghostbot, Inc. announces today that Josh Book joins the studio as its CG Creative Director. ...

Under Book's tenure, the CG pipeline at Nickelodeon became one of the most efficient global CG production pipelines for animation. Book oversaw all in-house CG series and development work including the Emmy award-winning TV series DreamWorks "The Penguins of Madagascar," "Tak and the Power of Juju," "Fanboy and Chum Chum," and "Bubble Guppies." ...

I don't know why Mr. Book ankled Nickelodeon, but I'd wager that with Nick doing fewer CG animated shows just now, Mr. Book was a bit thin in the "new assignments" category, and so was looking to conquer new worlds.

I did have a discussion a week ago with one of Nick's executive/management types; he said the studio was developing more hand-drawn shows and in fact had greenlit three new series. Perhaps that was a harbinger, and

Maybe Josh Book is hiking to greener pastures because Ghostbot provided the tall, chlorophyl-laden blades of grass that he needed. Or maybe Nick didn't have enough to keep him busy. The studio wouldn't be the first to realize that expensive CG shows do not lead to higher ratings all that often. Mostly they create jobs for up and comers, add to costs, but they pick up few additional viewers.

Mon Dieu.
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Annie's Master of Ceremonies

ASIFA has found its host.

BURBANK, Calif. (November 15, 2013) – The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, announced today that TV, film and voice actor, Patrick Warburton, will host the 41st Annie Awards on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. With his squinty eyes and hard-boiled detective's voice, Warburton's humorous personality can generate laughs with almost no effort, whether onscreen or in voice-overs. “We are really excited to have Patrick hosting this year’s ceremony,” said ASIFA-Hollywood President, Frank Gladstone. “With his love of animation and deadpan comedic style, we know he will keep the show lively, funny and very

Warburton quickly became a popular semi-regular in the hit TV series Seinfeld, involved in a running joke about his frequent breakups and reconciliations with Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). He stayed with the show until it finished in 1998, and provided the voice for Superman in a series of commercials with Jerry Seinfeld. He has contributed his memorable voice to characters on the animated shows Family Guy, Hercules, and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command and as sorceress Yazma's (Eartha Kitt) not-too-bright thug assistant in Disney’s feature, The Emperor's New Groove (2000).

In 2001, Warburton signed on as the star voice of the Fox sitcom The Tick, about a muscle-bound but dimwitted superhero in a blue costume. High-profile projects in 2002 included a role in the delayed ensemble farce Big Trouble and as Agent T alongside Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black 2. By now, Warburton had become an in-demand voice actor working on a variety of projects including TV series like The Venture Brothers and Family Guy, as well as movies such as Home on the Range, Chicken Little, The Wild, and Bee Movie. In 2007 he started on a successful seven-season run with the prime-time sitcom Rules of Engagement, and in 2012 he appeared in Seth McFarlane's directorial debut, Ted. In 2014, Warburton will lend his voice talent in the new Peabody and Sherman film and also Planes 2. ...

One of my favorite voice actors. Mr. Warburton is hysterically funny in a great sketch on Funny ofr Die (see it here.) Click here to read entire post

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Below the Radar

The landscape beyond Madagascar, Toy story, and the rest of America's animated hits.

Proving there is a solid second-tier market for children's 3D animated movies beyond the Pixar/DreamWorks/Blue Sky axis, Germany's Studio 100 has closed multiple territory deals for its kids titles Maya The Bee and Blinky Bill. ...

“The sales illustrate the continuous popularity of well-known and much-loved brands and the rising demand for great family entertainment,” said Studio 100 Managing Director Patrick Elmendorff.

The ongoing theme around the globe is that the market for animation continues to grow. If you can create a halfway decent animated feature on a reasonable budget, you don't have to be a subsidiary of a big entertainment conglomerate, you don't have to be a talent from Cal Arts.

With some well-loved characters and a credible animation studio, you can (as Darryl Zanuck used to say) release your movie and then "Open your own mint." Just be sure you don't blow through $200 million in the process.

There is plenty of room, apparently, for animation producers not named Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar and Blue Sky Studios. Who would have thunk it?
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The CGI! The CGI!

Maybe this was fated to happen.

TOKYO – Stand by Me Doraemon, the latest in the hugely popular animated series, will be a 3D CG production directed by Takashi Yamazaki and 3D effects specialist and game creator Ryuichi Yagi, set for a summer 2014 release.

"I want the viewer to experience what it would be like if they could get their hands on Doraemon's gadgets, what they could do. It's like my own childhood dream, but with 3D you can do that," Yamazaki told local media.

When Japanese anime is transformed into a CG feature, you know that hand-drawn animation is truly over. Click here to read entire post

November Membership Meeting

I've been communicating with TAG officers and the executive board about the agenda of our last General Membership meeting of the year on November 26th. ...

The September meeting was a sizable one, but that's understandable. There were nominations for the Guild's Fall elections. I walked into the hall expecting to see every office contested, but the way it turned out, all the action was for slots on the executive board.

So now the elections are over, and we're into negotiation season. Like for instance:

Contract negotiations between the Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are set to officially begin on Nov. 4. ... The discussions for a new three-year contract will be hosted at the AMPTP's Sherman Oaks headquarters and conducted under a press blackout. ...

In recent years the DGA has been able to conclude a deal within 2-3 weeks, suggesting that an agreement may be concluded before Thanksgiving. ... No law or rule requires the other guilds to accept the deal terms negotiated by the DGA and AMPTP, but in practice it has proved difficult or impossible for them to do so. ...

Every Hollywood labor contract is different, yet almost all of them fall under the gravitational pull of "pattern bargaining." If the DGA gets a new media sideletter, the other unions get sideletters. If the DGA gets 2% wage bump ups, then SAG-AFTRA, WGA, and the IA are pretty much ordained to negotiate the same rates of increase.

And now another union has entered the batter's box behind the Directors Guild of America.

The Writers Guild of America has selected Billy Ray (“The Hunger Games”) and Chip Johannessen as co-chairs of its negotiating committee with WGA West executive director David Young as chief negotiator.

The current agreement expires May 1, and no date has been set for a successor deal on its master contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. ...

The IATSE and TAG won't be negotiating until 2015. But there's no time like the present to start talking about what the issues are and where we are going a year and a half hence. So the Animation Guild's late November meeting will have the following items on its agenda:

General Membership Meeting Agenda

1) 2015 Contract Negotiations

a) Storyboard Rates (Freelance and Staff)
b) Overtime
c) Work Practice Disavowals
d) Negotiation Committee

2) Holiday Party

One of the best things TAG members can do for themselves is knowing what's in the contract under which they work. What classification has the studio put me in? Is it the right one? Should I be making a higher minimum rate? When does overtime kick in? What the hell is "On Call?"

Knowledge is power and power means leverage. It's hard to challenge the studio on a contract violation if you don't know the contract is being violated in the first place. Come join us on the 26th and find out what your workplace rights and wages should be.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fewer Movies, More Money

Making super hero movies with lots of CG effects, and animated features (that are one big Cg effect) is paying off.

... Disney was the first studio to reach the $1 billion domestic box office milestone for the year, a threshold it has achieved for eight consecutive years. In August, in record time, Disney reached the $2 billion international box office threshold for the fourth year in a row, and in early November the studio surpassed its previous all-time international box office record of $2.302 billion, also set in 2010. ...

The company is a veritable profit machine.

It makes tow animated feautres a year (mostly. It makes super hero movies via Marvel, sells boatloads of toys, games, and princess costumes, and the turnstiles of the various parks are spinning merrily even though it now costs close to a $100 to get into one of the various Magic Kingdoms. (Magic for the share holders; draining for park attendess.)

But Diz Co. has the synergy thing down. And though its owned Marvel for a far shorter time than Time-Warner has owned DC, it knows how to market and leverage its properties in ways that the heirs and assignees of Jack L. Warner can only dream of.
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Shoring up Borders

BuzzFeed tells us:

Why Latinos Are Excited About "Bordertown," The New Seth MacFarlane Animated Series

The reason? FOX “did its research,” many say, after news that Lalo Alcaraz ... was added as a writer bringing the total to four Latino writers. ...

The inclusion of Alcaraz, a high-profile Mexican-American cartoonist and satirist, as a writer on the show, which features four Latinos in all out of about a dozen, has led many to be cautiously optimistic about the quality of humor on the show. ...

I have some hope here. Some funny, clear-headed humor about issues along the border would be a breath of fresh air. Anything that counters the meme "Mexicans are all vicious drug smugglers leaving bodies in the desert" is a good thing.

To demonize a people who will shortly have majorities in two of the largest states in the union is a longer-term recipe for chaos. If Bordertown can cut through this, then I say "Bravo!"
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

AT DreamWorks TV Animation

I visited DreamWorks TV Animation, headquartered (as of Monday) high in a Glendale California skyscraper next to the 134 freeway. The studio has a splendid view of the entire San Fernando Valley. ... .

The new studio is nicely decked out: Big circular work areas with modelers and designers working at their flat screen monitors, executives and show runners in offices on the outside walls. Studio top kick Mark Taylor is one former Nick staffer among many. Jeff DeGrandis, longtime producer on Nick's Dora the Explorer, is now a supervising producer at DWTVA. As staffers told me:

"We're going to be doing a bunch of shows with 78 episode orders. Most of them are CG but a few will be hand-drawn. It will take us five years to do the 300 hours of programming that Netflix wants to do. ...

When I walked through, there were only a couple of board artists working, but this makes sense because few scripts have been written. (Management is still choosing show runners.) I expect that having a major new studio in the L.A. mix will help stabilize ... and raise ... salaries for artists. It's already had an impact on wages as various Nick artists have decamped to DreamWorks TV Animation and Nick has boosted salaries to motivate people to stay.

(Shades of the Disney-DreamWorks Animation wrestling match in the middle nineties. This was when Michael Eisner told Disney Feature execs to "do what you have to do to keep people from going to work for Katzenberg.")

My prediction: Wages will edge up as more studios fight over the finite number of skilled, experienced board artists and designers populating Southern California's animation industry. Nickelodeon's ratings have rebounded, and competition has gotten hotter. Disney is adding series, Fox is increasing work, and Nick is producing new series.

And the artists required to create this new work are going to be in high demand. It won't be precisely like the go-go nineties, but unless I have my head stuffed entirely in my large intestine, there will be more tv animation employment in six ... twelve ... or eighteen months than there is now.
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Our Glorious Free Market System

It makes a body proud.

... [T]he state of the [movie] industry in California is in serious trouble and our Film and TV Tax Credit program just isn’t cutting it, politicians and studio execs said today at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s second annual State of the Industry Conference.

“We need a game changer; this is a very incremental approach,” Paramount Studio Group President Randy Baumberger said of the annual $100 million lottery system program. “Virtually no feature films are shot in LA anymore. What producers need are commitment and consistency. What producers are looking for is to be able to plan out 3 or 4 years,” he added during a panel on keeping jobs in California. ...

Recent hearings in Sacramento have suggested that efforts to increase or extend the program will be a part of next year’s legislative agenda. Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, assured the crowd at the Loews Hollywood Hotel that state lawmakers would move forward to increase the tax credit program. And Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood Hills, told the audience that “conversations are taking place now” to get an increase and an expansion to the program. ...

The cries of "Gimme, gimme, GIMME!" can be heard in all corners of tinseltown. Entertainment conglomerates have become much like Major League ball clubs. If they can't get government to subsidize their businesses, they will move their businesses someplace that will subsidize them.

It's the American way!
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MAD Wraps

One hundred episodes makes for a long run.

... They said a regular, timely animated version of MAD Magazine couldn't be done, but 100 episodes later, series Head Writer/Producer Kevin Shinick and his team proved the naysayers, well... nay.

GREG: There have been numerous attempts to translate MAD Magazine to stage, records and TV, including some previous animated pilots. Why do you think you finally captured the flavor?

KEVIN: I really wanted this to be the TV version of the magazine. We really felt we had the stamp of approval by involving a lot of the MAD artists with the show, like Sergio Aragones and Tom Richman Richmond - who is the "Mort Drucker" of today. We use Don Martin's style too. Al Jaffe is still sharp as a tack at 98. We’ve got one of his "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" segments in the 100th show.

GREG: After 100 MAD episodes, how many times have you heard from the people you’ve made fun of on the show?

KEVIN: I gotta be honest. I was hoping to get a cease and desist letter from somebody so I could frame it in my office! Most times we get people saying, "I loved it when you parodied my show or when I saw myself on MAD!" ...

The show, after multiple years, is ending its run. Last time I went through the WB Animation building on the Warner Ranch, the crew was (sadly) getting ready to stand down. Most everybody enjoyed the show and wht they were doing, so it wasn't a happy time. Click here to read entire post

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cross Purposes

Seth's new animated show:

Fox orders animated comedy series 'Bordertown' from Seth MacFarlane

... MacFarlane will be an executive producer of the show alongside its writer and "Family Guy" producer Mark Hentemann. Alex Carter ("Family Guy") and Dan Vebber ("America Dad," "Futurama") are also on board as co-executive producers.

"Bordertown" cracks wise on the hot-button topic of immigration. It takes place in a fictional Texas town and follows the travails of a border patrol agent named Bud Buckwald. The married father of three lives next door to a Mexican immigrant family of six. ...

I'm totally in favor of more animated half-hours, since it means more work for board artists, designers, and directors.

But won't this series' subject matter work against Fox News' storyline how immigrants are bad? And a threat to European-style white people? Has somebody told Rupert about this?
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Super Hero Take-aways

Wisdom for Marvel and the Mouse per the L.A. Times:

Seven Lessons From Thor Deux

1) ... “Thor: The Dark World” shows Marvel can do it without Downey. ...

2) The Mickey Machine: ... “Thor: The Dark World” further validates Disney -- if the film hits $900 million, it would mean the top three all-time Marvel movies have all been released by Disney.

3) Bridge [from "Avengers I" to "Avengers II"]: Thanks to "Iron Man 3" earlier in the year and "Thor" now (both characters are of course key figures in “The Avengers” series), [Disney] has one. ...

4) Could new franchises be ... spun out after “The Avengers”? This weekend, the performance of the “Thor” sequel suggested that they could.

5) According to figures released by Disney, 61% of the audience this past weekend was above the age of 25. And 32% of the audience was actually over 35. If that doesn’t seem like a large percentage, consider this: Without that constituency, the movie would have opened to less than $60 million. ...

6) ... Could [Marvel] go out on a limb and pick someone such as Alan Taylor, a man who had in fact never directed a feature before? "Thor: The Dark World's" numbers validated the strategy. ...

7) “Thor” proved November could work. With this past summer proving a tough time for many tent poles, the release strategy indicates an alternative -- if the right weapon-wielding heroes are involved. ...

The Lesson I take from the above is that when it comes to live-action features, Disney has been adept at maximizing profits from its Marvel acquisition.

Whether this holds true for Marvel's animated versions of its comic book library remains to be seen. Marvel's television product has done okay, but nothing close to the blockbuster success of the live-action stuff. The cross-pollination I'm interested in seeing is Walt Disney Animation Studio's Big Hero Six. If that movie takes off, it's a safe bet there will be move Marvel-Walt Disney Animation Studios collaborations.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Creeping Animation

Variety points out the obvious.

Of the year’s 10 top-grossing films, three fit what the Academy celebrates via its 13-years-young animated feature category: “Despicable Me 2,” “Monsters University” and “The Croods.”

But then, what do you call “Iron Man 3,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “World War Z” and “Gravity”? Each of those more-digital-than-not blockbusters could be “animated” enough to fit the Acad’s definition, “in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique.”

“Gravity” makes an especially intriguing case, since Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s faces are often the only practical element that appears onscreen. Director Alfonso Cuaron has repeatedly described the innovative process they developed to create the film as being akin to that of making an animated movie. Only after the team had spent 2½ years nailing down the lighting, angles and character animation in a detailed previsualization did it reverse-engineer a way to shoot footage of the actors.

At last month’s VES Summit, Bill Kroyer pointed out the expansion of animation techniques into traditional filmmaking — an evolution that has been under way since such half-toon hybrids as “Song of the South” and “Mary Poppins,” well before the advent of computer-generated imagery.

“I believe every year we’ll see increased uses of animation techniques in filmmaking,” Kroyer says. As governor of the Academy’s short films and feature animation branch, Kroyer faces the unusual challenge of having to decide where to draw the line — though he believes the success of “Avatar” and “Life of Pi” illustrate that moviegoers aren’t the slightest bit distracted by how the lines are blurring.

So what do you know? The director of Gravity nailed down character animation, lighting and the rest before photographing the Bullock and Clooney inserts.

Sounds remarkably like an animated feature to me.

But the lines between animated and live-action features have been blurring for years. Titanic had animation. All the super hero epics that audiences flock to see have animation. And certainly the Jurassic Parks had animation ... as far back as twenty years ago.

CGI has expanded animation's role in every corner of movie-making, no question, but using animation in live-actor flicks isn't a new phenomenon. The Fleischers and Disney did it in the twenties. Gene Kelly hoofed with Jerry the Mouse in the forties. And beyond character animation, Walt Disney Productions cartoon department sub-contracted visual effects work on Forbidden Planet fifty-nine years ago.

In the analog era of the 1950s, animated special effects were pretty much a one-off, but that's no longer the case. Now there are "live-action" movies that are mostly built in computers with abundant key-frame animation. The public might think of Avatar and Gravity as features of the live action persuasion. But industry pros know better.
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