Sunday, January 31, 2016

World Ticket Collections

Rentrak lays out the stats.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Kung Fu Panda 3 -- $75,700,000 -- ($116,700,000)

Star Wars -- $12,600,000 -- ($1,983,226,000)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $12,800,000 -- ($152,757,030)

The Peanuts Movie -- $2,400,000 -- ($242,689,678) ...

A fine entertainment journal says:

... DreamWorks Animation/Oriental DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 3 has kicked up a $75.7M start in six overseas markets. As expected, China delivered a record-breaking opening weekend for an animated film with $58.3M on about 15K screens. Korea also had a good start with $11.4M on 1,359 screens. ...

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip, squirreled away $12.8M this weekend; Alvin & Co have a cume of $69.5M after six weeks. There are 48 markets now open including China which bowed this week to $4.8M from 2,538 screens. ...

The Peanuts Movie picked up another $2.36M. Family market Brazil had a good 3rd weekend hold. It added $831K to take the cume to $6.7M. The international total is now $112.8M. ...

The press has labeled The Peanuts Movie a "moderate success" and The Good Dinosaur a failure.

TGD has earned $293,897,639 to date, while Peanuts has collected $242.7 million. Of course, the Charlie Brown feature cost under $100 million while Dinosaur ran up a tab of $200 million.

So that might have something to do with media perceptions.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Talking Animals - TV Division

HBO doesn't do a lot of animation, but now they've ventured into the pool. (And I'm late with this):

Animals might be the weirdest, craziest, most interesting television show in a long time. The new HBO show feels like someone took a funny clever animated short film from the Sundance Film Festival and adapted it into a television series. ...

While the concept and execution is delightfully simple, the show digs deeper into the human condition than your typical animated series. The jokes are clever and relatable, often seemingly written for film geeks. ...

Animals reminds me of some of the great weird but funny short films that used to screen in Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation. The crude but charming animation style might be reminiscent of Beavis and Butthead. ...

I found the series trailer eerily reminiscent of this:

But that's me.

Variety didn't care for the new series much. Saying "Rats and fleas deserve better than this." ... (I had no luck finding a link to the full article.)

Click here to read entire post

The Box Office Market

Unsurprisingly, the chubby panda is the central focus of attention this weekend.


1). Kung Fu Panda 3 (DWA/FOX), 3,955 theaters / $10.4-10.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $40M-41M / Wk 1

2). The Revenant (FOX), 3,330 theaters (-381) / $3.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11.4M (-29%) / Total cume: $137.1M / Wk 6

3). The Finest Hours (DIS), 3,143 theaters / $3.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.7M-$10M / Wk 1

4). Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 2,556 theaters (-809) / $2.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.9M (-31%)/ Total cume: $894.4M / Wk 7

5). Ride Along 2 (UNI), 2,412 theaters (-780) / $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.8M (-37%) / Total cume: $70.2M / Wk 3

6). The Boy (STX), 2,671 theaters (0)/ $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.3M (-33%)/Total cume: $20.9M/ Wk 2

7). Dirty Grandpa (LGF), 2,912 theaters (0)/ $2.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.8M (-38%)/Total cume: $22.1M /Wk 2

8). The 5th Wave (SONY), 2,908 theaters (0) / $1.9MFri. / 3-day cume: $6.5M (-37%) /Total cume: $19.7M/ Wk 2

9). Fifty Shades of Black (OR/IMG), 2,075 theaters / $2.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.9-6.3M / Wk 1

10.) 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (PAR), 2,803 theaters (-114) / $1.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.8M (-36%) / Total cume: $42.4M / Wk 3

11). Daddy’s Home (PAR), 1,718 theaters (-1,071) / $784K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3M (-40%)/ Total cume: $142.9M / Wk 6

12). The Big Short (PAR), 983 theaters (-368) / $787K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.6M (-17%)/ Total cume: $60.5M / Wk 8 ...

Norm of the North, which opened at #6 its first weekend, then dropped to #9 in the second, has now dropped from the Top Ten. Unsurprising when the Panda rolls into town.

To date, Norm has taken in about $15 million at the box office.

Add On: Kung Fu Panda 3 opened Friday in the Middle Kingdom, day-and-date with the U.S release, and industry estimates have it at 107M yuan, or $16.3M for the first day. Unofficial numbers from today lift the current cume to $40-$43M through Saturday, including previews from last weekend. The opening of KFP3 is now poised to become the biggest three-day bow ever for an animated title in China.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Panda Launch

I spent part of Friday morning on DreamWorks' Glendale campus, where red lanterns were hanging from the olive trees, panda characters were marching around the Italianate fountain, and martial arts athletes were demonstrating martial arts moves to a rap audience.

Today, of course, Kung Fu Panda 3 launched day-and-date around the globe:

... DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 via 20th Century Fox is on its way to a $13M opening day and a weekend that’s in the $44M-$45M range. That’s not too far from the opening of Kung Fu Panda 2 which played over Memorial Day weekend 2011. ...

Box Office Mojo relates:

... Working in the favor of Kung Fu Panda 3 is the fact the last really strong animated release was Hotel Transylvania 2 in September of last year. Since then, The Good Dinosaur and The Peanuts Movie both broke $100 million domestically, but didn't make any kind of significant impact and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip continued that franchise's slide upon its release in December. Also, the online ticketing company Fandango reports Kung Fu Panda 3 is outpacing DreamWorks Animation's Home, which opened in March of 2015 with $52.1 million. ...

Internationally, Kung Fu Panda 3 had preview screenings in China last Saturday and brought in an impressive $6.4 million in one day. The film opens day and date in China this weekend as well as in South Korea, Russia, Ukraine, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. ...

The first weekend's worldwide take? Hopefully up there.

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One More Animal Trailer Drops

We have, ladies and gents, boys and girls, an embarrassment of riches. There was a lacklustre talking animal picture released a week ago; DreamWorks Animation has a talking animal picture coming out today; Disney has a talking animal picture coming out in March.

And a Man named Meledandri debuts his talking animal feature next summer.

Chris Meledandri is one studio head who cuts to the essence.

He develops his movies efficiently, concentrating on entertaining sequences, focusing on putting the dollars on the screen.

His movies get made on budgets of $75 million to $90 million. He appears to recognize that the higher the cost of the movie, the smaller the strike zone is for success.

Amazing, that.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016


The other Independent movie festival in Park City, Utah. Wherein:

Jury Award for Animation Short: MY DAD, dir. by Marcus Armitage

“My Dad expresses compelling universal themes — the director’s powerful, heartbreaking message and the film’s bold, colorful palette are perfectly suited to his experimental animation format.” ...

My Dad from Marcus Armitage on Vimeo.

Slamdance is a zesty little festival (and now a year-round organization) that has been around since 1995.

For a brief instant, I thought the short's director Marcus Armitage was the son of the late Frank Armitage, Disney arits and Imagineer who recently passed away at 91. But such (apparently) is not the case.

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Twenty-Six Half Hours

Stretch Armstrong lives!!.

Netflix is expanding its original content for kids, bringing the iconic Stretch Armstrong brand to the small screen. The Internet TV network is partnering with Hasbro Studios on the animated/comedy series for premiere in 2017. ...

The ever-flexible Stretch has been in various types of development for some time. Live-action features (nope). TV series (maybe).

Pre-production on Stretch Armstrong will be happening at the Hasbro studio in Burbank; where the production will be done I know not.

Netflix has, of course, been on an animation-acquisition binge, having renewed several cartoon series with DreamWorks Animation TV while reaching out to other studios for additional product. Apparently at least half of the 150 eyeballs goggling at Netflix goggle at Netflix's cartoons.

Find Variety's two-year-old story on the death of Relativity's "Stretch Armstrong" movie here.

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DreamWorks Animation dropped a trailer. (There's a lot of that going on just now).

This movie has gone through several permutations.

It was supposed to come out in 2015. It was originally a straight-ahead comedy with a different writer and director.

Now it's a musical with Justin Timberlake on board to handle musical chores, animation veteran Mike Mitchell directing, and Erica Rivinoja in to do the screenplay. It comes out this November.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Board Artists

At last night's General Membership Meeting, there was a lengthy back-and-forth on storyboard artists, their current pressures and current schedules.

Show schedules are too short.

Production people want way more panels than a "Bill Peet" style board. You have to almost animated the action for the animatic.

In features, they throw out part of a sequence and want you to reboard three new pages of script Friday to Monday, so you work all weekend.

There are feature supervisors who brag on-line that they're working on a show until 2 A.M.

Artists work unpaid overtime because they're afraid they'll get laid off if they don't keep the quality up and meet the show's deadlines.

New board artists come in and have no problem working late for no pay. They're happy to be working and have a job. ...

The issues that cropped up at yesterday's gathering are much the same as those here, a couple of years ago. Among the complaints then:

1) Cramped work schedules.

2) The general corporate/department rule (with exceptions) that: "There's NO money in the budget for overtime, so DON'T ASK."

3) The issue of multi-tasking. Board artists today often have to A) Design, B) Be layout artists, C) Work as animatics editors, D) Pose out animation. ...

Members noted that a lot of artists are frightened of losing their jobs, and so work uncompensated overtime to hang onto their jobs.

The Business Representative (me) responded that studios complain that they can't find skilled, experienced board artists now, so there is not a lot of truth to the fear of layoff.

(Another artist said that he knows of a slow co-worker who has been late with his assigned shows time and again, yet has never been laid off. In fact, the artist has seldom if ever heard of anyone being laid off because of slowness.)

My take: Evolving technologies have made storyboarding more challenging over time. Paper story and production boards are finit. Animatics (digital story reels with demi animation, layouts, sound effects, voice tracks) are the coin of the realm.

Production management expects a lot more drawing, acting and movement in digital story reels than it did fifteen years ago. The observations that a "Bill Peet storyboard" wouldn't work today is right as regards the number of drawings a modern board requires, but not right as regards acting and image quality.

What's needed in the workplace is:

1) A culture where no overtime is worked unless it's paid for. ("Forty hours means forty hours.")

2) Sharing of information: Production schedules, wage rates, etc.

3) Collegiality and support.

4) The knowledge that every studio (and every show inside a studio) is somewhat different. (The production manager on Show X is flexible and understanding about problems; the show creator on Show G wants the characters precisely on models and you'd better not be late turning in your work.)

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The trailer for Angry Birds dropped early this morning.

Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis are directing AB, a co-endeavor between Sony Pictures Animation/Imageworks and Rovio Animation.

Clay and Fergal are both large talents. Clay was a longtime Disney feature veteran, and served as supervising animator on both Tangled and Bolt. He owns credits on Disney features as animator or assistant on most every feature back to Pocahontas.

Fergal Reilly started his L.A> animation career with Baer Animation in the late eighties, and has worked on a wide variety of feature films, everything from Spiderman 2 and The Longest Yard to The Heffalump Movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and Open Season.

Angry Birds will receive its worldwide release in May.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Exit Softly

... into those fine secondary markets.

The words 'Pixar' and 'flop' are two words that have rarely been seen in the same sentence, unless of course it was discussing how the studio managed to go decades without creating one. That's all changed however, as The Good Dinosaur limps towards the end of its release without recouping its estimated $350 million cost. ... But Pixar seems to be happy to [let] the film quietly fade out of the public's view. ...

It was always bound to happen sometime.

No studio .. as in zero ... nada ... none ... remains in existence over a long span of years without hitting a rough patch. Without making a film that doesn't click and generates red ink instead of profits.

There have actually been a couple of other misfires under the Pixar administration's watchful eye. Planes, from Disney Toons Studios, didn't set the box office on fire. (Although given its cost, the picture likely made money). And Planes II from which good things were expected, completely laid an egg.

But of course, this time out it was mighty Pixar, not a cheap-jack direct-to-video division of the Disney Company on a seedy street in Glendale. When you are a studio batting a thousand, you hate to sully the record.

Well, now it's been sullied, and everybody can take a deep breath and move on.

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Viacom's Struggles

Viacom, the conglomerate containing Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios and Paramount Animation, is getting a "thumbs down" from financial gurus.

The recent 99-page presentation by SpringOwl Asset Management spotlights media company Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) (NASDAQ:VIAB) as a high-risk takeover target in the entertainment industry. SpringOwl has released a lengthy report providing suggestions for a much needed turnaround plan that could potentially give the stock upside potential of 135%.

In SpringOwl's report it suggests that a key catalyst for stock value improvement would be the overhaul of the company's management.

The key issues at Viacom remain that they've excessively overpaid senior management, reporting a combined $432 million in compensation over the past five years for CEO Philippe Dauman and COO Thomas Dooley. And yet its stock has been grossly underperforming.

Viacom has missed the move to digital with CEO, Philippe Dauman, really lacking industry experience and vision for digital products. The absence of a true digital strategy investment strategy is just one example of poor management according at Viacom, where, according to SpringOwl has a "decade of missed opportunities online." ...

I think we can anticipate changes at Sumer Redstone's conglomerate. For as Bloomberg reported:

... [SpringOwl] has pressed for changes at companies including Yahoo! Inc. and Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc, which agreed to be bought last year for about $1.7 billion.

The firm also called on Viacom to explore an investment from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. or Inc. in its Paramount Pictures film studio. SpringOwl said Viacom should consider a merger with AMC Networks Inc., cut costs more and push further into online offerings. The investment company cited strategic missteps, such as licensing too much content to Netflix Inc., suing YouTube and selling an investment in Vice Media for much less than other investors have paid since then. ...

So how much longer Sumner's corporation will be Sumner's company is an open question.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Dialogue Count

So the Washington Post tallies up the lines in Disney Princess films, and ...

... In the classic three Disney princess films, women speak as much as, or more than the men. “Snow White” is about 50-50. “Cinderella” is 60-40. And in “Sleeping Beauty,” women deliver a whopping 71 percent of the dialogue. Though these were films created over 50 years ago, they give ample opportunity for women to have their voices heard. ...

Some of the trouble here is the underlying material, wouldn't you think? When you develop a property called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and 7/8ths of the title characters are male, there are bound to be some men talking. (If Ms. White hadn't been chatting with all those animals, none of whom talked back, the ratio of dialogue would have been something other than 50/50.)

The reason that Sleeping Beauty has women delivering most of the lines is due to the fact that women dominate the story on which the movie is based. Because everybody in the story department, everyone directing, and the head of the studio, all of those people were of the male persuasion.

There's another issue: No matter who's talking, those first features have a LOT less dialogue than the specimens from the nineties and oughts. The early pictures were boarded rather than scripted, and everyone working on them had grown up on silent movies, where the projected images, not the voices squawking out of the loud speakers, carried the narrative.

The ONE thing different today? There are more women involved in the process of making animated features. Brenda Chapman was the story director on Beauty and the Beast and has directed multiple features since. There are now women writers and women board artists. That simply was not the case sixty and seventy years ago.

So progress might be slow and uneven, but there IS progress.

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #7 -- Ed Love

Ed Love was like most animators who broke into animation in the thirties and kept working for the next forty or fifty years: Ed worked at a lot of different studios and animated on a lot of different projects, everything from Disney and Walter Lantz shorts to iconic H-B series like The Flintstones.

Ed's list of animation credits is longer than Wilt Chamberlain's arm. As Harvey Deneroff says in the link above, Ed was one of the few animators who hit the bricks during the Disney strike of 1941, thereby incurring Walt's displeasure. Unsurprisingly, Ed never worked at Walt Disney Productions again.

Mr. Love passed away in 1996, days shy of his 86th birthday.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Covering Bets

The Reporter tells us:

... The third film in the Kung Fu Panda franchise [is] set for a day-and-date China release Jan. 29. ...

Central to KFP3's fortunes in China is an ambitious two-version production and release plan. The movie ... was created in English- and Mandarin-language versions, but ... the KFP3 characters' mouths and body language were animated twice to match the nuances of both languages.

"You'll have to see it twice to compare the differences between the English and Chinese versions," DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told an industry crowd Dec. 12 in the city of Sanya. "But twice is not enough," he added to laughter from several hundred Chinese cinema chain managers at the event. "You'll actually have to see it a third time to decide which is your favorite." ...

The third Panda has gotten generally favorable reviews, and box office projections are north of $700 million. Disney's talking animal picture Zootopia doesn't roll out until March, so DWA has plenty of time to collect an abundance of coin with KFP3.

(It's a relatively safe bet that Trolls, the DreamWorks' feature released in November, will gross a wee bit less than the third Panda. Then again, perhaps Trolls will be some kind of amazing, sleeper hit.)

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Your International B.O.

A number of CG spectaculars. And a number of animated features, but none (sadly) at the top.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Grosses)

The Revenant -- $33,800,000 -- ($223,692,522)

Star Wars 7 -- $23,300,000 -- ($1,939,990,000)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $5,800,000 -- ($136,860,716)

Boonie Bears III -- $6,000,000 -- ($31,000,000)

The Peanuts Movie -- $4,300,000 -- ($238,348,700)

Norm of the North -- 000 -- ($14,796,203

The Good Dinosaur has fallen off of Rentraks list as it limps along to the end of its global run. To date, it's earned $148,700,000 (56% of its world takings) with a total accumulation of $268,682,000.

The low-rent Norm of the North has not had any signification foreign rollouts as yet.

And a most excellent entertainment journal informs us:

... Alvin and the Chipmunks drove away with another $5.83M in the 5th frame for an offshore cume of $54.4M. Alvin & Co got off to a strong start in Spain with a little over $1.3M. ...

All markets have now been released on The Peanuts Movie, with a cume of $108.6M. The weekend was worth $4.3M on the Fox title. Among notable holds, Brazil had a strong 2nd weekend making $1.47M and lifting its cume to $5.17M. ...

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

PGA Trophy Goes To ...

No, we're not talking golf here, but the Producers Guild of America. The Guild held its award ceremony in Century City tonight, and two of the big winners?

The Big Short won for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures (Producers: Brad Pitt & Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner), thereby making it the front-runner in the Oscar race, and ...

Inside Out won for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures (Producer: Jonas Rivera). ...

So now Inside Out has won two trophies this season. And the PGA honor kind of, sort of sets the feature up for a "Best Animated Motion Picture" Oscar at the oncoming Academy Awards.

The suspense regarding who the Little Gold Man will ultimately go to is HUGE. Except not really.

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Snow Storm Box Office

Leonardo wins the opening day competition as the east coast gets snowed in:


1) The Revenant -- $4,550,000 -- ($107,742,522)

2) Dirty Grandpa -- $4,200,000

3) The Boy -- $3,900,000 --

4) Ride Along 2 -- $3,700,000 ($49,850,040)

5) Star Wars -- $3,518,000 -- ($868,550,346)

6) The ifth ave -- $3,500,000 --

7) 13 Hours -- #2,727,000 -- ($26,460,429)

8) Daddy's Home -- $1,307,000 -- ($134,817,265)

9) The Big Short -- $975,000 -- $54,188,841

10) Norm of the North -- $820,000 -- ($11,016,203)

And the full weekend horse race:


1). The Revenant (FOX), 3,711 theaters (+152) / $4.6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $15M to $15.8M / Total cume: $119M / Wk 5

2). Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 3,822 theaters (-312) / $3.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.3M to $14M / Total cume: $878.3M / Wk 6

3). Ride Along 2 (UNI), 3,192 theaters (+17) / $3.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11.7M to $12M (-67%) / Total cume: $57.9M / Wk 2

4). Dirty Grandpa (LGF), 2,912 theaters / $4.2M Fri. (includes $660K previews) / 3-day cume: $11.1M to $11.4M / Wk 1

5). The Boy (STX), 2,671 theaters / $3.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.6M to $10M+ / Wk 1

6/7). The 5th Wave (SONY), 2,908 theaters / $3.48MFri. (includes $475K previews) / 3-day cume: $8.8M to $9.6M / Wk 1

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (PAR), 2,917 theaters (+528) / $2.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.7M to $9.4M (-46%) / Total cume: $32.4M / Wk 2

8). Daddy’s Home (PAR), 2,789 theaters (-533) / $1.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.6M / Total cume: $138M / Wk 5

9). Norm of the North (LGF) 2,411 theaters (0) / $820K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.9M (-43%) / Total cume: $14M / Wk 2

10). The Big Short (PAR), 1,351 theaters (-414) / $975K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3M+ / Total cume: $56.3M / Wk 7

Per Forbes:

... Norm of the North actually had a decent hold, even if it was following a mediocre weekend debut. The Lionsgate animated release earned 820k on its second Friday for a likely $3.5m weekend (-40%) and $14m ten-day total. The House That Jigsaw Built will make money on this cheap acquisition. ...

Which goes to show the commercial power of theatrical animation here in the 21st century.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

"Monster Hunt"

Today a Chinese blockbuster rolls out, in a limited way, across the fruited plain.

... “Monster Hunt” was planned and shot [in 2013] on a budget of forty million dollars—high-end in China, if a fraction of effects-laden Hollywood spectaculars. But then, in August, 2014, eight months after the film had wrapped production, one of its stars, the Taiwanese heartthrob Kai Ko, was arrested for smoking marijuana and subsequently banned by the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television from public appearances as an entertainer. Faced with a movie that could be shelved indefinitely, Kong informed Hui he would have to recast the role and reshoot seventy per cent of the film. Camped out at a Beijing effects house, painstakingly integrating the titular computer-generated monsters into the film, Hui burst into tears.

But Jing Boran, a twenty-six-year-old mainland actor who had starred in one of Kong’s other recent films, was so eager to help Kong and Hui that he volunteered to take over Kai Ko’s role without collecting a salary. ...

Today, “Monster Hunt” will commence a short run in twenty-one cities across the U.S., followed by on-demand and television options via the Brooklyn-based indie distributor FilmRise. And, despite the existence of strong fan-based communities and promotional platforms for exotic genre fare that includes Chinese swordsman films, special-effects monster extravaganzas, and even off-the-beaten path children’s fare, all categories in which “Monster Hunt” could comfortably fit, Kong is less than optimistic in his assessment of its chances here. ...

“I don’t think it will be successful in the West,” Kong said. FilmRise itself seem to have scant idea of what to do, hyping the film with the pizzazz-deficient tagline “From the head animator of ‘Shrek,’ ” and Hui, who would be happy to make himself available to promote the film in the U.S., has never been contacted by anyone at the company. ...

The movie won't set the box office aflame showing in twenty-one theaters, but it'll be interesting to see how it performs on a per-screen basis. A lot of people saw it in the Middle Kingdom, so Monster Hunt must have had something going for it.

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Veep Upgrade

From a fine entertainment journal:

Sony Pictures has promoted Randy Lake to President, Studio Operations & Imageworks. He will oversee all operations, strategy and planning for Sony Pictures Imageworks and the Post Production Services, Production Services, Global Mastering and Servicing, and Asset Management divisions. ...

Randy Lake is a graduate of UC Berkely and Harvard Law School. He's been with Sony a month short of seven years.

Most of Sony Pictures Imageworks now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, to have access to all the Free Money, but a portion of SPI remains in Culver City California. No doubt Mr. Lake will continue to fly back and forth to Vancouver, but maybe not quite as much now that he's Prez. Mr. Lake was made Executive Vice President and General Manager of Sony Pictures Imageworks & Studio Operations in August 17, 2015, so he's rising rapidly.

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The Sailor Man

Guess which property is heating up once again?

Sony Pictures Animation and Arad Productions are bringing in T.J. Fixman to write Popeye, the latest adaptation of the beloved sailor man. The film is being produced by Avi Arad. It will be based on the property by King Features Syndicate, which is owned by Hearst Entertainment and Syndication. ...

The Sony Animation project is a priority for the studio with Fixman heating up around town. He has written Men Who Kill at Fox, with Michael B. Jordan (Creed) attached to produce and star in. ... Fixman was also instrumental in the creation of Insomniac Games’ Ratchet and Clank video game franchise, leading storyline development for the award-winning series. He also wrote the script for the upcoming feature film adaptation, featuring a new story based on the original trilogy of games for Playstation 2. While at Insomniac, he also led storyline development for Resistance: Fall Of Man. Fixman also has a consulting deal at Hasbro. ...

Sony has already spent a bit of money on Popeye:

Genndy Tartakovsky was deep into development of the Sailor Man a year or two ago. Sony story people I talked to at the time said management was unhappy with the way story was shaping up.

So the project was put on a high, back shelf in a musty corner of the Imageworks campus while Genndy focused on Hotel Transylvania 2, which, when released, turned into one of Sony's biggest grossers in 2015.

But now Genndy is off doing other things, and Sony has taken Popeye off that cobweb-covered shelf. With luck, pluck and elbow grease, they will get the plot-line in some kind of decent shape (the character development has long-since taken care of itself, courtesy of the brothers Fleischer) and the studio will retain Mr. Tartakovsky's visual approach, because it works well.

The only thing to do now is to wait and see. Popeye will either headline his first animated feature, or go back into hibernation.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Love of the Practical

The New Yorker tells us:

... Critics and fanboys have grumbled about C.G.I.’s excesses—whole cities collapsing, superheroes zooming into the stratosphere—for years. Those grumbles are now as likely to come from the directors themselves. “2015 is the year of Hollywood’s practical effects comeback,” the Web site The Verge announced in August. I think you could push this a step further. It’s as if directors—especially the reboot generation—have finally become self-conscious about C.G.I.; 2015 was the year they got embarrassed by the digital miracles of the movies.

You could hear boasting about “real” sets and practical effects in the hype around nearly every one of last year’s non-Marvel blockbusters. As the Web site Jalopnik reported of “Fury Road,” “Nearly all the stunts in the movie were ‘practical,’ meaning everything you see was done in real life with real humans and real cars.… The desert doesn’t suffer mechanical fools lightly and CGI is bullshit.” ...

We’ve reached a point where directors and audiences no longer derive authenticity from what looks “real” but from what looked real in seventies, eighties, and nineties blockbusters. And real is an awfully flexible word. George Miller, the director of “Fury Road,” was hailed for sending a hundred and fifty vehicles clattering through the Namibian desert—just like the old days! But as Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, told fxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total. ...

Practical effects are a sales tool for the small slice of the global audience that cares about those things, all 89,000 of them. Also, too, the filmmakers (mostly directors) who want to make use of plastic and rubber and styrofoam because they're more "real".

But mostly, it's business as usual. And going back to the technologies of the seventies and eighties isn't confined to live-action effects. There's a forceful contingent of animation fans that want hand-drawn features to make a comeback. Problem is, the conglomerates have discovered that theatrical audiences spend a lot more money for CG animation, so their interest in bringing back Walt's art form is minimal.

Stop motion, of course, is one of the oldest visual effects, but outside of LAIKA, Tim Burton, and eccentric television series on a couple of cable network, few are doing it. As a veteran stop motion animator told me two and a half years ago: "There's about 100 of us doing this, and we have to travel all over if we hope to make a living at it." (He was working on a Disney stop-mtion project that was ultimately shut down, proving his point.)

Scrape away the flapdoodle and the truth is: movies are made with newer technologies. This is the way it's been for a century. There might be actual stunt people sprinkled about in this or that sci fi epic, but the heavy lifting continues to be done by men and women sitting in front of flat screens and computers, creating shots.

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Sito's History

As happens every month, Professor Thomas Sito tells us the way it was.

Jan 3, 1977- Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne filed papers to form the Apple Computer Company. Within two weeks, Ron Wayne sold his third of the company to Jobs and Woz for $800. He thought he’d get stuck with the bills when their little company went belly-up.

Jan 6, 1945- The First Pepe Le Pew cartoon, “Odorable Kitty”. When the Warners producer who replaced Leon Schlesinger, Eddie Selzer, heard the plans to do a short about a skunk he thundered: “Absolutely Not! Nobody will like a cartoon skunk!” Chuck Jones recalled: “As soon as he said no, I knew we just had to do it.” Selzer’s nal opinion:” Nobody’ll laugh at that sh*t!” The short won an Oscar.

Jan 7, 1894-” The Sneeze” publicaly shown. It was the first motion picture to be copyrighted by Thomas Edison and his engineer W.K.L. Dickson.

Jan 7, 2015- In Paris, Muslim extremists shot up the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for making disrespectful cartoons of the prophet Mohammad. 12 people were murdered, including the editor and four of France’s most loved cartoonists.

Jan 9, 1847- THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES - after a small battle near San Gabriel Mission, Commodore Richard Stockton and the U.S. army retook Los Angeles and ended the resistance by the native Mexican population.

Jan 9, 1857- The Fort Tejon earthquake shook Los Angeles. This was the last major quake in Southern California, part of the great San Andreas Fault, an estimated 8.0!

Jan 9, 1914- John Randolph Bray took out patents on the principles of film animation: cycles, arcs, keys and inbetweens. He even tried to sue Winsor McCay, who had already been using them for years.

Jan 9, 1939- Top Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin was hired by Walt Disney. He quit after two fruitless years, and left so angry he wrote a children’s book called the “Bear that Wasn’t” about his experiences. An early vice president of the Cartoonists Guild, he also joined the Mouse House to help unionize the studio. After a stint at Screen Gems, in 1945 Frank Tashlin went to Paramount’s live action division and became the director of the Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis comedies.

Jan 10, 1924- Columbia Pictures was created. Ruled by Harry Cohn, his motto was “I don’t get ulcers, I give them!”

Jan 10, 1927- Fritz Lang’s film "Metropolis" premiered.

Jan 11, 1995- Warner Bros purchased a dozen metromedia television stations started them off as the WB Network. Today it is the CW network.

Jan 11, 2004- Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg registered the domain name

Jan 12, 1995- Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen announced that the name of their new partnership would be DreamWorks SKG.

Jan 12, 2004- Disney closed down their Orlando animation studio.

Jan. 13, 1930- The Mickey Mouse comic strip first appeared in US newspapers. Walt Disney himself wrote them, Ub Iwerks penciled and Winn Smith inked.

Jan. 15, 1936- THE BIRTH OF THE DGA- Several Hollywood directors including Lewis Milestone, Ruben Mamoulian and William Wellman met at King Vidor’s house and pledge $100 dollars each to form the Screen Director’s Guild, later the Director’s Guild of America. It was a risky thing to do, previous attempts to form a directors union were broken up with threats of perpetual blacklisting. Final recognition and contracts were signed by President Frank Capra in 1940. One provision insisted on in the contract was that the director’s credit be the nal name in the opening titles before the movie began. And so it remains.

Jan 16, 1954- THE WAR ON COMICS- Senator Estes Kevfauver chaired a U.S. Senate subcommittee to study juvenile delinquency. They concluded that one of the contributing factors to adolescent moral decay was four-color comic books. The probe was sparked by the publication of a book called The Seduction of the Innocent. It charged among other things that Batman & Robin were gay because when not fighting crime, Bruce Wayne & Dick Grayson lounged around all day in silk pajamas with no women! Despite testimony by Walt Kelly, Milt Caniff, Al Capp and Bill Gaines 350 comic book companies including the EC “Tales from the Crypt” label were driven out of business. The strict comics-code was established. The comic book industry, which had been selling one million books a month, never regained that level of prosperity in the US again.

Jan 17, 1929- Popeye first appeared in the Thimble Theater comic strip.

Jan 17, 1949- The Goldbergs, a radio comedy show about a Jewish family in the Bronx, moved to television and became the first true TV sitcom. The show ended when star Jean Muir was accused by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of being a Communist.

Jan 18, 1953 The Hollywood Animation Guild Local 839 chartered. Originally the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, charter memberss included Disney legends Milt Kahl, Les Clark, John Hench and Ken Anderson.

[Anderson told me years later that though he "hated unions", he became a charter member because "Walt told me to." -- Steve Hulett]

Jan 20, 1938- Pioneer animator Emile Cohl died while headed for the Paris premiere of Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Cohl was so poor that the electricity in his flat had been turned off and the candles had ignited his beard.

Jan. 21, 1992- Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast" became the first animated film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

Jan 24, 1961- Warner Bros. voice actor Mel Blanc suffered an auto crash at the Dead Man’s Curve section of Sunset Blvd near UCLA. He lingered in a coma for several weeks. The way the doctor brought him around was to say: “Hey Bugs Bunny! How are we today?” Blanc replied in character:” Ehhh…fine, doc!”

Jan 25, 1961- Walt Disney’s "101 Dalmatians" premiered.

Jan 27, 1926- Englishman John Logie Baird demonstrated his televisor system- the first true television image.

Jan 29, 1959- Disney’s "Sleeping Beauty" opened. The animation staff had swollen to it’s largest to finish the production. After the film was finished, the studio had a massive layoff, dropping from 551 to just 121. People employed since the 1930s were pink-slipped. Two painters committed suicide. Staff levels would not return to these levels until 1990.

Jan 30, 1963- MIT Grad student Ivan Sutherland published his thesis Sketchpad, the first animation software. He created it on a declassified Cold War computer originally used to track Soviet missiles. For the first time, a computer could draw lines instead of just numbers.

Jan 30 1961 H-B’s the "Yogi Bear Show".

Jan. 31, 1999- Seth McFarlane’s "Family Guy" premiered.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Michael E. SPEAKS

... in Florida. At the the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series. Sayeth Mr. Eisner:

... “I thought Florida was a great place for an animation studio. Florida became a great hotbed of creativity. It still is, with many animators coming out of Ringling, out of all parts of Florida. And there are all kinds of production still in Florida.” ...

“People thought television would kill movies; movies are still alive. It doesn’t happen. What happens is one and one adds up to 2.5. The audience just grows bigger, and the is more available access to programming. But when that transition happens, existing media gets very nervous.” ...

He noted 300 new television shows will premiere on some outlet in the next three months, an amount that dwarfs what happened in the days when putting Roots on ABC as a mini-series seemed an unprecedented act for television. “There’s a lot of junk,” he joked. “We always seem to maintain our level of junk.” ...

Michael Eisner was shuffled off the main stage at Disney a decade ago. He would no doubt be retired by now, but I could never understand why he sped up the process by dissing Roy Disney.

All it did was tick Roy off, who then set about pulling Diz Co.'s Chief Executive down. Which Roy did, in the same efficient manner that he had brought Ron Miller down two decades before.

If we know nothing else, we know that Disneys act on their grudges. Michael learned that lesson too late.

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... deep into the development and production of Disney's new animal movie.

In November 2014, the team behind Disney’s Zootopia had a very bad day. After years of development and production, they realized a huge aspect of their movie didn’t work. There were two main characters, one primary and one secondary— and they had to be flipped for the film to make sense. ...

But here's the rub ...

This is the same story, all the way back to the beginning, of most every animated feature ever made.

Every. One.

Take, for example, Ward Kimball's recollections on a long-ago Disney feature:

... Walt realized [Pinocchio] wasn't working. And he threw it all out and started over. ... I tend to forget the problems we had, and that's the tendency of everybody, but Pinocchio was no soft touch. In fact, I thought it was harder for everybody than Snow White. We finished Snow White and we said, "Ha. We know how to do features!" And everybody went into Pinocchio with this great load of confidence. Boy, six months later we found out, and Walt found that, that what you learn in one picture doesn't necessarily work on the next picture.

Then Walt brought in the cricket, added that little personality. The story needed something to bounce Pinocchio's problems off of. How do you bring a marionette to life? How does he know the facts of life unless he has some tutor? ... See, the cricket has educated Pinocchio and you get a kick out of Pinocchio's mistakes and his naïveté, his unworldly approach ...

Sound familiar at all?

And of course, they threw sequences out on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. ... Recut and rejiggered The Rescuers. ... Performed major surgery on Aladdin, throwing Aladdin's mother overboard, getting rid of songs, etc., etc.

Toy Story got redone multiple times. Shrek went through the death of its original lead actor, causing big changes in the lead character.

Remember this interplay? Neither do I.

With Shrek I DWA story crew put gags in, took gags out, and worked forever to get the tone they were looking for. And even when they were done they weren't sure they had a hit. (Happily, they did.)

And then there is Tangled, which went through a dozen years of story work before coming out and giving the Mouse a major hit. It seemed like every twelve to eighteen months there was a new version of the picture. And like Zootopia, a DreamWorks feature titled How to Train Your Dragon had a big redo a year before it came out.

So. Changing a picture in mid flight? It happens. In fact it happens all the freaking time, all the way back to the 1930s.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Continental Dominance

From a few days back, but worth noting.

Le Petit Prince has become France’s top animated export in two decades. After debuting in Cannes in May, the film went on to make $67.5M around the world — and that’s without the U.S., where Paramount releases the film on March 18. ...

French movies sold 106 million tickets overseas in 2015, the third time in four years the number topped 100 million — and the second year in a row there were more admissions to French films outside France than in. ...

Animation was a clear highlight in 2015 with Astérix Le Domaine Des Dieux (No. 6) and Mune, Le Gardien De La Lune (No. 7) also in the Top 10. A record 20% of all receipts came from the medium. Le Petit Prince alone sold 15M tickets. ...

What gets forgotten in all the genuflecting and hossanahs in the direction of Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky Studios is that there is a large substrata of global animated features that make good profits.

Though they don't rake in the huge grosses of many of the American giants, they are one hell of a lot cheaper to produce. And it's not just French features ...

... Spain’s Ilion Animation Studios, its biggest animation hub, is producing a fully animated 3D tent-pole feature for Paramount Animation, Paramount’s new animation unit, which created the movie’s IP. ...

Ilion first produced alien planet comedy “Planet 51,” which, released by Sony in the U.S., grossed $42.2 million Stateside and $105.6 million worldwide, a record for a Spanish animation movie. ...

And it's not just Ilion that's made money on the Iberian peninsula, three years ago it was an Indiana Jones satire:

... “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” the third Spanish film in a row to open Cartoon Movie. Studiocanal-sold, “Tad” snagged $40 million worldwide through Feb. 17, [2013] becoming Spain’s highest-grossing Spanish toon ever ($24.6 million). ... Co-produced by Mediaset Espana’s film arm Telecinco Cinema, “Tad” underscores Spain’s private networks growing commitment to animated features. ...

Animated features are produced around the world; many are never released in the United States but that doesn't prevent them from making money. (Currently Boonie Bears II in China is hot at the turnstiles, just as BB I & II were hot items before it.)

The trick here ... as everywhere ... is to make quality product for a price south of the American benchmark of $150-$200 million. If you can figure out a way to do that, your future could well be paved with gold. Just ask Chris Meledandri.

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a program of recently nominatedmovies coming.

Five days after the 2016 Academy Award nominees were announced, we have theatrical playdates for the short films that made the cut. ShortsHD, a cable channel dedicated to short films, and Magnolia Pictures are teaming to put The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2016 in movie houses January 29. The program — which includes all 15 live-action, animated and documentary shorts — will screen in more than 400 screens across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Latin America. ...

For lovers of shorts, this is important news.

And in case you don't know the shorter, animated pieces of time, they are:

Bear Story


Sanjay's Super Team

We Can't Live Without Cosmos

World of Tomorrow

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Monday, January 18, 2016


Prez Emeritus Tom Sito and Chiara Benedetti call attention to Andrew Chesworth's stylish advertisement for a certain festival in the California desert.

As Professor Sito relates:

I recall a Disney development exec once complaining to us "What's with all you animators and Film Noir?!" The Kroyers wanted to do Arrow, Brad and Jerry wanted to do Ray Gun. Noir just looks like fun.

And whos Andrew Chesworth? He's a Disney animator with a number of hit films on his resume. And an obvious love of Humphrey Bogart and accompanying femme fatales.

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #6 -- Paul Fennell

Animation veteran Paul John Fennell has a lot to say in this interview, and says it crisply, in a smidge over four minutes. (Maybe his military background as a Marine Corps officer has something to do with that). Harvey Deneroff interviews Mr. Fennell at the 1983 Golden Awards banquet, held in Toluca Lake, California.

Mr. Fennell broke into the animation industry in 1931, rising rapidly from in-betweener to animator at Walt Disney Productions because (as he says) "They were desperate."

Paul F. worked on a variety of shorts in the 1930s, and after the war spent two decades at the head of his own studio doing animated commercials. During World War II, he headed up a military animation unit in Washington D.C. where he performed some of his most satisfying and significant work, creating classified films about the beaches at Normandy for D-day.

Paul Fennell spent his later career working at Filmation, from where he retired IN THE EARLY 1980s. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 80.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wisdom From the Temple

Mark Kennedy, at Temple of the Seven Golden Camels:

For some reason, when we draw people we all have a tendency to draw them straight up and down. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's because it's just easier to draw people that way. Maybe it comes from our innate instinct to straighten things out and find order to things. And maybe it's because when we all started studying drawing and anatomy, we all studied the same anatomy books, and anatomy books tend to have a lot of flat, straight-up-and-down illustrations. ...

Maybe we were all influenced to think that these stiff and uninteresting poses were the way bodies should look. Or maybe not. Whatever the reason, it's a common tendency among artists. ...

Mr. Kennedy is one of the old pros in the storyboarding trade, and it's worth your while to read what he has to say on drawing figures, staging scenes, and most anything else connected to animated features.

So go there now.

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International Box Office

The motion pictures that are doing well domestically are (mostly) doing well on the planet's other continents.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (Global Totals)

Star Wars 7 -- $47,300,000 -- ($1,863,653,000)

Boonie Bears III -- $16,000,000 -- ($21,000,000)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- $6,000,000 -- ($125,613,025)

The Peanuts Movie -- $7,500,000 -- ($231,631,607) ...

Animation continues to be a force across the world, as entertainment dailies note:

... In its 5th offshore frame, Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens has become only the 5th film ever to cross $1B at the international box office. This is also the first time Disney has rounded that bend. ...

The Peanuts Movie flew past $100M this weekend, hauling in another $7.5M from 6,759 screens in 46 markets. ...

Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip, rode in with another $6M from 4,474 screens in 31 markets. It had a strong opening in Russia, garnering an estimated $1.6M, which was 3X bigger than Alvin 3. ...

The Good Dinosaur has collected $144,700,000 overseas, 55.8% of its $266,493,613 total. This is, to date, the lowest grossing animated feature in the Pixar canon. (Earlier in the year, Inside Out made three times the money.)

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Popularity and Clout

So there is some yelling and shouting about the lack of diversity in the live-action races for a Little Gold Man, but the media notes with approval that animation has spread its nominations around:

For true diversity at the Oscars, look at the animation nominees

... In the animated feature category, Academy voters rewarded as warm a use of CGI as you’ll see (Pixar’s “Inside Out”), Aardman’s always colorful stop-motion (“Shaun the Sheep Movie”), stunning stop-motion puppetry (“Anomalisa”), crayon-warm 2D with a live-action sequence (“Boy and the World”) and Studio Ghibli’s legendary hand-drawn beauty (“When Marnie Was There”). ...

The thing to keep in mind: the Academy Awards are (generally speaking) a popularity contest and a demonstration of the leverage owned by our fine entertainment conglomerates.

From the beginning of the AMPAS, artistic merit has been only one consideration among the commercial ones. And of course in the 21st century, tub-thumping for your nominees in the mainstream and social media also counts for a lot.

It's all about getting a Little Gold Man, so your entry can collect more gold on the back end of the award ceremony.

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Domestic Box Office

Before Disney and DreamWorks Animation roll out their own fuzzy animal features, a low-rent version debuts at #6.


1.)Ride Along 2 (UNI), 3,175 theaters / $11.8M Fri./ 3-day cume: $34M/ 4-day: $40.2M / Wk 1

2.) The Revenant (FOX), 3,559 theaters (+184) / $9.3MFri. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $31M (-22%)/4-day: $36.8M/ Total cume: $95M / Wk 4

3.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 3,822 theaters (-312) / $6.4M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-day cume: $26.2M (-38%) /4-day: $34.7M/ Total cume: $860.6M/ Wk 5

4). 13 Hours… (PAR), 2,389 theaters / $6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $17.7M/4-day: $21.4M/ Wk 1

5). Daddy’s Home (PAR), 3,322 theaters (-161) / $2.4M Fri. (-42%)/ 3-day cume: $8.8M (-41%)/4-day: $10.6M Total cume: $130.6M / Wk 4

6.) Norm of the North (LION) 2,411 theaters / $1.45M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.9M/4-day: $7.9M/ Wk 1

7). The Forest (FOC), 2,509 theaters (+58)/ $1.7M Fri. (-66%) / 3-day cume: $5.5M (-57%)/4-day: $6.2M/Total: $21.5M/Wk 2

8). The Big Short (PAR), 1,765 theaters (-764) / $1.55M Fri.(-16%) / 3-day cume: $5.4M (-13%) /$4-day: $6.5M/ Total cume: $51.8M / Wk 6

9.) Sisters (UNI), 2,313 theaters (-551) / $1.4M Fri. (-38%) / 3-day cume: $4.5M (-37%) /4-day: $5.4M/ Total cume: $81.9M / Wk 5

10.) The Hateful Eight (TWC), 2,385 theaters (-553) / $984K Fri. (-48%) / 3-day cume: $3.3M (-48%)/4-day: $4M/ Total cume: $48.2M / Wk 4

Alvin and the Chipmunks has dropped out of the Top Ten (as of Friday it was at #12) and has taken in $78 million, domestic.

The Good Dinosaur continues its decline and now has a domestic accumulation of $119 million.

The Peanuts Movie, is now in only a handful of theaters and will top out at $130 million in the U.S.A. and Canada.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Groening Series

Breaking news from a fine entertainment journal:

Netflix is teaming with the co-creator of one of the most iconic broadcast animated comedy series. I’ve learned that the Internet network is in talks with The Simpsons co-creator/executive Matt Groening for a new animated series. Details about the project, which Groening will create and write, are being kept under wraps. ...

It's always a good thing when more animation is poured into the industry pot. More employment means more opportunity for veteran and entry level artists alike.

No word on where the new series will be produced. Groening has partnered with Rough Draft Studios (located in Glendale) in the past, but no word where this project might land. I guess we'll see.

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Swoon ...

Moon ... June ... Egads!

It’s a bad day for Wall Street generally, but it’s especially dreary for Disney: Its shares are down 5.2% in afternoon trading — for a 10.3% drop so far this month — after Barclays’ Kannan Venkateshwar downgraded the stock to “underweight.”

This is the latest in a series of wary reports as analysts look past the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to potential problems — including likely continued subscriber losses at ESPN, the company’s biggest profit driver. It had 92 million subscribers at the end of the 2015 fiscal year, a drop of 3 million from 2014 and down 6 million from 2013. ...

For months and months of 2015, stock analysts were giddy with Diz Co.'s prospects. Star Wars would go throw the roof (it did). Everything else at the company was firing on eight cylinders (turns out such was not the case). And there just was not a gray cloud in sight.

Until there was.

Now ESPN steadily leaks viewers, and since ESPN is a huge part of Disney's portfolio, things don't look sunny. This is another lesson about gloating over specific eggs in your basket, because over time eggs have a way of going bad.

It's another lesson to me (like I needed one after 2008?) not to invest in single stocks. And I don't.

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Bill Nighy Speaks

... on the art of voice acting:

How does using your voice for animated characters deepen your understanding of acting?

Well, it accustomed me to the discipline of focusing entirely on my voice. And knowing that’s all you have. When I come to do voices for animation, I do feel kind of prepared in a way that I wouldn’t without that experience. It’s very enjoyable, and then I get to go away for a few years while the work is done. Animation artists are heroic. It’s an enormous investment in terms of time before they see the thing let lose in the world.

Did you record with the other actors in Norm of the North?

No, there were multiple sessions but for this particular film I did my scenes alone. I heard the other voices and I had the pictures to act along with. But I did it in isolation. ...

What a talented voice actor brings to the animation process s often immense. The good ones give animators and story artists something palpable to work with. And they bring lots of solid ideas that add to the whole, along with their vocal chops.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Voice Director For Cartoons

A journal of entertainment informs us:

When Disney Television Animation execs decided to create a series spinoff from the classic film “The Lion King,” they turned to veteran voice director Kelly Ward to ensure the vocal performances in “The Lion Guard” would roar to life. ...

Ward explains just how collaborative animated projects are, with each piece of the project informing the others. “There are many types of directing in animation. The first director is very legitimately the writer because a lot of what they write becomes translated into visuals by the storyboard artist, who becomes the second director because he’s directing the visuals and distilling the visuals into actual pictures,” he says.

“And then my job is to come in and help match and get the essence of the story in the vocal performances, which then inform the storyboard artists as well. It’s kind of a lovely ballet of interwoven parts where a knowledge of writing and a knowledge of storyboarding and drawing, a knowledge of editing all really help me do my job and convey to an actor exactly how to nuance their performance. ...

Mr. Ward knows whereof he speaks, as he began as an actor before migrating to Hanna-Barbera where he both wrote cartoon series and produced them. A couple of years back, he sat down to talk to us about where his career started, and where it had gone.

The fact that veterans who know how cartoons are put together continue to work in the industry is a very good thing.

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The Nominees

A variety of features were anointed by the Academy.

For Best Animated Feature, the envelope, please. >

Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran

Boy and the World
Alê Abreu

Inside Out
Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera

Shaun the Sheep Movie
Mark Burton and Richard Starzak

When Marnie Was There
Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura ...

And the winner (because it's a foregone conclusion, yes?) is Inside Out.

It's pretty to think it could be some other motion picture, but let's get real, shall we?

Add On: As to who will win the Little Gold Man in the short subject category? ...

Animated Short Film

Bear Story
Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala

Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton

Sanjay’s Super Team
Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle

We Can’t Live without Cosmos
Konstantin Bronzit

World of Tomorrow
Don Hertzfeldt

I really don't have the vaguest of clues.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Low?

An entertainment journal tells us:

... “The Good Dinosaur” is the Pixar’s 16th release and could be the studio’s lowest-grossing ever. It has taken in $118 million since opening domestically on Nov. 25, and with $149 million from overseas its worldwide haul is $266 million.

That’s not terrible, but it doesn’t offset the movie’s $200 million budget or measure up to Pixar’s unparalleled box office track record. The previous low-earner was the $362 million global haul of the original “Toy Story” in 1995, so it’s in some pretty good company. ...

“It’s not like they didn’t see this coming,” said Exhibitor Relation media analyst Jeff Bock, referring to the director switch and a storyline shift. “It didn’t seem to have the creativity or gravitas of previous Pixar releases. But in the long run they may learn something from this experience, and they’re going to be fine.” ...

Well, yeah. "Good company." Except Toy Story cost in the neighborhood of $30 million (1994 dollars) twenty years ago and made twelve times its cost. So not really an apt comparison to the current production.

Pixar has been hitting three-baggers and home runs for twenty years. Toy Story (all installments), Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Up, the list is long. But every not streak eventually cools off. DreamWorks Animation had sixteen hits in a row, then the hits stopped.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, turns out blockbusters all of the time. At some point, an idea that sounded good during the pitch doesn't pan out, and the motion picture that results is ... how to say it? ... an under-performer.

Which is, it seems, the label TGD is earning now.

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IATSE Endorsement

Here at the Winter IATSE Executive Board Meeting, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees has announced it's back a Presidential candidate.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president of the United States.

Based on her long record of fighting for workers’ rights and working families, the IATSE General Executive Board voted unanimously to endorse the former U.S. Secretary of State on Monday, January 11th.

“Hillary Clinton is the only candidate that reached out to discuss issues affecting members of the IATSE,” said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb. “She spent her valuable time discussing our unique issues and challenges with me, demonstrating not just her support of workers in general, but also that she is concerned with the well-being of members of the IATSE.”

Representing more than 125,000 workers in entertainment throughout the U.S. and Canada, the IATSE looks forward to working with Clinton on digital piracy, workers’ rights, misclassification of workers, and other issues affecting behind-the-scenes entertainment workers.

In July 2015, IATSE International President Loeb released a statement in support of Clinton calling out companies that misclassified workers as independent contractors, an issue that directly affects workers represented by the IATSE. ...

An exec board attendee told me that the reaction on social media to the IA's announcement has been varied. Soe folks like it, some are just okay with it, and some "What about Bernie!?".

It's going to be a long, political season. We'll see how this works out.

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Afternoon of Remembrance

President Emeritus Sito informs us:

"On Saturday Feb 20th at noon, the animation community in LA will come together at the Animation Guild in Burbank (1105 N. Hollywood Way) for the annual Afternoon of Remembrance.

It's a non-denominational service where we remember, laugh, cry, and share stories, as we say one more goodbye to all our friends who left us in 2015."

The list of the departed is long. Sadly, it usually is.

In Memoriam 2015

Jane Aaron, illustrator, Sesame Street designer
Joyce Alexander, ink & paint artist
Abiud Alvarez, ink & paint artist
Jim Brummett, animator
Gene Coe, Animation educator, USC
Donna Cooney, ink & paint artist
John Culhane, animation historian, author.
Eileen Dunn, assistant animator
Hani El Masri, Disney concept designer
John Fredericksen, animator
Lois Freeman, ink & paint artist
Stan Freberg, legendary voice actor
Antonio Gaio, the father of Portuguese animation
Ira Blaine Gibson, Disney animator (and WED sculptor)
Jonathan Goley, background artist
Frank Gonzales, animator, inspiration for Speedy Gonzales
Lee Guttman, ink & paint supervisor, Kurtz & Friends
Jeff Hale, animator, director
Rene Joidoin, NFB filmmaker
Gordon Kent, producer, writer
Zoe Leader, Disney Production
Kelvin Lee, animator
Scott Mankey, CG Lighter
Richard Manginsay, director, layout
Takashi Masunaga, designer, director
Jim MacCaulay, animation educator, Sheridan College
Jo Anne Merrill, ink & paint supervisor
Rolando Oliva, background artist
Monty Oum, anime artist
Gary Owens, legendary voice actor, announcer, radio host
Al Pabian, animator
Ray Parker, animation writer
Rocco Pirrone, layout artist
Zora Polensek, ink & paint artist
Phil Robinson, co-founder Wild Brain Studio
Louise Sandoval, Filmation animator
Sam Simon, Producer of the Simpsons
Danilo Taverna, storyboard an6t5d layout
Eve Valsatik, ink & paint artist
Cliff Voorhees, layout artist
Bob Walker, layout, animation director
Nancy Wimble, cel service

If you'd like to participate in the remembering, contact TAG, or Tom Sito, or Bronwen Barry.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

DreamWorks Ascending

It seems that the green eyeshade types on Wall Street think the Netflix deal and the company's oncoming animated feature is going to lift DWA up.

FBR & Co. analyst Barton Crockett on Tuesday upgraded his rating on the stock of DreamWorks Animation, citing near-term upside from the upcoming release of Kung Fu Panda 3 and recent deals with Netflix.

He upgraded the stock to "outperform" with a $29 price target and placed it on FBR's list of top stock picks. "Near-term there are potential catalysts that are likely to move the shares up," wrote Crockett. "In particular, we see potential for large checks from Netflix for movie catalog rights and expanded TV production and positive tracking for Kung Fu Panda 3, due out Jan. 29."

Crockett cited Box Office Analyst as saying tracking for Kung Fu Panda 3 is stronger than it was for Inside Out at the same point before its opening, predicting a total domestic run in the $185 million-$200 million range. Panda 3 "has no meaningful new animated movies to compete with in February and a prime spot in Chinese theaters heading into Chinese New Year, helped by a co-production relationship with affiliates of the Chinese government." ...

DreamWorks appears to have a winner with Panda #3. It also has an extended deal with Netflix, built-in profits, and a rapidly growing library of exploitable properties.

Little wonder that Barton Crockett predicts that, at least over the next year or three, DreamWorks Animation has a rosy future.

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The Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #5 -- Chuck Couch and Bob Bentley

Each week, Harvey Deneroff runs brief video interviews from January 1984, when the Guild hosted its first Golden Awards banquet. And each week, we link to the interviews. This time around, we feature talks with Bob Bentley and Chuck Couch.

Harvey Deneroff chats with Robert Bentley.

Robert Bentley was born in 1907 and passed away in 2000. He had a long, productive career and many of his credits can be found here. ...

Both of these interviews are very short, but they provide a small window through which the early creators of animated features and cartoon shorts can be seen, if only fleetingly.

Harvey D. talks to Chuck Couch

Chuck Couch passed away in 1987 at 78. He was born in 1909; his many credits can be found here.

For more information on both these veterans, click on the link above the fold. Harvey provides a wealth of links and information.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

The Next Big Animated Opening

Two weeks hence (and change) the next high profile animated feature rolls out. This one:

Expectations for the third installment of Po's adventures are high. And recent predictions of global grosses trend toward the rosy.

Kung Fu Panda 3 Box Office Predictions

Opening Domestic Weekend: 75 million
Total Domestic Gross: $235 million
Worldwide Grosses: $710 million

From where IMDB draws its information, I have no idea. But the figures above are in line with the first two installments, which made $631,744,560 (#1) and $665,692,281 (#2). So $710 million in worldwide grosses? That would be right in line with the box office growth of the first two.

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The IATSE Executive Board

Every six months, the IATSE (out Mother International) holds an executive board meeting of IA staff and IA Vice Presidents ... of which there are several.

We are across the continent in Hollywood, Florida, the city of blue oceans, sandy beaches and tropical thunderstorms. Tomorrow we start Day Two of a week of reports, presentations and updates of what is happening in stagecraft, live-action motion pictures, and also too visual effects and animation. ...

Today there were reports from the IA's West Coast office in Los Angeles, reports of organizing drives in various parts of the United States, and how the election of the new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada has remade Canada into a less hostile country for labor.

The IATSE has grown by several thousand members over the past three years ... in contrast to other American labor unions. It's intent on organizing visual effects, which is why President Matt Loeb announced the IA's new representative Steve Kaplan at this morning's session. (You might recognize the name "Steve Kaplan", since Steve worked for the Animation Guild for five years before taking a new position with the International.)

The current state of the IATSE is strong. In the next few days there will be reports on the state of various pension and health plans, as well as news about victories and defeats across the country. When something of moment crops up, I'll report it here.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Winner of the GLOBE

To very few people's surprise, Inside Out won the Golden Globe for "Best Animated Feature". ...

Its competitors were

Anomalisa, writer Charlie Kaufmann’s stop-motion feature. Mr. Kauffman also co-directed.

The Good Dinosaur, Pixar's other 2015 release.

The Peanuts Movie, with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Charles Schulz comic strip family from Blue Sky Studios.

Shaun the Sheep Movie, the Aardman stop-motion feature from the United Kingdom.

What amuses me is how important the Globes seem to be as an awards ceremony in the 21st century. Because it's a trifle in the great sweep of shiny trophies. Concocted by foreign press stringers and voted on by foreign press stringers.

Once upon a long ago, the whole damn ceremony was hijacked by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior and Dean Martin, who walked in and took over the proceedings. That was no big deal back in the 1950s. Now it's all glitz and glamour and broadcast coast-to-coast by a major network.

Times have changed. But maybe not necessarily for the better.

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Worldwide Grosses

Space opera domination continues.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (Global Totals)

Star Wars 7 -- $104,300,000 -- ($1,733,411,043)

The Good Dinosaur -- $12,000,000 -- ($266,034,385)

Alvin and the Chipmunks -- 45,800,000 -- ($111,808,339)

The Peanuts Movie -- $8,600,000 -- ($221,351,812)

And as a journal of entertainment informs us:

... Entering its final market on Saturday, Disney/Lucasfilm’s supernova Star Wars: The Force Awakens shot off with a $52.6M two-day China opening. ... In Korea The Good Dinosaur opened at No. 1. In its 7th session, the international result was $12M, bringing the offshore total to $148.7M and the global cume to $266M. ...

The Peanutes Movie sold another $8.6M worth of tickest this weekend, from 6,732 screens in 59 markets. The international cume is approaching the century mark with $92.2M through Sunday. ... Alvin and the Chipmunks [collected] $5.8M from 4,020 screens in 24 markets, Alvin and the gang now have grossed $36.2M. ...

Lastly, Hotel Transylvania 2 finishes it worldwide run at $465,574,344.

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Saturday, January 09, 2016

Jungle Book Too

There are people who don't like the old Disney classics getting tampered with. But I say, why the hell not? Walt's gone to his reward. And he tampered with Rudyard Kipling's book, didn't he?

John Favreau, the director of new incarnation of TJB, has his own take on creating the newer movie:

... "We never want to make the animals express emotions in ways that their species doesn't. How do you make it real? You hold a mirror up to nature. We have the breathing, the fur, the way the muscles move over the skin. The real challenge is to take all of this technical stuff and make it into an emotional experience. ...

"I tend to like puzzles and get obsessive about details. So in that sense, directing this way suits me. We made the animated version of the movie, the live action version, the motion-capture version. This kind of movie is like a marathon, not a sprint. ...

"We've got to make people go to the movies. We've got to make a case for it by showing them something they can't get at home."

I think the trailer is pretty compelling. Makes me want to see what they've done with the entire project.

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On Investing

Various stock market has been choppy of late, which is usually when Animation Guild artists and others commence getting nervous. (Oh Gawd! I gotta put everything in the stable value fund! Quick!)

But people who feel they need to do that, should pause, reflect and perhaps rethink their position ...

A few truths about bear markets in stocks:

1. They happen. Sometimes stocks go down. That’s why they’re called risk assets. Half of all years since 1950 have seen a double-digit correction in stocks. Get used to it.

2. They’re a natural outcome of a complex system run by emotions and divergent opinions. Humans tend to take things too far, so losses are inevitable.

3. Everyone says they’re healthy until they actually happen. Then they’re scary and investors who were looking for a better entry point begin to panic.

4. The majority of the people who have been scaring investors by predicting a bear market every single month for the past seven years will be the last ones to put their money to work when one actually hits.

5. It’s an arbitrary number. I have no idea why everyone decided that a 20% loss constitutes a bear market. The media will pay a lot of attention to this definition while it doesn’t matter at all to investors. The 1990s saw zero 20% corrections but two 19% drawdowns. Stocks also lost 19% in 2011. Does that extra 1% really matter?

6. Buy and hold feels great during a long bull market. It only works as a strategy if you continue to buy and hold when stocks fall. Both are much easier to do when stocks rise.

7. Your favorite pundit isn’t going to be able to help you make it through the next one. Perspective and context can help, but there’s nothing that can prepare an investor for the gut-punch you feel when seeing a chunk of your portfolio fall in value.

8. History is a broad outline of what can happen in the markets, not what will happen. Every cycle is different.

9. They’re very difficult to predict. All of the valuations, fundamentals, technicals and sentiment data in the world won’t help you predict when or why investors decide it’s time to panic.

10. These are the times that successful investors separate themselves from the pack. ...

I've made lots of mistakes while saving for my oncoming years of geezerhood.

I've bought at the top. I've sold at the bottom. I've panicked when I should have been steady and arrogant when I should have been scared spitless.

What I've learned from all my boneheaded mistakes is that the best strategy is to set up a stock and bond allocation you can live with (and that suits your age), and then pretend it isn't there.

Because if you fixate on every downdraft in the markets, on every wiggle and gyration of stocks, you'll nurture high anxiety deep in your brain. And end up doing exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.

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Weekend Box Office in the USA

A bearded Leo C. versus a bearded Hark H. So who will win?


1.) The Revenant (FOX), 3,375 theaters (+3,371) / $14.4M Fri. (+9374%) / 3-day cume: $38.3M (+8468%)/ Total cume: $39.9M / Wk 3

2.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens (DIS), 4,134 theaters (0) / $10.75M Fri. (-69%) / 3-day cume: $37M ( -59%) / Total cume: $807.4M/ Wk 4

3). Daddy’s Home (PAR), 3,483 theaters (+141) / $4.2M Fri. (-63%)/ 3-day cume: $14.1M (-52%)/ Total cume: $115.4M / Wk 3

4). The Forest (FOC), 2,451 theaters / $4.99M Fri. / 3-day cume: $12.2M/ Wk 1

5.) Sisters (UNI), 2,864 theaters (-114) / $2.2Fri. (-52%) / 3-day cume: $7M(-45%) / Total cume: $73.7M / Wk 4

6.) The Hateful Eight (TWC), 2,938 theaters (+464) / $1.9M Fri. (-71%) / 3-day cume: $6.2M (-61%)/ Total cume: $41.3M / Wk 3

7). The Big Short (PAR), 2,529 theaters (+941) / $1.8M Fri.(-47%) / 3-day cume: $6.1M (-32%) / Total cume: $42.67M / Wk 5

8). Joy (FOX), 2,513 theaters (-411) / $1.4M Fri.(-65%) / 3-day cume: $4.6M (-55%) / Total cume: $46.6M / Wk 3

9). Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip (FOX), 2,972 theaters (-502) / $1M Fri. (-73%)/ 3-day cume: $4.5M (-63%) / Total cume: $75M / Wk 4

10). Concussion (SONY), 2,056 theaters (-785)/ $974K Fri. (-68%) / 3-day cume: $3M (-62%) / Total cume: $31.5M / Wk 3 ...

The Good Dinosaur is now far out of the Top Ten, but remain in 1100+ theaters and north of $116 million. This is weak for a Pixar feature but still in all, the pic will nudge up against $120 million before the game is over and that's far from awful.

The Peanuts Movie, now in a mere 286 theaters, will have to rev its engines to reach $130 million. By the time all domestic runs are complete, it might just do that, but it's gonna be lose.

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Friday, January 08, 2016

Frank Armitage, RIP

Sorry to hear about this:

... Frank Armitage , renowned Disney layout and background artist on such classic Disney films as "Sleeping Beauty," "Mary Poppins," and "The Jungle Book," and a longtime Disney Imagineer who contributed murals and designs to a wide range of theme parks all over the world, passed away on Monday (1/4/16) at his home in Paso Robles, California, from age-related causes.

He was 91 years old. In addition to his accomplishments with Disney, he served as a production illustrator on the 1966 Academy Award® -winning Fox film, "Fantastic Voyage," and was an expert medical illustrator. ...

And so another Disney veteran departs.

I have vivid memories of Mr. Armitage. He came up to numerous parties thrown by my parents in La Crescenta. I was nine and ten years old, and there would be the entire Disney background department eating, drinking and making merry in our living room. Frank had a great beard then. He was a handsome guy with a good-looking wife, but what sticks with me fifty-five years later is his distinct Australian accent. His was the first one I ever heard.

Julie Svendsen, daughter of Julius and an indispensable assistant to Walt Peregoy in the last years of Walt's life, told me a couple of months ago that Frank was battling the vagaries of old age. Sorry to see that he's now gone.

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Tech Awards!

Ten technical innovations were recognized today by the Motion Picture Academy, two of them to ...

Richard Chuang and Rahul Thakkar for the groundbreaking design, and to Andrew Pilgrim, Stewart Birnam and Mark Kirk for the review workflows and advanced playback features, of the DreamWorks Animation Media Review System. Over its nearly two decades of development, this pioneering system enabled desktop and digital theater review. It continues to provide artist-driven, integrated, consistent and highly scalable studio-wide playback and interactive reviews. ...

Brian McLean and Martin Meunier for pioneering the use of rapid prototyping for character animation in stop-motion film production. LAIKA’s inventive use of rapid prototyping has enabled artistic leaps in character expressiveness, facial animation, motion blur and effects animation. ...

Technical advances get recognized by the Academy on a regular basis, which is good. Without tech development, there's no sound, no wide screen, no color, no 3-D, no digital effects, and on and on.

The bad part is, the technical awards ceremony is always boiled down to quick video-taped snippets that get shunted to the edges of the prime time awards telecast when actors, directors, and screenwriters are getting their due.

But the tech achievements are important, even if they get short shrift. Hell, without technical research and development, there would never have been movies in the first place.

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Thursday, January 07, 2016

RIP Pat Harrington, Jr.

The man who brought prominence to apartment handymen has departed.

... Pat Harrington Jr. has passed away at the age of 86. The comedian and voice-over actor was best known as the handyman Schneider on the classic 70s sitcom One Day at a Time.

He died Wednesday night, two months after his daughter announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and that his health was deteriorating. Trese Harrington wrote in a statement:

Dear Friends, it is with the most unimaginable pain and sadness, that I tell you my father, Pat Harrington, Jr. passed away at 11:09 PM this evening. We were all with him today and tonight: crying, laughing and loving him. This is the single most heart wrenching and physically painful thing, I've ever had to endure. My heart is broken to pieces and I will cry and cry until I just won't. Love to you all! And as we head into this year, never be afraid to tell the people you love, that you love them." ...

Mr. Harrington had a long and busy career. Beyond the many character parts, he worked as a voice actor on numerous cartoons, including A Garfield Christmas Special, I Yabba Dabba Doo!, Yo Yogi!, Duckman, The Pink Panther, and numerous others.

The washington Posts' long, informative obituary on Mr. Harrington can be found here.

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