Thursday, May 22, 2008

News - 05/22/08...


From the producers of Batman Begins and the upcoming Dark Knight theatrical release comes the groundbreaking interpretation of the Batman's transition from beginner to Dark Knight. Six interlocking stories reveal Bruce Wayne's earliest adventures as Batman and the steps he took to become the grim avenger of Gotham City. 

With scripts by David Goyer (BLADE, BATMAN BEGINS), Greg Rucka (upcoming WHITEOUT), Josh Olson (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE), Jordan Goldberg (Associate Producer on THE PRESTIGE), Alan Burnett (BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM) and Brian Azzarello (writer on 100 BULLETS, the brilliant comic series by Vertigo). AND THEN... there's the directors... Yasuhiro Aoki (TWEENY WITCHES), Futoshi Higashide (AIR), Toshiyuki Kubooka (NADIA OF THE MYSTERIOUS SEAS), Hiroshi Morioka (TSUBASA CHRONICLE) and Shoujirou Nishimi (TEKKON KINKURITO). The directors are often times directing for the first time after being superb animators in the anime realm - all being overseen by producer BRUCE TIMM and the team behind BATMAN BEGINS & THE DARK KNIGHT.

New 'He-Man' Animation Continues Release

Volume Two Ready for Release

Coming soon to store shelves from BCI Eclipse, a Navarre Corp. company, is the next scheduled release for the Mike Young Productions-produced television animation He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002). A most-recent retelling of the legendary hero who must defend against the throes of evil across many interesting lands, He-Man finds its way to retailers next week with the Second Volume release. Newer generations to the classic 80's property can once again dig into the young He-Man's struggle to learn how to handle his new powers while battling against the evil Skeletor.

The second of a planned three DVD Set releases, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Volume Two, pulls the adventure through another thirteen episodes of the animated television series. The 2002 animation originally aired on Cartoon Network. Volume Two contains episodes such as "The Mystery of Anwat Gar" where He-man and Man-At-Arms find their way to a strange island to prevent Skeletor from getting to a series of powerful, ancient stones; and "Snake Pit," where The Masters enlist the mysterious Zodac to assist in preventing the ancient Snake Men from escaping their prison.

Volume Two, like all of the domestic releases from BCI Eclipse (Blackstar, Cool McCool), holds a bundle of bonus features and commentary for consumer to enjoy. Special features include multiple art galleries, a series of animatics for four episodes, complete scripts for each of the episodes on the DVD Set, and audio commentary supplied by Gary Hartle, Dean Sefan and Steve Melching. Volume Two is available for purchase on May 27th, 2008 for $26.98, with a runtime of 286 minutes.Additional bonus items for the second volume release of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe from BCI include:

The original "Morals" segment for each episode.
Audio Commentary on 3 episodes with director Gary Hartle, story editor Dean Sefan and writer Steve Melching, moderated by Ian Richter.
"He-Man Villains" Sketch Gallery
"He-Man Villains" Still Gallery
Background Gallery
Complete animatics of four episodes
Scripts for Episodes 14 - 26
Eight-page booklet
Two Masters of the Universe Collectible Art Cards by acclaimed artists Joshua Middleton (Superman/Shazam!, NYX, X-Men Unlimited) and Sean Galloway (Hellboy Animated, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Teen Titans Go).

The Prism: A Profile of Dave Master

Animator/historian Tom Sito illuminates the singular career of a major figure in animation education.

Dave Master, one of America's foremost animation educators, as drawn by his mentor Chuck Jones. Courtesy of Dave Master.

For over 30 years, Dave Master has been in the business of educating people, bringing the collective wisdom of animation professionals to a broad cross-section of young artists. Whether at a low-income high school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, as manager of a Warner Bros. training program, or as an Internet pioneer, Dave has made it his mission to give everyone a shot at becoming an animator.

How did a bearded hippie radical hospital workers union organizer become one of the foremost animation educators in the USA?

One night, in the early 1990s, I was driving out of Los Angeles on the 60 freeway. The glitz of Hollywood and the glass towers of downtown L.A. gave way to low-level suburban malls, brown hills dotted with sagebrush and dipping oil pumps. It looked like a scene out of There Will Be Blood.

Where the heck was I?

I was headed for an animation class at a place called Rowland High School. I had met the instructor Dave Master, who had invited me. But the real impetus came from Chuck Jones, who even called me at home to make sure I was definitely going. He said June Foray, Bill Scott, Steve Bosustow and Disney's Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston had already visited there.

If there was anything I learned from my years as an animator, it was when Chuck Jones told you to go some place, you went!

So I arrived at Rowland High School. I was ushered past the usual municipal high school playground fields and classrooms to a converted metal-working shop way in the back. Once there I discovered an oasis of animation. A workshop with light tables and discs and computers and 3D setups and dozens of eager, talented students. I had a wonderful time that night talking and critiquing their work. And many of them told me later it was very inspiring to their own development.

What was it that made this out-of-the-way high school so different from all others?

It had Dave Master.

Dave Master was born in the New York City borough of Queens, and spent his teen years in the shadow of Shea Stadium, where the #7 train to Flushing rumbles overhead. He was not the usual type you would expect to dedicate his life to teaching cartoon animation. "When my father was in the military, he was turned off by the rampant racial inequality he saw black soldiers experience. He taught me, 'There should be a level playing field. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to achieve.'"

Dave's dad worked for the Dept. of Real Estate for the City of New York, and he would take Dave to tenements in some of the most underserved areas to show him how people in less fortunate circumstances lived. This affected Dave in the deepest way. He was proud that his dad did everything he could to make sure the buildings he supervised had heat in the winter and plumbing that worked. One of his dad's proudest moments was participating in the March on Washington in 1963 and hearing Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. His dad instilled in him a strong sense of fairness and activism.

Master worked as a union organizer before landing a job teaching arts at a Southern California high school. His enthusiasm about using animation in the curriculum helped get him in.

Dave could draw and was an arts major in college, but the call of social justice was louder then. He grew up in the 1960s as a student radical in the antiwar movement and, while working his way through college, became a grass roots labor union organizer under his mentor Elliot Godoff. His greatest achievement was helping to organize the forgotten service workers in a big Staten Island hospital. "Everyone told us it was impossible and you can't win. But in the end we got 85% voting for the union."

In the mid-1970s, a friend who was a television producer convinced Dave to move to California and get into set design. He did some commercial art, but his interest in teaching was stronger, and he soon went back to school to get his teaching credential.

As a child, Dave had been enthralled by cartoons like Crusader Rabbit and later, as a bored student, he used every textbook page and margin as a flip-book. This long-dormant interest was reawakened when he became a student teacher and was fortunate enough to have a master teacher who showed him the basics of animation. He thought it would be fun to give kids a chance to explore animation, an opportunity he wished he had had while in school. So it was with this new inspiration that he donned his '70s leisure suit and went to a job interview for a new teaching position in Rowland Heights. "Out of 35 applicants, I was the only one excited about using animation as part of my arts program, and it was on that basis I got the job."

Dave filled his classroom with desks and overhead video shooters and Preston Blair books. In 1978 he went to the FILMEX film festival in Century City and attended a lecture by Stephen Leiva called "The Animator as an Actor." At the time, Steve Leiva was Chuck Jones' publicist and he introduced the two men. Chuck looked at Dave's students' primitive early work and, in his endearing and straightforward way said, "I love your enthusiasm, but you don't know what the hell you are doing!"

Jones took Dave under his wing. He taught him in detail about the intricacies of animation and introduced him to other Jedi masters like Bosustow, Foray, Scott and Bill Littlejohn. Later that same year, at a student film festival, Frank and Ollie viewed some of Dave's students' films and they invited Dave to come on the Disney lot periodically with Super-8 reels of his kids' work so they could add their notes. These greats of animation spread the word about Rowland Animation among their friends in the biz.

Chuck Jones (above) was introduced to Master's work with high school students and immediately took the teacher under his wing.

Soon many of them made that same trek I did out to Rowland to talk to Dave's young charges firsthand. Dave's little high school course turned out some great animation artists and technicians active in the animation field today, including Bert Klein, Jennifer Cardon-Klein, Clay Kaytis, Mike Belzer, Edwin Rosell, Brian Kesinger, John Ramirez, Chris Clements, and even Dave's son Brian, who is an animation editor. "By the time I left teaching to go to Warner Bros., we had a couple of hundred get employed from this least likely of places."

In 1994 Dave left Rowland High to organize the training efforts of Warner Bros. Animation Studio. "I lost sleep making that decision. But I knew the animation renaissance was under way and I wanted to be part of it." Dave was director of artist development there for seven-and-a-half years. He enjoyed visiting schools and helping communicate what the studio was looking for in their portfolio reviews. At the same time, he was dismayed about the overwhelming number of portfolios that were rejected for not meeting studio expectations.

Dave thought that the studio should do more than the periodic school visitations and "dog and pony shows," and he suggested using teleconferencing to sustain contact with students and teachers throughout the school year. The concept was new, but simple: Have artists look at student work in far-flung classrooms each week and give feedback about what they should revise if they wanted to make the work portfolio-ready. The pilot included two high schools, three colleges, a junior college and an adult education program. Dave called it ACME, with the blessing of his mentor Chuck Jones, and unlike every other ACME product employed by Jones' Wile E. Coyote, this one actually worked. Students from the underserved high schools began to graduate and attend university arts and animation programs. The most talented and hardworking college students began to get hired by the studios.

At Warner Bros., Master was instrumental in creating ACME, a program where professionals gave feedback to underserved students. He also worked on The Iron Giant (above) and Osmosis Jones. Courtesy of and © 1999 Warner Bros.

In 2002, following the release of Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones, Dave left Warner Bros. and dedicated himself to developing ACME Animation on a national scale. The network now disseminates arts education through the medium of animation to schools around the U.S. "We were a social network before MySpace and YouTube," says Dave. "But what was important was that ACME put real animation professionals in front of students in out-of-the-way schools in urban areas like Los Angeles, and Birmingham, Alabama, or rural areas in Wyoming, who otherwise would never dream of a career in the arts.

"Many people think ACME is a merely an online training program, when in reality ACME is a nonprofit educational organization. We use animation to engage students in the arts as young as sixth graders. Most of the ACME students are middle and high school students in underserved communities. I think the reason many people think of us as a college animation program is because that is who the professional artists mentor online. But, ACME employs a pay-it-forward-type system where pros mentor college students online, yet the college students earn that professional feedback by mentoring scores of middle and high school kids across the country.

"In effect, we've created a sort of Peace Corps of college-level animation students. The professionals' feedback cascades into classrooms in every corner of the country and reaches places where students really need the mentoring and encouragement. It's about leveling the playing field. Sure, not everyone we reach will become a professional, but many go to college and most have a chance to engage in an expressive arts experience they might not have ever enjoyed. All of these kids will at least have the opportunity to give it a shot."

Shea Stadium is being rebuilt, Dave's black beard is now snow white. The old Jedi Masters like Chuck have moved off into memory. But Dave Master's energy and passion for his mission remains undimmed.

In the 1700s, scientist Sir Issac Newton went to Stourbridge Faire and bought a crystal stone called a prism. When he directed sunlight at it, the stone broke up the light and displayed it as a series of colors that he called the spectrum.

"The Ol' Perfesser" Dave Master is a prism. He takes the white light of animation professionals' knowledge and turns it into a multicolor spectrum of information for students in the least likely of places.

Pretty good for an old hippie.

Tom Sito is an animator, teacher and author. His book Drawing The Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson is still on shelves, and his upcoming show Click & Clack's As The Wrench Turns will debut on July 9th at 8:00 pm on PBS.

"The Hobbit" Begins Pre-Production

Pre-production is about to get under way on the two "The Hobbit" movies says Variety.

Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are expected to write the scripts under the direction of Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro.

Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Andy Serkis (Gollum) have already been in contact in regards to starring in the film, the three "Lord of the Rings" characters playing important parts in the story.

Director Guillermo del Toro says "I am all for keeping the actors who originated the parts, as much as availability and their willingness will allow."

del Toro will also produce "Hater", an adaptation of David Moody's 2006 novel for Universal Pictures. Glen Mazzara (FX's "The Shield") will adapt the work for the screen.

Batman Gotham Knight Sites Go Live

Warner Home Video has updated the official website for its July 8 animated DVD release, Batman Gotham Knight, and has brought online a MySpace page and Facebook page as well.

James Cameron discusses 3D motion-capture Avatar

Titanic director James Cameron discussed yesterday at Microsoft Advance ‘08 his new film Avatar, about a man who tries to become a miner by combining his being with an alien during an interplanetary war in which aliens can manifest themselves through human bodies — avatars. “Avatar is the single most complex piece of filmmaking ever made. We have 1,600 shots for a 2.5 hour movie. It’s not with a single CGI character, like King Kong or Gollum. We have hundreds of photo-realistic CG characters. The essence of storytelling stays the same. Intense CG (computer-generated) scenes with multiple shots doesn’t change that.” The filmmaker has created an entire world for the movie as well as an alien language (the film is partly subtitled), a complete ecosystem of phantasmagorical plants and creatures, and a native people with a rich culture and language. Cameron, who will be making all his films in stereoscopic 3D moving forward, added that Avatar will make people truly experience something. One more layer of the suspension of disbelief will be removed. All the syn-thespians are photo-realistic. Now that we’ve achieved it, we discovered CG characters in 3D look more real than in 2D. Your brain is cued it’s a real thing not a picture and discounting part of image that makes it look fake. (…) What could happen is now that digital cinema revolution has taken place is killer app is 3D. Dreamworks has announced all its animated films will be made and projected in 3-D. Gaming will be changed by 3-D. Consumer electronics people will need to make players stereo-enabled monitors. Future version of Windows should be fully stereoscopic. Smaller devices already are 3D enabled without glasses. If you play “Avatar” on a 50 inch monitor, you’re in the game.” Fox will release Avatar in theater in December 2009.

Regal & RealD rolling out 1,500 more 3D screens

Coming Soon! reports that Regal Entertainment Group and RealD 3D announced a deal that calls for a rollout of 1,500 RealD 3D screens, bringing the RealD 3D screen count to over 3,500. The rollout will allow most U.S. markets to have 3D capability. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg commented that this new deal “marks a defining moment for the greatest transformation in movie-going in 70 years. The future of cinema comes to theaters in 2009.” Walt Disney’s President of Distribution Chuck Viane added that “Disney has been a pioneer in producing groundbreaking 3D motion pictures, and has an ambitious slate of projects starting with the November release of our newest animated feature, Bolt.” Fox’s President of Domestic Distribution Bruce Snyder concluded that “with Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and James Cameron’s Avatar both being released in the not so distant future in the 3D format, we at Fox clearly believe in the 3D process as the next great thing in the movie-going experience. We are currently deep into the negotiation with DCIP to keep the digitalization of theaters moving forward. And we are thrilled that RealD and Regal have joined together to make 3D viewing a reality on a nationwide basis.”

Future of Anime Remains Bright Despite 'Speed Racer' Failure

As Speed Racer (Warner Bros) wraps its 2nd weekend at the box office with a less-than-stellar $8.1M, it continues to deal with a crush of negative press. After a disappointing 10-day total of just less than $32M, it will be difficult for this film adaptation from the Wachowskis to survive the box office onslaught of Indiana Jones starting Thursday. Critics have given mixed-to-negative reviews (35% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes), but there is a segment of moviegoers who are especially satisfied with the movie: anime fans.

Zac Bertschy, the Executive Editor of the Anime News Network, says that the reaction has been "overwhelmingly positive" and that anime fans "appreciate it for what it is." With a number of anime-inspired projects in development in Hollywood, it will be interesting to see if Speed Racer's chilly reception will have any effect.

"Only retro hipsters and Generation X remember Speed Racer," Bertschy told me. "The attitude in the anime community was wait-and-see, but when the trailer was released people started getting excited"? He says that the bright colors, kinetic style, flat look and the fact that normal laws of physics do not apply all add up to a terrific live action approximation of anime. "This movie is very ambitious. They were trying for something really out-there. It was a big gamble."

It is a gamble that the Wachowskis and Joel Silver are paying for now, but will other live action anime adaptations in development be hurt as well? Bertschy says that it is not fair to blame Speed Racer's failure on its anime origins. "Anime is typically adult animation. The projects in development are completely different stories and none of them, except for Dragonball, are targeting the same family audience."

Dragonball Z is easily the most popular anime series in the U.S. It was created by Akira Toriyama in the mid-1980s, and, after several failed attempts, a dubbed version of the show landed on the Cartoon Network in 1998. It has been running ever since, and Fox's live-action film version of the show is set for release in April of next year. Produced by Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) and directed by James Wong (The X-Files, Final Destination), this movie will be aimed squarely at the kid set. Bertschy, whose Anime News Network is the #1 anime site in the world, says his readers have a "high level of skepticism" about Dragonball and that "expectations are very low."

Fans are excited about the grown-up, live-action anime-inspired adaptations in various stages of development. These projects will likely feature the sort of hyper-stylized look and kinetic hyperactivity that are the hallmarks of great anime, and the projects are being championed by some of Hollywood's greatest talent.

Ironically, Warner Bros is the studio behind two of the most-anticipated anime-style projects, but will they be gun shy after the Speed Racer experience? Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio is working on an ambitious live-action version of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira that will move the action from 'Neo-Tokyo' to 'Neo-Manhattan.' The plan is for two films with Ireland's Ruairi Robinson set to make his directing debut. This is dystopian science fiction, which will likely have more of a Matrix trilogy look, and it is tentatively set for next summer. Akira has all the makings of a blockbuster franchise.

Also last fall, Warner Bros announced that they have acquired the film rights to Robotech with Tobey Maguire set to produce and star. This is a possible tentpole franchise about alien invasions of Earth and the robot technology designed to defeat the invaders. This big-budget picture is at least two years away.

After Oscar winner James Cameron's Avatar is unleashed in December of 2009, the rumor is that he will turn his attentions to Battle Angel Alita. This Fox property is about a female cyborg with amnesia, but Cameron is notoriously deliberate, and it is hard to imagine seeing this one until at least 2010.

M. Night Shyamalan, whose The Happening will arrive in multiplexes June 13, has begun work on The Last Airbender, based on the popular Nickelodeon series. Technically, this proposed Paramount film is not anime, but it certainly has that anime flavor. It features a character who can control the elements, and this will reportedly be Shyamalan's biggest budget film ever. Airbender is tentatively set for July 2010.

Finally, Steven Spielberg has been patiently "circling" Masamune Shirow's classic Ghost in the Shell as a 3-D live-action feature. DreamWorks owns the rights to the futuristic police thriller and Avi Arad, who has successfully produced the three Spider-Man movies, the three X-Men movies, the two Fantastic Four movies, Iron Man and the upcoming Incredible Hulk, is attached to produce, and Jamie Moss (Street Kings) is reportedly working on the screenplay. No release date is projected yet.

Overview of new attractions in Orlando’s theme parks

USA Today takes a closer look at various new rides opening in theme park capital of the world such as Universal’s Simpsons Ride and Walt DisneyWorld’s Toy Story Mania, noting that “for the first time in recent memory, each of them has a new major attraction to keep the turnstiles churning as tourism rebounds this year.”

New distribution deals in place for Europe’s Planet 51

Handmade Films Intl. has sold rights to its big budget European CGI film Planet 51 to TF1 for France and Moviemax Italia for Italy, with German and Japanese deals yet to be finalized, according to Variety. The alien planet comedy, budgeted at $60 million, was produced by Madrid’s Ilion Animation Studios and London’s Handmade Films. Planet 51 is about an astronaut who lands on a planet inhabited by green people who live in a society very similar to 1950s America. New Line will distribute the film in North America this fall. Planet 51’s English language voice cast includes Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Seann William Scott, Justin Long, John Cleese and Gary Oldman.

Billy Crystal, from Woody to Mike

Disney Insider officially confirms what was already well known: that Billy Crystal was originally given the opportunity to voice Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, but declined. “After seeing the finished film, he said that decision was the biggest mistake of his career. Upon learning this, Pixar offered Crystal the role of Mike in Monsters, Inc. (2001), which he readily accepted.”

Newsarama on Animation Pioneer Georges Melies

Newsarama's Animated Shorts has posted a two-part profile of film and animation pioneer Georges Melies (part 1 and part 2). The profile chronicles his contributions in the earliest days of film in conjunction with Flicker Alley's Georges Melies: The First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) five-DVD retrospective of his work.

Onion A.V. Club Interviews "South Park"'s Matt Stone and Trey Parker

The Onion A.V. Club has interviewed Matt Stone and Trey Parker, co-creators of South Park. The interview digs into how the two work and collaborate, the sacrifices and benefits of the show's grueling nine-day turnaround schedule, how they approach writing episodes of the show, the genesis of the Imaginationland 3-part episode, how much supervision they get from Comedy Central, and why they're not planning to make any more movies.

T4's Bale Signs For Three

Christian Bale is to play rebel leader John Connor in three sequels to the Terminator franchise, BBC News reported.

The Welsh-born star, who is soon to be seen in the Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight, has already started shooting the first of those films, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, the news service reported.

"He read the script, and he loved it, so he's signed on for all three," Derek Anderson, business partner of Halcyon films' Victor Kubicek, told the BBC.

McG (Charlie's Angels) is directing the first prequel film, which is slated for release on May 22, 2009.

The Incredible Hulk Hits NY and LA has posted some great photos of outside art for Universal Pictures' The Incredible Hulk that are on display in New York and Los Angeles.

Don't miss the pics here!

The 2008 Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival

The 12th Annual Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Fest (SICAF) once again brings animators and audiences from around the world for the exhibition and discussion of cartoons, animation, and comics. The five day event is marked by screenings, competitions, and business panels with animators from Europe, the U.S., Japan and Korea. Feature news highlights: Morita's 'Freedom' anime OVA; Plympton's 'Idiots & Angels'; DiMartino and Konietzko's 'Avatar,' and a TV series based on 'Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox.'

New Phase of Dark Knight Site Up

Warner Bros. Pictures alerted us that the new phase of The Dark Knight domestic website has gone live today. It is similar to the previous version but now includes a menu featuring the synopsis, video, a photo gallery, and downloads such as screensavers, icons, wallpapers and posters.

You can check it out here.

Roger Rabbit novelist still fighting for his share of profits

The Hollywood Reporter takes a closer look at the ongoing suit opposing Gary Wolf, the science fiction author whose 1981 novel formed the basis of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, to Disney. Wolf signed an agreement with the studio back in 1983 that gave him 5% of “gross receipts” from Disney’s exploitation of his characters. The parties didn’t bother to define “gross receipts” at the time and Wolf later claimed he was owed millions for his share of everything from non-monetary promotional partnerships with McDonalds to the value of Roger Rabbit “walk arounds" at Disney parks. Twenty years later the case has yet to be resolved…

Csupo Sells Immigrants as Feature

Immigrants, a 2D-animated adult series from Klasky-Csupo co-founder Gabor Csupo, has been sold to Hungary and Russia as an 89-minute feature film scheduled to debut in October. According to Daily Variety, Hungaricom acquired rights for Hungary prior to Cannes and sold it to Moscow's Ruscico for Russia and former Soviet territories during the market. The movie, also known as La dolce vita, has reportedly garnered strong interest from a U.S. distributor as well.

An offering from Klasky-Csupo’s adult animation brand, Global Tantrum, Immigrants is a U.S.-Hungarian co-production that aired on SpikeTV in the U.S. in August of 2004. A total of six episodes were produced, chronicling the adventures of Russian immigrant Vladislav and his Hungarian roommate, Joska, who reside at the Vista Del Mar Apartments in Hollywood, Calif. While both believe in the American Dream, Vlad thinks it can be had through hard work while Joska puts faith in the get-rich-quick notion. Simpsons veteran Hank Azaria and Will and Grace's Eric McCormack provided the voices for the title characters.

Csupo is best known as the creator of the Nickelodeon phenomenon Rugrats and fellow Nick toon The Wild Thornberrys. More recently, he directed Disney/Walden Media’s live-action adaptation of author Katherine Paterson’s kid lit favorite Bridge to Terabithia. He is also signed to helm The Moon Princess, a big-screen adaptation of Elizabeth Goudge's children’s fantasy novel The Little White Horse.

Famous Frames Mobile Resurrects Stooges

Moe, Larry and Curly are back and this time they’re computer-generated in a new mobile series launching as one of several new animated offerings at An initiative of new media company Famous Frames Mobile Interactive, the site beta launches today with previews of five diverse new toon mobisodes. Many in the industry know Famous Frames as a storyboard artist agency that has been in operation for the past 20 years.

Through an exclusive deal with C3 Ent., The Three Stooges returns after 50 years. The kings of slapstick run for president of the United States in “The Grate Debate,” the first CG-animated episode, which is set to debut soon. Also to be featured on the site is CybeRacers, a CG futuristic action thriller co-produced by renowned Asian animation house Morph Studios, that will be offered in three minute mobisodes/webisodes and later as a full-length feature film.

FFMI has also acquired Aaron Sowd's Masterminds, an animated comic-book riff that features the voice of Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee; Duff Clawson's The Lucky Shop of Xao Fung, a CG film noir series; and Guy Henry and Girlband, irreverent cartoon comedies from artist Burpo, also known as Stephen DeBonrepos.

"FFMI allows creative talent to distribute their works without the big budget ‘it's who you know’ barriers of old Hollywood," says FFMI CEO Mark C. Miller. “The nGen platform powers up this process by allowing greater artistic control and profit participation. What ‘new media’ comes down to is an immediate interaction between you and your audience.”

Miller, FFMI president Steven Schmidt and their international team greenlit development of FFMI, its creative production slate and multi-channel digital delivery platform (nGen TV/nGen Mobile) in 2005. Last summer, FFMI won iHollywood Forum's Best of Show Award after being voted the most worthy partner and funding prospect by the audience at the 12th Mobile Entertainment Summit. FFMI's nGen platform also distributes animated messages and greetings, graphic novels, games, screensavers, wallpapers, ringtones and products across a wide range of formats.

Backyardigans Go to Pirate Camp

Nick Jr.’s hit preschool series The Backyardigans will show young viewers a swashbuckling good time with “Pirate Camp,” a new half-hour special premiering Monday, June 9 at 9 a.m. (ET/PT). Kicking off a week of pirate-themed programs, the special will be followed at 10 a.m. by the premiere of a new episode of The Wonder Pets! titled “Save the Pirate Parrot!” Other sea-faring offerings lined up for the week of June 9-13 include scurvy episodes of Dora the Explorer, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Max & Ruby.

In “Pirate Camp,” Uniqua wants to be a pirate so bad she convinces a fearful Pablo to join her at Camp Walk-A-Planka. Under the tutelage of the great pirate captain Austin, the campers learn about “pirattitude” and dance the scalawag to a Garage Band soundtrack. When Austin is captured by pirate captain Red Boots, a fearsome ghost played by Tasha, it’s up to the pirate campers to help set him free.

Beginning June 2, Nick Jr. Video on will begin streaming clips from “Pirate Camp,” as well as instant replays of both “Pirate Camp” and “Save the Pirate Parrot!” In addition, a two-minute sneak peek from “Pirate Camp” and pirate-themed clips from Nick Jr. shows will be available on wireless carriers.

Gyllenhaal is Prince of Persia

If you’re a dashing young Persian actor struggling to get a break in Hollywood, you might think that a movie called Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time could be it. Then you find out that the white guy from Brokeback Mountain got the job. According to Daily Variety, Disney has confirmed that Jake Gyllenhaal has been cast in the title role of Jerry Bruchheimer’s adaptation of the hit video game from Ubisoft. The actor will be joined on screen by Gemma Arterton, the next Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, coming out in November.

Gyllenhaal takes on the role of Dastan, a prince in sixth-century Persia who teams up with a feisty, exotic princess to prevent a villainous nobleman from possessing the Sands of Time, a gift from the gods that can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world. Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is directing from a screenplay by Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, Boaz Yakin and game creator Jordan Mechner. Shooting is scheduled to begin in July in Morocco and London for a Summer 2009 release.

Inspired by The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, Mechner teamed with developer Brøderbund to launch the first Prince of Persia Game for PCs and early consoles in 1989. Ubisoft decided to bring the franchise to PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube in 2003 with Sands of Time, which has spawned six sequels.

Prior to taking his turn with the Harry Potter franchise, Newell directed a lot of British and U.S. TV before helming such popular films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco. His latest film, an adaptation of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel Love in the Time of Cholera, opened to mixed reviews in November.

Speed Racer and the Art of 'Photo Anime'

Bill Desowitz goes deeper into Speed Racer's 'Photo Anime' look with Digital Domain's Compositing Supervisor Darren Poe and Digital Effects Supervisor Jake Morrison.

Captain America, Thor Details Leaked

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, confirmed that the upcoming The First Avenger: Captain America will be a World War II period piece, like the comic book on which it is based, and he shot down a rumor that Matthew McConaughey was in line to play the hero.

Feige, speaking to online journalists at Universal Studios on May 21, added that Captain America would help set up the eventual Avengers movie, which follows six weeks later. (Feige also confirmed what many fans have speculated: That the star-shaped object in Tony Stark's workshop in Iron Man is indeed part of Cap's famous shield.)

Feige also talked about the upcoming Thor movie, confirming that it will take place mostly in Asgard, the mythical Norse realm of the gods, and not in the contemporary real world. "The film is not all Asgard, but it will be a big chunk in Asgard, yeah," Feige said.

Feige promised an announcement about a director for Thor "later this summer." Mark Protosevich (The Cell) is drafting a script, which should be submitted in a couple of weeks, he added.

Feige also confirmed release dates for Marvel's future slate of superhero movies: Iron Man 2 on April 30, 2010; Thor on June 4, 2010; The First Avenger: Captain America on May 6, 2011; and The Avengers on July 1, 2011.

As for a second Iron Man movie, Feige said that talks are underway with director Jon Favreau to return and that he hopes to wrap them up soon.

Feige spoke at a preview of footage from Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk, which opens June 13; look for a report about the preview next week on SCI FI Wire.

Toronto festival exposes its award-winning shorts

A Canadian film about a fully automated utopia populated by 1950s tin toys is among the award-winning animated shorts opening the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto.

In Jesse Rosensweet's Paradise, John (voiced by Dave Foley of TV comedy series Kids in the Hall) is thrown into a tailspin when he steps out of line and questions his place in his perfect world.

This year's festival runs from June 10 to 15. The traditional opening gala, which includes animated and live-action films, will be held at the Bloor Cinema. The Canadian Film Centre announced Wednesday a lineup of 268 shorts, including 72 Canadian premieres.

The Pearce Sisters, from Britain's Aardman Animations, which won a BAFTA from the British Academy of Film and Television earlier this year, will also be seen at the gala. Another animated film, Situation Frank, by Patrik Eklund of Sweden, received the Filmblicken Award at the Umea International Film Festival.

This year's festival includes Japanese Animation Spotlight, three programs showcasing recent Japanese animation. Two will feature Canadian premieres of the Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond collections from animation powerhouse Studio4°C. The third program will consist of auteur animation from Japan, festival director Eileen Arandiga said.

Another program, Shorts For Shorties: Into (and Out Of) This World!, features a selection of animation and live-action shorts from 11 countries around the world. This colorful assortment geared for the little ones will transport you to magical places both near and far, real and imaginary -- without even leaving your seat.

Made by or starring your favorite Hollywood actors, the star-studded Celebrity Shorts showcase features eight animated and fictional films from the United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Denmark and Canada. The celebrity line-up features short films starring Bob Geldof, Virginia Madsen, Dakota Fanning, Kelly Preston, Kurt Russell, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, while Hollywood A-lister Kate Hudson steps behind the camera for her directorial debut.

Jury awards include the C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures Award for Best Animated Short. For the seventh year, C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures will present the recipient of this prestigious award a cash prize of $5,000. The winner of this award is also eligible for Academy Award nomination.

The WSFF is one of only three Canadian festivals accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. WSFF Canadian award winners are eligible for Genie Awards -- the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.

Two of the Best Animated Short Film nominees at this year's Academy Awards previously screened at last year's Worldwide Short Film Festival: I Met the Walrus, directed by Josh Raskin, and Madame Tutli-Putli, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.

Now in its 14th year, CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival is the leading venue for the exhibition and promotion of short film in North America, and is one of the premier short film festivals in the world. The WSFF will present films from 31 countries. For more information, visit

Japanese DVD series pulled after Muslim protests

Sales of the animated DVD series "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure" and some of the original comics were suspended Thursday by Japanese publisher Shueisha Inc. in the wake of massive protests on Islamic Web sites, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

The cartoon showed a character reading the Koran while ordering the execution of the animated series' hero and friends.

The scene sparked angry responses on over 300 Arab and Islamic Internet forums, many of which accused Japan of insulting the Koran, Kyodo said. 

Muslims are depicted as terrorists, Kyodo quoted Sheikh Abdul Hamid Attrash, chairman of the Fatwa Committee at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, as saying.

Using the Koran in the anime was "a simple mistake" caused from employees' inability to read Arabic, an unidentified official at Shueisha Inc., which was involved in the cartoon's movie version, told Kyodo.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure -- originally titled Jojo No Kimyo Na Boken -- is a direct-to-video series which ran for six episodes in 1993. A sequel ran for another seven episodes. It was based on Hirohiko Araki's manga in Shonen Jump, which was published from 1987 to 2003.

The original Jojo series has not been released in English. Supposedly, the asking price for the rights was excessively high.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Madhouse’s 2006 film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, is going to get a limited U.S. theatrical release next month through Bandai Entertainment. It’ll be screening June 13 through June 19 at the ImaginAsian Center in Los Angeles (251 South Main Street, Los Angeles, California 90012), at the ImaginAsian Theater in New York (239 East 59th Street, New York, NY, 10022), as well as from August 29 through September 4 at the Landmark Varsity Theatre in Seattle (4329 University Way N.E. Seattle, WA 98105). In Los Angeles and Seattle, the English-subtitled version will be screened, and in New York, the English-dubbed version. Show times will be posted on the theater websites closer to the actual screening dates.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was directed by Mamoru Hosoda. The film was recognized with the Special Distinction honor at the 2007 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It also won numerous honors at festivals in Japan, including the Animation of the Year Japan Academy Prize (akin to the American Academy Awards).

(thanks cartoonbrew)

Pirates, kittens meet on Tokyo Character Street

A major redevelopment project has been taking place on the Yaesu side of JR Tokyo Station, and several locations have already experienced dramatic changes. Tokyo Character Street is one such spot, and it has been catching the eyes of animation and manga fans, children and even tourists who are just passing through the major station.

It is an 80-meter-long underground street studded with 15 shops offering hundreds of items bearing the likenesses of various characters, ranging from such classic figures as Ultraman and Doraemon to newer faces including NTV mascots Zoomin and Charmin, and One Piece's main character Monkey D. Luffy.

"We used to have several character shops, including three run by TV stations, at First Avenue Tokyo Station, but they were inconvenient to customers partly because of their scattered locations," said Kumiko Okuma, an official of Tokyo Station Development Co., which is responsible for the redevelopment of First Avenue Tokyo Station, an underground mall with 80 shops.

"When renovating the mall in March, we decided to create the character street as the main feature of the project by gathering various character shops in one place. Having invited three more TV stations, we lined up shops dealing with the characters of all six leading TV stations in Tokyo, including NHK," said Okuma, adding that it was the first time TV Tokyo had opened a store outside of its own building.

A shop filled with goods representing Luffy and other manga characters is that of weekly boys' magazine Shonen Jump. Donguri Garden is the place for Totoro and other Studio Ghibli characters, as well as famous picture book characters.

"Some of the shops handle items available only at Tokyo Station," Okuma said. They include a Fuji TV shop, whose items include those combining its characters and Shinkansen, or Ct no Kobeya May, a shop handing a variety of Hello Kitty items, including those available only at the branch.

According to Okuma, men in suits are often found among shoppers on weekdays, and anime fans and children with their parents on weekends. "Besides anime and manga characters, items bearing the image of popular comedians seem to be enjoying popularity, too."

The largest sales floor space on the street is occupied by Tomica, a shop where visitors can enjoy playing with Tomica toys. Ultraman World M78 attracts passersby with a lot of figures, while Rascal Shop offers items relating to the 30-year-old raccoon character.

"We also organize various anime or manga-character-related events from time to time at the center of the street. Since there also is a cafe in the middle of the street, you can enjoy a lot of things here," Okuma said.

Project 'Runaways' in works at Marvel

Latest comic book to headed to the big-screen

"Runaways" is the latest Marvel Comics book to get the big-screen treatment from Marvel Studios.

Brian K. Vaughan, who co-created the series with artist Adrian Alphona, is writing the adaptation, for which Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige will act as producer. Vaughan is also a co-producer and writer on ABC's "Lost."

As opposed to other Marvel characters getting the silver screen treatment, such as the Hulk and Spider-Man -- who have been around since the 1960s and are pop-culture fixtures -- the heroes in "Runaways" are relatively new, with the comic series launching in 2002.

The title was critically praised for its honest portrayal of teens and their issues and in 2006 won a Harvey Award for best series.

"Runaways" follows a group of teenagers who find that some family secrets are bigger than others when they discover their parents are actually super-villains. Running away from their homes, the teens band together and begin a journey of discovery, both of their parents' origins and of their own inherited powers, while trying to make up for the evil done by their folks.

While Marvel has already scheduled its next four films through 2011, "Runaways," like the company's "Ant-Man" project, remains in the incubation stages.

Vaughan is well known in comic circles for his creator-owned works including "Y: The Last Man," which is in development at New Line, and "Pride of Baghdad."

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