Tuesday, June 3, 2008

News - 06/03/08...

New animated projects for Mike Johnson, Tyler Perry

In an interesting article about independent animation producers working without the traditional pipelines and high overhead, Variety reveals that Vanguard Animation, which plans to unveil its Space Chimps at the Annecy animation festival, is “finalizing the script for its next feature, an action-adventure version of a contemporary Oz story with Corpse Bride’s Mike Johnson attached to direct.” Meanwhile, Exodus, which will also be presenting its next feature film, Igor, at Annecy as a work in progress, “picked Beijing-based Xing Xing to make its upcoming The Hero of Color City, to be directed by Becky Bristow, while a Tyler Perry project being written now will likely go the 2-D route with a different partner studio altogether.”

Toon producers outsource to China

It’s no secret China’s cost advantages make manufacturing toys, clothes and fake designer watches a useful option, but now animation producers are waking up to the fact that cheap production costs combined with a love of anime make it a great country for making animated movies as well, reports Variety in yet another Annecy-related animation article. Hong Kong’s Imagi announced a partnership with Warner Bros. and the Weinstein Co., who together put up $27 million of the $32.5 million production costs on TMNT and have now agreed to distribute two new Imagi projects next year: the sci-fi ninja Gatchaman and the robot Astro Boy. Both Imagi pics are adaptations of well-known Japanese anime. For Imagi, the decision to work out of Hong Kong comes despite the fact the city is hardly a hotbed of animation. Hong Kong offers plenty of customers but is better known for world-class chopsocky than great animation classics, plus it is more expensive to produce there than in other parts of China. Where Imagi has scored high is by recruiting former inkers from top studios, including some DreamWorks veterans, to take on top positions and train the emerging talent. Earning a total of $95 million worldwide, TMNT didn’t set any records, but research from Goldman Sachs suggests Imagi makes movies a lot cheaper than its international competition, which could translate into major profits even when their films don’t earn big-studio-size returns. And to do that, the company is recruiting guys like Ken Tsumura, formerly senior VP at Mainframe Entertainment, a Vancouver CGI firm. Meanwhile, Centro Digital Pictures, another Hong Kong company, also has been very busy of late. The studio started off doing some of the CGI for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill but really came into its own when it co-produced Walt Disney’s first major foray into the Chinese-language toon business, The Secret of the Magic Gourd. A tale of a vegetable with special powers, the film fared well in Asia and has been described by some as the shape of things to come.

Transformers Crashes MTV Movie Awards

Transformers, director Michael Bay’s adrenaline-pumping take on the classic toy line and animated television series, was named Best Movie at Sunday night’s MTV Movie Awards. Paramount’s Iron Man also blasted off with an award, even though its release date made it ineligible for most of the categories. The blockbuster superhero movie from Marvel Studios was voted Best Summer Movie So Far, trumping fellow paramount release Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as well as New Line’s Sex and the City: The Movie, Warner Bros.’ Speed Racer and Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

The CG-laden Transformers from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures claimed the top award over the Oscar-winning Juno from Fox Searchlight Pictures. Also nominated in the category were I Am Legend from Warner Bros. Pictures, Superbad from Sony Pictures and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and National Treasure: Book of Secrets from Walt Disney Pictures. Transformers star Shia LaBeouf was up for Best Male Performance, but lost to Will Smith for I Am Legend. LaBeouf’s co-star, Megan Fox, lost Breakthrough Performance to Zac Efron in Hairspray.

Johnny Depp nabbed two golden boxes of popcorn for two different films. Obviously still extremely popular with the MTV crowd, the actor was named Best Villain for his role in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and rose above some tough competition to win Best Comedic Performance for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Produced by Emmy Award-winning producer Mark Burnett, the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards were hosted by Mike Myers and broadcast live from the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif. See the complete list of nominees with winners in bold type below.

Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Transformers (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount Pictures)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Pictures)
I Am Legend (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Superbad (Sony Pictures)
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Walt Disney Pictures)

Will Smith for I Am Legend (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Shia LaBeouf for Transformers (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount Pictures)
Denzel Washington for American Gangster (Universal Pictures)
Matt Damon for The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal Pictures)
Michael Cera for Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Ellen Page for Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Keira Knightley for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Pictures)
Katherine Heigl for Knocked Up (Universal Pictures)
Amy Adams for Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)
Jessica Biel for I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Universal Pictures)

Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks SKG/ Warner Bros. Pictures)

Denzel Washington for American Gangster (Universal Pictures)
Angelina Jolie for Beowulf (Warner Bros. Pictures/ Paramount Pictures)
Topher Grace for Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures)
Javier Bardem for No Country For Old Men (Paramount Vantage/ Miramax Films)

Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Walt Disney Pictures)

Adam Sandler for I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Universal Pictures)
Jonah Hill for Superbad (Sony Pictures)
Seth Rogen for Knocked Up (Universal Pictures)
Amy Adams for Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)

Matt Damon vs. Joey Ansah in The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal Pictures)

Tobey Maguire vs. James Franco in Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures)
Hayden Christensen vs. Jamie Bell in Jumper (20th Century Fox)
Sean Faris vs. Cam Gigandet in Never Back Down (Summit Entertainment, LLC)
Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan vs. Sun Ming Ming in Rush Hour 3 (New Line Cinema)
Alien vs. Predator in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (20th Century Fox)

Shia LaBeouf and Sarah Roemer in Disturbia (DreamWorks SKG)

Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted (Walt Disney Pictures)
Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Leung in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Ellen Page and Michael Cera in Juno (Fox Searchlight Pictures))
Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman in Step Up 2: The Streets (Touchstone Pictures)

Zac Efron in Hairspray (New Line Cinema)

Seth Rogen in Knocked Up (Universal Pictures)
Jonah Hill in Superbad (Sony Pictures)
Michael Cera in Superbad (Sony Pictures)
Chris Brown in This Christmas (Screen Gems)
Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray (New Line Cinema)
Megan Fox in Transformers (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount Pictures)
Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Superbad (Sony Pictures)

Iron Man (Paramount Pictures/Marvel Entertainment)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount Pictures/Lucas Films)
Sex and the City: The Movie (New Line Cinema)
Speed Racer (Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media)

Summer Flip

Steve Moore’s summer edition of Flip is now online.

In it, Dave Pruiksma discusses the Fleischer Gulliver’s Travels and PD Famous Studios DVDs, Dan Jeup talks about Frank and Ollie, there’s a gallery of work by featured artist John Kleber (above), an interview with Disney Imagineer turned editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes, and much Moore (pun intended!). Check it out here.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

The Disney-Pixar Merger…Two Years Later

In Sunday’s NY Times there was a lengthy article about how things are going at Disney two years after its merger with Pixar. The Times’ opinion? Things are going pretty damn well. For anybody who has been following the companies closely, as I’m sure many Brew readers have, the Times piece offers little in the way of new information or insights, but it serves as a fairly good overview of what’s been happening during the past couple years.

There will be, I’m sure, the standard complaints of Lasseter and Co.’s continuation of Disney animation outsourcing and direct-to-video sequel productions, but perhaps the question should be asked, Was anybody so naive as to believe that either of these practices would come to a screeching halt when Pixar took over? The Disney corporation is far too big a machine to operate solely on the fuel of artistic integrity. The hope should rather be that Lasseter can balance the inevitable corporate shilling with enough artistic experimentation and new ideas to keep the Disney brand relevant in today’s entertainment world.

The jury is still out on whether he’ll be able to accomplish that at Disney. The studio’s first two Lasseter-era projects are questionable: a labored bid to repeat past glories (The Princess and the Frog) and a homely-looking deal with a dog and hamster. On the other hand, Pixar’s direction has never been more clear or promising. Pete Docter’s Up, the next feature from Emeryville following Wall-E, had me hooked from the very first image (posted at top). The film features an unlikely lead character, a stubby cane-wielding 78-year-old man, who travels the world by attaching helium-filled balloons to his house. It sounds like one of the most unconventional and interesting mainstream cartoon features in a long while.

Honestly, I believe that there’s too much baggage at Disney—in the form of Walt Disney and the legacy that he created—to allow for the Disney animators of today to produce anything of artistic merit. The studio is spinning its tires in Walt’s legacy, mired with the responsibility of maintaining the “integrity” of the Disney brand and simultaneously stunted with the fear of creating works that are “unDisney.” Disney, when it was actually run by Disney, defined the quality and innovation possible in the art form. That ship sailed over forty years ago and frankly, it’s time to get over it. The studio has been running on fumes for the better part of two decades, and coloring a princess a darker hue won’t alter a single thing, save for adding a few dollars to the value of shareholders’ stocks.

In tying the knot with Pixar, however, Disney can finally have its cake and eat it too. The Pixar brand is still young and malleable; it can be molded in wholly new creative directions like those of Wall-E and Up. Disney proper can continue exploiting its vast catalog of classics (bring on the Tinkerbell features) and perhaps add an occasional new character to the Disney patch (everybody loves a wacky hamster), while Pixar indulges in the risk-taking and innovation that is vital to the studio’s long-term health and reputation. It’s a shrewd bit of maneuvering, whether intended or not, for which Iger deserves a lot of credit. By purchasing Pixar, he assures that at least one part of Disney can live up to the company’s reputation for pushing the art of animation forward.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

20 Robots in Transformers 2?

Screenwriter Roberto Orci has made a interesting post on Don Murphy's message board about Transformers 2 that reads:

I'd love and think we could almost barely manage ten on each side, with some front and center and others as more supporting.

Do you think we'll really see 20 robots in the sequel? Let us know below.

Meanwhile, The Daily Pennsylvanian is reporting that filming will take place on the Penn campus, including a previously-mentioned location. Here's a clip:

University spokeswoman Lori Doyle explained that filming would tentatively begin around June 12 with scenes using the exterior of the Quad.

According to Doyle, the extensive project is expected to involve about 200 people, 25 tractor-trailer trucks and cranes.

"They have their own landscaping people, they bring in their own catering, it's a huge operation," she said.

In addition, scenes will be shot at Psi Upsilon Tau fraternity house, better known as "The Castle," and possibly on Locust Walk and Spruce Street, Doyle said.

Check out the article for more info. Transformers 2 hits theaters on June 26, 2009.

Saldana Opens the Hailing Frequencies on Star Trek

The future looks bright for Zoe Saldana – literally and figuratively. Within the next year, the strikingly gorgeous 30-year-old actress will be starring in not one, but two intensely anticipated feature films set in the sci-fi future: not only is she in Avatar, the first fiction film from director James Cameron since Titanic, she's also landed the iconic role of Lt. Uhura in J.J. Abrams' reinvention of the Star Trek franchise.

No stranger to working with top-flight filmmakers (she previously appeared in Steven Spielberg's The Terminal and Gore Verbinksi's
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), ComingSoon.net found Saldana to be bubbling over with enthusiasm during a chance encounter in Beverly Hills, where she talked about taking on the Trek mantle and First Contact with fans – and while she kept a lid on some spoilers, she didn't, ahem, skirt the issue on whether her uniform would be as leg-friendly as Nichelle Nichols'.

CS: I know you can't tell me too much about "Star Trek" but can you talk about the experience at all? What was it like to step into those iconic shoes – or boots as the case may be?

Saldana: It was amazing! It was a humbling experience. I met Nichelle Nichols, I worked with Leonard Nimoy. I was not a "Star Trek" fan before the film. Now I can honestly say that out of respect for the pioneers of this amazing conception, I am. They are amazing. They are the most graceful actors I have ever met. To work with J.J. [Abrams] I just hold him in the highest regard. Up there with James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, they are my idols and my everything. J.J. I hold in that regard and at that level. He's younger and those directors, Steven would go to the set constantly to visit him and lend his support to J.J. and Jim invited him to the ["Avatar"] set to go see it. I don't know who was more in awe. It's amazing to witness that and be in the middle going "Oh my God." I feel like the selfish one, because I'm working with all of them. I feel very blessed and I think "Star Trek" is going to be amazing. Have you seen the trailer? It says "Under Construction"? I got goose bumps! I'm like "Dude! What are you doing?" It's amazing.

CS: Can you tease if you wear the mini-skirt? Did you get your legs in shape for this role?

Saldana: All I'm going to say is that for some reason every man on set noticed when I was working. It was like "God, I don't know - Was it my line? My deliverance? Oh. Okay." That's all I'm going to say.

CS: What did you learn from Nichelle Nichols? She was a genuine pioneer on television in the 1960s. She was almost about to leave the original show at one point because the part had become less prominent than had been planned, and Dr. Martin Luther King told her how important it was for her to stay for people of all colors to see black people in the future and know they had an equal role to play. Did she talk about that with you at all?

Saldana: Yes, she did. I think that the way she said it reminded me of a universal thing. When you become a role model, in sort of an accidental way, it's not your job to be conscious of the mission you have. It's your job just to do it. I have no right to judge whatever thoughts or whatever experiences she had while she was becoming this important role model that will forever exist, not only in Hollywood, but in America. What is beautiful about her now is that she does not understand it. That's what blew me away and I want to be just like her. I don't know how else to say it. She blew me away, not only because of her poise and how good she looks at her age, but how unaware she is of it. There is a part of her that understands it and a part of her that never will. It's not her job. The day that she understands it is the day that she will stop becoming the mission, the alchemist, and she's on her own journey. I get goose bumps just by talking about it. She's amazing. She was just this graceful thing. To know that she was such an essential tool in the conception of Uhura. She walked into the audition room with a book she was reading called Uhuru and they loved her. They said "Why not [call the character] Uhura?" So she was there with the writers, the creators, and she was at the top with everything. They had no idea that what they were going to do was going to be so important.

CS: Have you had your first fan encounters yet? Have you started to meet some of the die-hards?

I have actually. I had a driver who picked me up at my house and ended up being a stand in for someone on one of the shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation." For some reason he had his entire memorabilia in his trunk. It wasn't his car, it was the sedan that he was driving. I was pretty freaked out by it, but it didn't hit me until the end of the day, and I had him for the entire day because I had a series of appointments. It wasn't till I got back home that I was like "This could have been really freaky." But he was so respectful. He was so happy that I was doing "Star Trek," but to this day I'm wondering whether or not he knew he was picking me up and that I was doing "Star Trek" or that he happens to drive his town car filled with memorabilia.

CS: Any one else in the new cast that kind of blew you away?

Saldana: Everybody – from Eric Bana to primarily Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, they were amazing. I really hope that the fans embrace their interpretation of Kirk and Spock. It was so genuine and it came from the heart, with the most respect.

CS: Okay, you've got to give up one little thing: did you get to say "Hailing frequencies open?"

Saldana: [long pause, then grinning widely] F*ck, yeah!

Star Trek is scheduled for a May 8, 2009 release, followed by Avatar on December 18, 2009.

EXCL: Kung Fu Panda Co-Director John Stevenson

A few years back, ComingSoon.net spent a day with the makers of DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar in San Francisco and learned what kind of time and care was put into every one of their computer animated films in order to deliver such high-quality material. Few would realize that it's not nearly as easy as it looks, which is why it takes hundreds of animators many years and tens of millions of dollars to bring their unique animated visions to life.

Although he wasn't there that day, John Stevenson was one of the many artists who worked on bringing that talking animal movie to life, and now he's at the helm of DreamWorks Animation's latest concept,
Kung Fu Panda, a comedy featuring the voice of Jack Black as Po the Panda, a lazy slacker who dreams of being a martial arts master, a wish he's granted when he inadvertently becomes the chosen one to take on the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane) who has recently escaped.

A veteran of DreamWorks PDI who got his start in the entertainment industry via Jim Henson's
"The Muppet Show," Stevenson worked for many years in the art department on many films at DreamWorks before helming a number of episodes of their animated primetime show "Father of the Pride." For the last five years though, he's been working on bringing Kung Fu Panda to the screen, a laborious process which he talked with ComingSoon.net about while on the road promoting the film, delving into the thought-process that went into keeping the film faithful to the kung fu and martial arts films that inspired it. A lot of what he had to say will certainly be of interest to anyone hoping to one day break into the animation or computer effects field.

ComingSoon.net: You've been at DreamWorks a long time, so what's the path as far as going from being in the art department and getting a chance to direct?

John Stevenson:
I came to DreamWorks as a Head of Story, and a Head of Story is the person who's in charge of the Story Department on a feature film. It's a mixture of skills, it's part management and part story artist and part interfacing with the directors to understand their vision and then pass that onto a team of between 8 and 12 people on the story team. I'd already been the Head of Story twice before, so I was experienced Head of Story, and they needed (that) at PDI DreamWorks, so I came in at that position. That doesn't stop you working as a story artist, which I'd done on a bunch of films, but I joined the company to be the Head of Story on a film that ultimately ended up not getting made at DreamWorks, called "Tusker."

CS: Is Head of Story comparable to being an A.D. (assistant director) on a live action movie?

Stevenson: Yeah, it's a weird position. I don't think it really has a live action equivalent, because the story process on an animated film is really the key filmmaking tool. It's the department, which is sort of first-in and last-out, because you're always tinkering with the story all the way up to the end, and it's where we make all our mistakes and work things out before we commit to the process of animation. The best live action analogy isn't actually a filmmaking one, it's more like a theatrical one. Our story process is like doing rehearsal in a theater or putting a show up in Seattle that you're finally going to take up to Broadway. It's where you take things on the road and you try them and refine them until you're ready to do the final product. That's all because animation is so expensive and so labor-intensive that you don't want to commit to your resources until you're absolutely certain that you've made the best decision. The best and easiest and actually cheapest, which is the reason the storyboard process was initiated by Disney in the '30s, was to manage costs by careful planning and working out all your ideas just with simple story sketches, which we film and put temporary music and just temporary voices--usually everyone on the crew will just record their voices. Even with those very crude simple tools, you can see whether a scene has a chance at working from that. If you see that it's playing, then you can bring in the actors to record the voices properly. Once you've done a lot more work, you can then commit all the resources of animation to actually doing it. It's a very common path to directing to go from being a story artist to being a Head of Story to being a director. Being a Head of Story means that you have a sense of the shape of the whole movie, and that's a very critical thing on any film, but particularly animation. It can take four years and keeping a big picture framework is vital, because you can get so lost in the details you have to have a sense of how all the pieces are going to fit together and make a cohesive whole.

CS: Having been the director on this one for over four years, were you still doing other things at the same time or just focused on this?

Stevenson: No, once you're directing on an animated film, that's your life for four long years. There is no room in your life for anything else. You're doing it long days, weekends, late nights. There's not even room to have a life really. You're just doing the movie.

CS: I wanted to quickly ask about your background coming from Henson Studios and how you made the transition to doing animation at DreamWorks and what you're doing now.

Stevenson: It's pretty easy. First of all, I loved animation as a kid, and I taught myself to draw by looking at animation on TV, and secondly, the same imaginative forces that power the creation of something like the Muppets are exactly the same as power something like an animated film, whether it's short or long. It's that kind of imaginative thinking in terms of non-human main characters or fantastic worlds, and at the beginning, you're just dreaming and thinking and working with images, and you haven't concretized the technique, whether you're going to do it as drawings or computer graphics or puppets or whatever. The creative process for coming up with that stuff is the same. The choice is made later whether it'll be animation or puppetry or effects or whatever.

CS: Having attended the "Madagascar" junket, I understand the system of storyboarding used by DreamWorks Animation, but I thought they mentioned having some of the actors' cast and recorded before starting, so did you have some of them in place during the storyboard phase of this movie?

Stevenson: Well, no, you start with nothing. What happens is you start with ideas, then you start doing those ideas as storyboards and then you start recording yourself, just to get a sense of it, and then you bring in your actors and you start recording them. In the beginning, all their voices are cut in against the story reels and then what happens is that when you assemble your film for the first time, it's all story reel and probably maybe 70% is it with scratch voices, and maybe 25% if you're lucky is with actual talent. Over the course of the four years, the 100% storyboards starts to become 75% storyboard, 50% animation then 50% storyboard, 50% animation, so eventually, it's all animation and the scratch voices give way from being 70 – 80% scratch at the beginning… the more you record, the more you cut that into the reel, so eventually, you start with just scribbles and you end up with a full film with all the right things.

CS: But generally, you still do all the voice recording first before starting the animation?

Stevenson: Always, always.

CS: You've been in animation long enough to know that a lot of ideas end up being recycled whether it's the penguins of "Happy Feet" and "Surf's Up" or "Antz" and "A Bug's Life." "Kung Fu Panda" is a completely new and original idea and it's surprising that no one has thought of doing some kind of kung fu movie with talking animals before. Who came up with that?

Stevenson: Yeah, it was a big high concept idea that had been at the studio that everybody had liked the idea and the sound of, but it hadn't found its voice when I started working on it. When Mark Osborne and our producer Melissa Culp came onto the film, it had been an idea in search of an execution. I think the way it had started was more leaning towards parody and sort of a spoof and those kinds of choices, which we didn't think were very interesting. I don't really think parody stuff plays much longer than about a ten-minute "Saturday Night Live" sketch. It doesn't emotionally involve you, it doesn't hook you in, and the other thing was that we love martial arts movies. I wasn't interested in making fun of them, because I really think martial arts movies can be great films, they can be as good as any genre movie when they're done properly. They give you the ability to deal with these big sweeping emotions and action and this breadth of content if you embrace it and take it seriously. Our choice was to not do the parody or the simplistic comedy. We said, "Let's take '"Kung Fu Panda' which is an idea everybody gets comedically, but then let's try and surprise everybody by giving them more movie than they might expect from the title. Let's try to make it a real martial arts movie albeit one with a comic character and let's take our action seriously. Let's not give anything up to the big summer movies. Let's really make sure that our kung fu is as cool as any kung fu ever done, so that we can take our place in that canon and make sure it's a beautiful movie, because great martial arts movies are really beautiful-looking movies and then let's seen if we can imbue it with real heart and emotion. We kind of hoped that maybe when people see the movie, they'll be surprised that they get a bit more movie than they may be expecting from the title.

CS: I want to talk about your collaboration with Mark Osborne. You've been at DreamWorks a long time, over ten years, while he was kind of a new guy, similar to the pairing of Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath on "Madagascar." Can you talk about how the two of you were teamed and what each of you brought to the table while making the movie?

Stevenson: It's kind of an arranged marriage. They look and see who might make a good mix. These things take so long that it's good to work with someone who can help carry the load for four years. Obviously, you try and compliment each other's strengths and mitigate each other's weaknesses and maybe bring slightly different skill sets to the table. Mark, his background is in stop motion animation. He's an Academy award nominee for his short film "More." He's very hands on as a stop motion animator. My background is all in art and design and that kind of thing. Although we were both intimately involved in all aspects of the film--the story, in editorial and everything--it kind of broke down to Mark working with the animators on a daily basis, and I sort of set the art style for the film, and I would work with our lighting department, which is where we put our final color. Basically, we would split up in the afternoons and Mark would go to animation and I would go to lighting. In that way, we divided and conquered, we like to think.

CS: I was wondering who put together these teams, if there was some sort of Wizard of Oz-like overseer who says, "I will put this person with this person and they'll work together for four years." I thought there must be more to bringing two directors like this.

As I've said, it's not done thoughtlessly. It's obviously done with trying to make the best recipe for the success, and get the best people to bring whatever's needed to make the film good. Obviously, we wanted the movie to be beautiful looking and we also wanted to raise the bar across the board on everything, but particularly with the animation, so I think that was the reason for the partnership was maybe Mark could get the animation to excel and maybe I can help make the movie look like something special.

CS: It seems like computer animation, more and more, does seem to require two directors to get them done in a timely manner.

But not necessarily. Obviously Brad Bird did The Incredibles and Ratatouille and Miyazaki in Japan, he's a singular director and vision, and Andy Stanton directed Finding Nemo and WALL•E, but also worked with John Lasseter on A Bug's Life. (Note: Stanton had a co-director for "Nemo" as well.) Partnerships work and single directors work. I don't think there's an either or, it's whatever gets the job done the right way.

CS: While watching this, it was obvious to me that someone involved in this was really a fan of kung fu movies, especially in scenes like the dumpling fight which is right out of Shaw Brothers or other classic kung fu films. Were you the main person who brought that or were there others involved who brought that to the table?

Stevenson: Many skilled people worked on all aspects of the movie. Getting the kung fu right, getting the martial arts right, was the biggest technical and artistic challenge on the film and one we knew we had to live up to when we had "kung fu" in our title. There were many skilled people who worked on that. Our Head of Story was Jen Yuh-Nelson, and she and a brilliant story artist called Simon Wells, who's also a director in his own right--he directed animated films, he directed the live action "Time Machine"--they kind of gave our action shoot scenes the basic shape. They did this with some input from the rest of the story team and also the production designers, and then we had a story artist and one of our lead animators is a French animator who'd done martial arts for 20 years, so he would then work within those scenes and actually insure that the specific martial arts moves were accurate and correct.

CS: Most live action movies would have someone like Yuen Woo-ping or one of his brothers choreographing the action.

We thought about that, either going to Jackie Chan or Yuen Woo-ping at the beginning, and then we just realized that those guys, they work in a very specific way. They work with the physicality of the world, specific locations, specific props and their action choreography is based on those things, and they work with real stuff and real constraints and then try and exceed them. We're working in a virtual world, and also, our characters are animals, and we wanted to really use animal's anatomy--we have insects and snakes and birds, things that don't really correlate to human anatomy--and we didn't want our kung fu to look like it was done with guys wearing animal suits. We wanted it to be unique and the unique aspect to our film was to use the actual anatomy of the animals, and the animals we're using, the Furious Five, are based on the original five animal fighting styles in kung fu--tiger, crane, monkey, mantis and snake-style--so our big conceit was, "Well, how does it look to see the original animals that inspired the kung fu moves that shaolin monks adopted. How does an animal do that as opposed to how a human being imitates that animal?"

CS: A lot of kung fu film fans might not even know that stuff, so it's impressive that you went that far into the thought process for choosing the various animals.

Stevenson: It was one of the high concepts that we adopted early on and then we really wanted to adhere to it. There's also a leopard-style, and Tai Lung is a leopard. Leopard style, it's a slightly sneaky style, underhanded, because it analyzes your opponent's style and looks for the weaknesses then turns that style against you, so we felt that was a good basis for our villain, and that's why Tai Lung is a snow leopard.

CS: DreamWorks is very well known for their voice casts, getting the biggest stars. When we think about classic Disney characters like Snow White or Pinocchio, no one ever knew who provided their voices and people still love them, so I was curious what you thought of having stars creating these characters rather than some unknown voice actor.

Stevenson: The way we worked on "Panda" was first of all, we had worked out our characters in terms of what the story needs, so we knew who the personalities were and what we wanted from those characters. We also had them already designed, so we knew not only who they were but how they looked, but then we sat down and do some blue sky dreaming, like "Who in our wildest dreams would we like to embody this character?" When you start throwing names around like Dustin Hoffman and Angelina Jolie, you're not necessarily assuming you're going to get those people, but it's useful to go, "that caliber of performance would define this character." Then, how we get lucky is that Jeffrey Katzenberg can ring up those people and get you that answer. The answer we got across the board that made us thrilled was people wanted to be in the movie when they saw what we wanted to do with the characters, they agreed. We made a wish list, asked, and everybody we put on that wish list said "Yes" but they were chosen by us, because we couldn't imagine better for that role, not because they were a big star.

CS: Were you able to show the actors some animation of their characters or just pictures beforehand?

Stevenson: Yeah. Sometimes we didn't have that at the beginning, and actually Dustin (Hoffman) had a little bit of a hard time his first session. We'd robbed him of so many of his tools he's normally comfortable with in acting, like he had no other actors, no sets, no costumes or make-up, so the first time he was there alone in a soundbooth doing a voice, looking at a drawing of his character, he really had a hard time imagining how this could work. The next time we got him in, we'd taken his voice and animated his character to it, and we could show him and he understood how his voice could sit in that character. In fact, he made some suggestions about widening the mouth a little and moving the teeth and doing some things, because he's very smart about analyzing how his voice would work within the character that actually made him feel secure that it was going to work, and gave him an understanding that the level of animation was going to support his level of voice-acting. I think he worked as hard on Shifu as he's worked on any performance. He really dug in, and it's a very emotionally-complex character, and we asked him to do scenes over and over again to try and get them right, and really kept going until we'd hit the right emotional pitch. Shifu is not a particularly funny character, so a lot of his scenes were quite dramatic. It was a rare and wonderful experience to get to work with him.

CS: I've spoken to many actors who enjoy doing animation because they don't have to do hair or make-up and can just walk in and do it, but as you say, it's a real test for an actor to have to do that without having anything to see or watch.

Yes, which is one of the ways actor work, but you are working purely imaginatively. You have to be in a booth and then as directors, we try to give you, the actor, the context, but there's never a finished script. The actors never have a finished script so they come in, and we do a scene at the end of the movie, and then they come in another time and doing a scene in the middle of the movie or the beginning or redoing a scene. It's very hard for them to have a sense of how this is going to work together, and they really have to trust us, but it is going to work together and we obviously show them as much material that we finish as possible, so they're always feeling included, but our process is long and complex, so often we don't have much show for a long time. It asks a lot of actors. They really have to trust us to treat their work with respect and handle it properly.

CS: Jack Black has done a lot of animation voice work before, such as on "Shark Tale" and "Ice Age," so he's comfortable with doing it.

Stevenson: Yeah, he was really comfortable doing it. In fact, Jack had a very predictable acting rhythm, which we'd do what we call our "plain vanilla" takes which we'd just read through the scene a couple of times. Takes 1 and 2, takes 3 and 4 he's warming up, takes 5 and 6, he's hitting the golden place, and Jack is such a good self-monitor that he always knew, and he would tell you, "That's the golden take" or he'd say "I need another one" but you'd always know with Jack how that would work. With Dustin, it was much more… I guess slightly messy and more organic. He described it as oil painting, as he was sort of searching and questioning for the right take. But we always got there. It was just a very different process from working with Jack.

CS: Jack's also very good at improv and does it a lot, and it brings a lot to a movie, so did you allow him to go off the script after doing some straighter takes?

Yeah, but we encourage that of all our actors. Jack was very good at it, and would always do it naturally, just to make it feel like Jack, but we've always let and encouraged any of our actors to do it, because if you can get a spontaneous read in a process which is unspontaneous as animation, but if you can take something which feels like a character thought of it and delivered it in the moment, and you then take months to animate it with care, so that it has the illusion of being spontaneous, then that just makes the performance much fresher.

CS: At ShoWest, I had a chance to see the 3D version of Tai Lung's escape, which really was amazing. Can you talk about the decision to do that and not do the entire movie that way?

The idea to start doing movies 3D came out after we were already embarked on our film and our pipeline was already set, so it wasn't possible to change course for "Kung Fu Panda" and become a 3D movie, so that was purely a studio decision to start making films in 3D that was taken after we built our infrastructure to do our movie conventionally. There wasn't anything from the films which were designated to be 3D that was completed yet, so we were the next film that actually had sequences that were animated. They took one of our scenes and reauthored it--they didn't do a post-process, they actually went back and reauthored so it would be 3D, but neither Mark nor I was involved in that because we were so deep in the regular version.

CS: Do you have any idea what you might do next now that you're finally done with "Kung Fu Panda"?

A rest. Get my breath back after four and a bit years and figure out what the next challenge will be.

CS: Do you think you'd go into directing another animated movie for DreamWorks?

I don't know what the next thing is going to be. We'll take a break and see. I'd like to try something different next time, maybe try do a live action or motion capture. I don't know what it will be or where it will be, but I hope to continue my relationship with DreamWorks. I like them, I've been there a long time, the people who work there are great, so I always hope I'll have a relationship with the studio, but I don't know what my next project is going to be yet.

Kung Fu Panda opens nationwide, both in IMAX and conventional theaters, this Friday, May 30. Also check out ComingSoon.net's exclusive clip of the aforementioned Tai Lung escape scene, just not in 3D.

Shazam Based On Original Comic

Director Peter Segal, who is developing Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam, told SCI FI Wire that writer John August is back working on the script in the wake of the writers' strike and that the film will go back to the original DC Comics for its version of Captain Marvel's origin story.

"There've been several incarnations [of the origin story]," Segal said in an interview while promoting his upcoming Get Smart film. "And there's a new incarnation about how Billy has to win the approval of the individual gods before he can gain their powers, and that's a completely different take from the original. So, once again, we're staying very faithful to the source material, and we're just continuing to work and try to make the script as good as it can be."

The movie is based on the comics, about a boy who is given the ability to transform into an adult superhero by uttering the magic word Shazam! "You have to please the original fans, but also make it survive on its own for people who might not be familiar with the series," Segal said. "So we try to do both, and that's constantly the balancing act. But I think the underlying similarity between adapting Shazam and adapting Get Smart is you have to love the source material, you have to embrace it. You can't look at it as a fixer-upper."

Segal denied rumors that various actors, including Patrick Warburton, are under consideration for the role of Captain Marvel. (Segal's Get Smart cast member Dwayne Johnson has confirmed that he's talked with Segal about playing the villainous Black Adam character in Shazam.)

"We haven't really discussed Patrick," Segal said. "I love him, and I'm working with him right now. Never talked about that particular role with him. There have been a lot of rumors about [Captain Marvel]--and it's fun for me to read all the rumors. Not that Patrick wouldn't be good for it, but we have not spoken."

Download the new 3D film Big Buck Bunny for free

Sun Microsystems today announced the online release of the 3D animation film Big Buck Bunny rendered using Network.com’s Sun Grid compute utility service. The movie is created using open source 3D software suite Blender, available from blender.org as well as Network.com Application Catalog, a collection of online grid-enabled applications that can be used in an on-demand basis with “Click and Run” ease. David Folk, Group Manager of Network.com Marketing, Sun Microsystems, Inc., comments that “the Big Buck Bunny movie project demonstrates that the barriers to entry in the 3D animation world can be lowered tremendously using on-demand computing platforms. Even though the Blender team did not have support of a big studio, they succeeded with the community support, an open source rendering software and an on-demand computing platform. With a growing collection of applications, a host of new developer tools and worldwide availability, Network.com is attracting more developers and end-users to use, build and share new services for a wide range of industries.”

DisneyWorld’s new grim grinning gracious ghosts

“Forget about fright. Now it’s all about being polite.” Jim Hill warns you in his latest Monday Mouse Watch and talks about the new spiel that Magic Kingdom cast members are expected to recite whenever they work at the Haunted Mansion.

Sylvain Chomet picks Edinburgh for The Illusionist

Variety has posted an article featuring Academy award nominee Sylvain Chomet and his new feature film The Illusionist. The article suggests how the Scottish capital seduced the French director and his wife in 2003 when they visited the place for the screening of his film The Triplets of Belleville at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Based on an unproduced script by legendary French comic filmmaker Jacques Tati, The Illusionist tells the story of a performer who has to go further and further afield to survive as the old music halls disappear.

Family Guy Attempts Emmy Coup

For years, primetime animated series have been vying for a chance to compete with live-action fare in the Comedy category at the Emmys, rather than being limited to the animation contest. Now, Daily Variety reports that the producers of FOX’s Family Guy have cooked up a scheme to have it both ways. The half-hour series will reportedly be entered as a comedy for the first time, while the hour-long installment Family Guy: Blue Harvest is submitted as an animated special.

While Family Guy writers will have the satisfaction of going up agaisnt scribes from hit live-action, half-hour comedies, the animators won’t get to share in the reward if the program wins. That may be a moot point since Emmy voters have yet to nominate an animated program in the highly competitive Comedy category.

Family Guy airs Sunday nights on FOX and is one of the highest-rated half-hour scripted shows on television. Series creator Seth MacFarlane and his team will revisit George Lucas’ universe with a spoof of The Empire Strikes Back, which is now in development.

Feature Review: Kung Fu Panda Delivers Kicks
By: Ryan Ball

As much as I’ve enjoyed the growing number of animated features aimed at more adult audiences, I’m happy to report that the latest talking-animal-on-a-journey-of-self-discovery movie is more than tolerable. It’s quite good. The CG family film from DreamWorks Animation has earned a black belt in fun and delivers some endearing characters fleshed out with beautiful animation. The toon shop that has been leaning so heavily on the Shrek franchise has erected another strong tent pole that should prove lucrative and spawn its share of sequels.

Kung Fu Panda features an all-star voice cast that includes Jack Black, Angelina Joile, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogan, Ian McShane, Michael Clarke Duncan and David Cross. Set in ancient China, the story centers on Po (Black), a fat, lazy Panda who toils as a waiter in his father’s noodle restaurant and dreams of living out his Kung Fu fantasies in the shadow of the Jade Palace, home to the most revered martial artists of the day. When he hears that Master Shifu (Hoffman) is ready to name the legendary “Dragon Warrior,” he braves the daunting stairway to the palace and gets more than he bargained for when he is fingered as the chosen one prophesized to defeat a powerful enemy.

Okay, so it’s pretty much the same premise as the Chris Farley live-action comedy Beverly Hills Ninja (I know you watched it), and it bares a strong resemblance to Cartoon Saloon’s animated television series Skunk Fu!, but no one really watches Kung Fu movies for plotline originality. The key to a good martial arts movie lies in the execution, and the team at DreamWorks have managed to strike a good balance between slap-stick comedy and thrilling action. The movie also gives us good characters to get behind, and maintains a certain reverence for the martial arts rather than simply poking fun at them like a lot of cartoons do. I'm looking at you, Hong Kong Phooey.

Kung Fu Panda is directed by John Stevenson, who helmed episodes of DreamWorks’ animated NBC series Father of the Pride, and Mark Osborne, second unit director on Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies’ The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie. Melissa Cobb served as producer. Like stealthy warriors, the filmmakers have managed to side-step most of the pitfalls that plague a lot of big Hollywood animated features. The most refreshing thing about the film is that it doesn’t try too hard to be funny. The humor comes fairly naturally through the characters rather than winking nods to modern pop culture, which would have pulled audiences right out of the ancient world that the artists have so meticulously created. It’s sweet without being unbearably cutesy and the action sequences are elaborately staged but not exhausting to the point of boredom.

Black is charming as the title character and McShane (Deadwood) is ominous as the voice of Tai Lung, a former student of Shifu who was spurned and eventually turned to the dark side. Echoes of the Star Wars saga permeate the film as well, especially when the diminutive Shifu trains the doubting Po to be his people’s last hope. There is a lot of room for relationships to be explored more in the inevitable sequel, perhaps a romance between Po and Tigress, the butt-kicking femme fatal voiced by Jolie. The writers could have shoe-horned that element into this installment, but it would have detracted from the main thrust of the movie, which is Po’s rocky love affair with Kung Fu.

Though the 3D animation is top-notch, the film is book-ended by very cool 2D sequences that kind of made me wish the whole film had been done in that style. Perhaps we’ll see more of that included in the DVD as a bonus adventure. How about it, DreamWorks? Don't make us use the dreaded Wuxi Finger Hold on you.

Paramount Pictures will release Kung Fu Panda in theaters nationwide on June 6. Check out the trailer on AniMagTV (www.animag.tv).

Mr. Bill to Become Newest MasterCard Pitchman

The New York Times is reporting that the stop-motion animated character Mr. Bill will become the latest pitchman for MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign. The campaign will make Mr. Bill a debit-card holder enduring a litany of abuse during his daily routine.

"Simpsons" Voice Actors Sign Four-Year Deal

The voice acting cast of The Simpsons has signed a four-year deal with Fox, resolving a standoff which has delayed production of the next season of the show and curtailed the number of episodes from 22 to 20. Other than noting that actor Dan Castellaneta has been named a consulting producer, details of the deal were not announced.

New Incredible Hulk Trailer!

This new trailer for Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures' The Incredible Hulk can be found on Best Buy promo DVDs free with select DVD purchases. Opening June 13th, the Louis Leterrier-directed action-thriller stars Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell and William Hurt.

Producer Peter Billingsley on Forging Iron Man's Future

One of the advantages of maintaining the youthful looks of his child star past is that it makes it easier to spot Iron Man producer Peter Billingsley in a red carpet crowd – even one as distracting as the one at Spike TV's Guy's Choice Awards amid unarmored eye candy like Marisa Miller and Tila Tequila. But spot him ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! did, and we managed to unbolt a taste of the plans he and director Jon Favreau have for the 2010 sequel to this summer's smash superhero hit.

CS/SHH!: Are you guys already working on your plans for the next one?

Billingsley: Absolutely. I guess that Marvel kind of controls a lot of that stuff and they seem to have a plan about these things and how they're laid out. I think "The Avengers," now that we can speak publicly about it, will be coming out as well. So we're just thrilled at how much people are loving the film and how well it has done.

CS/SHH!: Any "Iron Man" storylines from the comics that you're primed to adapt for the sequel?

Billingsley: Nothing has really been decided yet, but I'll tell you that there's just such a wealth of great stories. We tease The Ten Rings in the first one for all the comic book fans, so there MIGHT be something there. There's so much to take advantage of, but the most exciting part is that, always, when he's in the suit it's going to be great, because you've got the technology to do it and with Robert and this cast there's so much we can do when he's not in the suit. So I think exploring Tony Stark, his father and sort of more of the dark side of Tony, it's a great opportunity.

CS/SHH!: Jon has said previously he'd be interested in directing the "Avengers" film that's planned for release after the "Iron Man" sequel. Have you started down that road at all?

Billingsley: No. There's been nothing officially discussed. I think that "Iron Man" would be a pretty fun thing to do again and there's really a lot to do with that title. And having Robert and that great cast, Gwyneth [Paltrow] and Terrence [Howard] – there's really, really a LOT to do.

CS/SHH!: Watching this phenomenal success happen for Robert, seeing him embraced by the public and the film after such a long and rocky ride – what's that been like to witness?

It's pretty great. I think he really is THAT guy. I think he's been around for a long time and it couldn't happen to a nicer or more talented guy, and I think we've really just seen the tip of the iceberg with him now. He's in "The Soloist," he's in "Tropic Thunder" and everyone in town wants him. He's just as good as it gets.

CS/SHH!: Are you working on anything else with Jon and Vince Vaughn? You guys have been friends since the early days, the pre-"Swingers" days.

I'm producing "Four Christmases" with Vince and Reese Witherspoon now, which will be out Thanksgiving Day weekend. So a lot of fun stuff going on with that. It was awesome, a lot of fun. Reese and Vince have a great chemistry and it's a big, funny, romantic comedy Christmas movie.

Iron Man 2 is scheduled for an April 30, 2010 release. Marvel Studios is targeting a July, 2011 release for The Avengers.

Ralph Bakshi event at Meltdown

Ralph’s comin to town… to party.

Meltdown is hosting a Ralph Bakshi bash in Hollywood next week with a gallery full of original drawings, paintings and animation production art. Chris McDonnell and Jon Gibson will also be on hand to sign copies of their new Bakshi book.

McDonnell tells us:

We are trying to invite as many people from Bakshi Productions’ past as possible. It’s a reunion, it’s a party, it’s Ralph in a room. Ralph is looking forward to talking and hanging with people so he’ll be signing books only as an exception to the rule, if at all. We are looking forward to this really being a great “reunion” for Ralph and all his old artists (and everyone else is welcome of course too).

The party starts at 7pm and will go on till 11pm. Admission free. Meltdown Comics and Gallery, 7522 W Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

New Anime book by Ladd and Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff has announced on his blog the forthcoming publication of his new book with Fred Ladd, Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas. The book details the story of Ladd’s involvement with bringing Astro Boy (and by extension, Japanese anime itself) to America in the early 1960s. Ladd was significantly involved with Tezuka’s pioneering series and subsequently responsible for bringing Gigantor, Kimba The White Lion and Sailor Moon to U.S. audiences.

The book will go on sale in November, from McFarland.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

No comments: