Friday, December 5, 2008

News - 12/05/08...

Nickelodeon’s Christmas Gift to NYC Animators

(photo from Paint Monster blog)

The holidays just got a little less jolly for NY animation artists. I’m hearing reports that among the casualties of yesterday’s massive 850-person layoffs at Viacom is the entire Nick Digital Animation Studios division. If word on the street is accurate, they’re shutting down the whole shop; from top to bottom, everybody is out the door. This would be a big blow to the New York animation community: Nick is not only one of the largest animation employers in the city but also the last network animation studio remaining on the East Coast. Among the affected shows are Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans, Go Diego Go, Bubble Guppies, and the forthcoming Umi Zumi, the latter being the only show animated in-house. No word yet on how they’re going to continue producing these shows or when everybody is getting laid off.

UPDATE: Nick employee Linda Beck has written a lengthy post on the ASIFA-East blog about the current situation. Here are a few excerpts from her post, “The End of an Era, Nickelodeon Digital Animation Studio Closes Shop”:

Wednesday morning, a large portion of your community crowded unsuspectingly into conference room 4-110, and were given the news that 1633 Broadway would no longer be the home of the Nick Digital Animation studio.

The crushing blow was that, after a long and difficult deliberation, the Network had made the decision not to rebuild the studio in a new location. After a decade of producing ground-breaking, award-winning pre-school animated television, an Era was given an end date.

The studio itself and the production units, or shows, are two different things. There are four remaining production units on the 4th Floor of 1633. “Dora the Explorer”/”Go, Diego, Go!”, “Backyardigans,” and the yet to premiere “Bubble Guppies,” and “Team Umizoomi.” The former three stay mostly intact and will simply move to other locations. “Team Umizoomi” has a full team that includes Designers, Animators, and Editors. Those are the people who no longer have a Network studio to call home.

But if you’re looking for a villain in all this, you’re not going to find one, at least not on the Network level. In a move that, in my knowledge, is unprecedented, the artists who are being dismissed early are not only being paid through the end dates on their contracts, but are being given severance packages on top based on the years they’ve worked with Nick Animation. It was a classy way to handle it.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Nothing Personal

The last couple of days, I've had long chats with two old feature animation vets -- one from management, one with the artistic side. Between them, they have eighty-plus years in the business.

Below, I distill a little of their spoken wisdom (they've worked for various animation studios) ...

What artists in animation don't understand like they should is that companies don't care about them. Artists want to believe that companies do, but it's not the way things are.

There used to be some paternalism, back when animation was separate and apart from live action, but the live action people came into the cartoon feature business twenty years ago and made it a lot the same. You get the same b.s. now that you get in live action. They don't like storyboards, claim not to understand them. They want to see a script, words. So everything is wordy.

I've seen good employees get laid off and mediocre employees get promoted. Doesn't always happen that way, but everybody is at the mercy of their supervisor. If your boss sucks at making good crew choices, then the guy above him will give the better artist the axe on his say-so, because the higher exec mostly has no idea who's better than who. He relies on the supervisor's judgement.

It's that way all the way up the food chain. The top people make decisions based on the advice they're getting, and the advice they're getting comes from the small ring of people who report directly to them.

A few months ago an artist who's been here twenty-eight years called me to say he was getting laid off. After thirty-two years. He asked if there was somebody I could talk to, that he could talk to. I phone [ ]. I don't know if that helped of what did it, but management changed its mind and didn't let him go. They kept him on.

But the guy was stil bitter about it. He said:
"Is that all the respect they have for me? After all this time?"

The thing of it is, when new management comes in, they have no relationship with anybody. The artist who's been around a week means as much to them as the one who's been here fifteen or twenty years.

The management we've got now, they look at everybody in production as a disposable gog in the machine anyway.

And if you're old and making a higher salary, you're expendable. They want people who don't cost so much and who have
"new, fresh ideas."

At least that's the excuse they use when they hand you your last check.

They don't dump you because they're mad at you (mostly), and they don't dump you because you loused up. They dump you because you're too big a number on their balance sheet, too old and too much money. They think it's better to fill your slot with somebody who's
"fresh," and who they can mold. Who won't argue wth them as much.

It's nothing personal. They're not trying to be mean or cruel. They just have their budget to get down and you're a hindrance to that. So they get rid of you. Nothing personal about it at all.

Except a lot of employees take it personally. It's hard not to. They work hard on a project and feel like they're part of the team, and it's bum to get laid off.

If this sounds like things I've posted here before, I'm very sorry. It's just that workplace realites keep popping their ugly little heads up again and again. And people keep telling me similar tales over and over.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

New "Batman: The Brave And The Bold" Images, New Episode Scheduled For Tonight

The World's Finest has received two new images from an upcoming Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode.

To get a closer look at the images, click on the thumbnails below.

The two Cartoon Network-approved official images above are from the upcoming episode "Day of the Dark Knight," scheduled to air in early 2009.

Cartoon Network has scheduled the Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode "Evil Under the Sea" for tonight at 8pm (ET) on the animation network. "Evil Under the Sea" features Batman teaming up with Aquaman to stop the Black Manta. Atom also makes an appearance.

Cartoon Network has also scheduled the holiday-themed episode "Invasion of the Secret Santas!" to air next Friday, December 12th, 2008, at 8pm (ET). That episode will feature Blue Beetle, Red Tornado, the villainous Sportsmaster, and Fun Haus.

Fred Moore Centaurettes

Mark Mayerson muses on Fred Moore -

(Click any image to enlarge.)

As the semester draws to a close, I'm getting buried with grading, which is why I haven't updated this blog in a while. Without time to really write something, I'm just going to mark time for a bit.

I bought this drawing at Gallery Lainzberg in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1979. At the time I was working at a small animation studio in Waterloo, Iowa, and every few months animators Bob Haack, Bill Barder and I would go to the Gallery.

This drawing was obviously fished out of a wastebasket. There are all kinds of notes jotted around the image that have nothing to do with it. It was also folded in half. Clearly, Moore discarded the drawing and then used it for scrap before trashing it. Somebody liked it enough to remove it and take it home.

The same day I bought this, Bill Barder bought a drawing from Avery's Dumb Hounded. I tried to buy it from him multiple times, but Bill wouldn't part with it.

I was pretty sure the centaurette drawing was by Moore but my opinion was corroborated by Chuck Jones. He came out to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls to do a talk and he toured our studio while he was there. He stared at the drawing, mounted directly in front of my desk, and simply said, "Hmmm. Fred Moore." I figured he'd know better than me.

Here's a photo taken during Jones' visit. From left to right, Bill Barder, Chuck Jones, me, Mike Grove and Bob Haack.

That Moore drawing is still mounted over my board at home. The animation disk was one used on the Dick Williams Raggedy Ann and Andy. I bought it from my friend Murad Gumen, who worked on the film as an inbetweener. The drawings surrounding the centaurettes are others that I acquired over the years. The Mickey and Minnie was drawn by Peter Emslie, who gave it to me as a gift in 1990. On the right are drawings from a Tom and Jerry cartoon and from a Jones Sniffles cartoon. I've forgotten which cartoons they're from and I'm too lazy to look it up. On another wall in the same room, I have a Barney Bear drawing from Goggle Fishing Bear. I'll eventually give everyone a better look at these drawings, but I consider the Moore the prize in my collection of animation art.

Jetsons 1985 - Mixing Curves and Angles

John K. on the 1985 version of The Jetsons and thoughts on character design overall -

I almost didn't get a job on the Jetsons because Bob Singer (head of the model department) thought I drew too angular and flat. He was right, but the models they were doing themselves at HB were beyond primitive. I wish I had saved some to show you. We used to pin them up on the walls in Taipei and everyone would laugh hysterically when the new ones came in. We'd have contests with the Nelvana directors to see who would be sent the ugliest models.

I'm embarrassed to show these now, but at the time they were fun to do and were considered pretty radical.

The perspective and construction is off in a few places.

This model is too cluttered in the face and too pointy in general.

Lynne Naylor's models had a nicer overall feel to them. She too used angles, but softened the corners and made them flow into the curves. This made the characters seem more organic and real.

All model designs tend to be stiff when created out of thin air. The best models come from the layouts, after you have taken your designs and moved them around and made them do things in context of the story. All these same characters came to life in the actual stories.

It was lucky for me that Bob Singer didn't hire me to just do model sheets. Instead Bill and Joe sent me to Taipei to do layouts - and as a bonus, told me to throw out the HB models and do my own.

Having to draw layouts from my own designs was the best thing to happen to me. When you draw character designs in the abstract you are just drawing pictures of characters that exist floating on a page - like a sketchbook doodle. Even if I'm thinking about the character's personality (which I always do) I can't be sure if the design will actually work for animation. It might not be functional.

When you take these same drawings and all of a sudden have to move them around, bend, grab things, walk, talk and come to life you start to see problems in the design - which we did while doing Jetsons layouts.

Luckily, we had the freedom to take liberties with the designs as we posed the cartoons and we could improve the functionality as we went. This liberty doesn't exist at most studios that demand you never veer of-model - even to correct mistakes or eliminate stiffness.

You can't be a good designer if you have never inbetweened, animated or done layouts. You will just be pasting on your own drawing problems to the next department - who in most studios is not allowed to interpret your designs to make them work.

A cartoon designer needs some basic talents:

1) an instinctive design sense-
He/she needs to have what all designers in any craft have - a natural sense of balance, organization and appeal.

Not all cartoonists and animators have this ability (as you could see from my post yesterday)

Designers need this natural gift. It can't be learned; it has to be innate. But it's still not enough.

2) Experience in animation, assisting, layout

This should come first before you ever design anything. You should have a good idea of what makes things work functionally. When you have these skills, then you can apply them to your designs.

Ed Benedict, Tom Oreb, Tom McKimson, Chuck Jones, all the admired designers of the past had learned their craft from the ground floor up. They started as assistants, animated for awhile or did layout and then began designing their own characters.

We haven't had this logical production system in decades. When I started, each department existed by itself in the abstract and didn't communicate with the other departments. Bob Singer at HB would hire students from his model design classes and plop them cold into the model department with no experience ever doing production work first. I'm not picking on Bob; this happened at every studio. There was also a crazy theory that you should be able to design in any style. Cartoonists should also be able to do superhero shows. This is utterly crackpot thinking. There is the odd person like Jim Smith who can do both, but he is rare indeed.

Lots of great classic designers couldn't transition from 40s style to 50s style, but tried anyhow. Designers are individuals with their own specialties and tastes and should be cast according to the tone of the shows they work on. What they all should have in common is experience doing the real work of animation first.

I know Alex Toth has a huge fan base and his model sheets for HB's superhero shows are very handsome indeed. But look at the shows!

No one could animate those designs. They didn't work for animation and the whole 70s decade is considered the dregs of animation history because of it.

And there were other "realistic" designers that didn't have Toth's talent. Those shows are even worse.

This Saturday Morning cartoon design style has since even seeped into feature animation:

Why would anyone spend a couple hundred million dollars on something that looks like a low-budget Saturday Morning cartoon? Anyone have an answer for that? Will?

Is it possible that drawings like this are in features with Disney's name on them?

I've heard that Disney 2d films let the animators design their own characters (I could be wrong) which might sound sensible on the surface - but not all animators have a sense of design. Plus the executives get in and monkey with everything to make sure there is no appeal sneaking into the designs. They like everything to be "realistic" which doesn't mean looking like real people; it means having small heads, long legs and tiny features. Sometimes the more rebellious animators fight the execs and demand that they at least get to paste Bambi eyes at the top of their Filmation/ Saturday Morning TV character designs.

 long as the animators promise to fill their scenes with visual metaphors aimed at the family audience

Many of the modern features are filled with characters that don't go together; they look like they are from different design schools and this makes your involvement in the stories suffer when it is so obvious.

Today's TV execs hire kids out of college who can't draw at all, let alone have any design sense and absolutely don't have any experience - and they not only let them design shows, sometimes they even let them create shows and boss around artists with actual experience! This has to be the most illogical inefficient period of animation history yet.

The Jetsons wasn't any great achievement, but it opened the door to a short period of cartoons returning to some measure of common sense.

Ari Folman on Waltz with Bashir

Director Ari Folman attributed the cause of war to “small leaders with big egos” at the Variety Screening Series for his acclaimed film, Waltz With Bashir, reports Variety. Folman said, “It is a universal story in the end. Although it is very personal, it could have been told anywhere. It could have been told by anyone who woke up one morning in a remote city, far away from home, far away from his family, his love; then he starts asking himself questions like, ‘What the hell am I doing here? I might die in the next hour and why?’”. Waltz with Bashir, which is Israel’s official Oscar entry, will see a limited release in US theatres starting December 25.

WALL•E, Dark Knight Honored by Natn’l Board of Review

The National Board of Review has issued its list of the best films of 2008, placing Disney/Pixar’s WALL•E and Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight in the top ten. In addition, WALL•E was named Best Animated Feature and Ari Rolman’s animated doc Waltz with Bashir was included in the top five foreign films, along with the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In.

Filing out the top ten list are the Cohen Bros.’ Burn After Reading
, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Fincher nabbed the Best Director award for Button.

In addition to having two films in the top ten, the prolific Eastwood was voted Best Actor for
Gran Torino, which also took Best Original Screenplay (Nick Schenk). Best Actress goes to Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married.

Danny Boyle’s
Slumdog Millionaire was named Best Film, and the film’s young star, Dev Patel, garnered another nod for Breakthrough Performance. Slumdog screenwriter Simon Beaufoy tied for Best Adapted Screenplay with Eric Roth for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
. See the full list of winners at

R.I.P. M.D. to Debut at NATPE

Independent toon shop Lincoln Butterfield Animation will unveil its newest animated series concept, R.I.P. M.D., at next month’s NATPE market and conference. From the mind of veteran animation producer Mitch Schauer, creator of The Angry Beavers, the property takes a comical look at the real-life problems of monsters. It will be showcased at the Lincoln Butterfield booth (#612) during the market.

“When Mitch initially shared the R.I.P. M.D. concept with us, we knew that we needed to develop this wonderfully unique series,” says Robert Hughes, co-founder of Lincoln Butterfield. “We believe the television landscape is ripe for a new, somewhat twisted and—more than anything—fun monster story, and we look forward to introducing NATPE attendees to our newest animation concept next month.”

R.I.P. M.D. will aim to entertain tweens with the adventures of Ripley Plimpt, an ordinary boy whose life turns upside-down when he discovers that monsters are not only real, but are also in need of his unique services. After he finds and repairs the broken wing of a tiny vampire bat, he is accepted into the monster world as friend, confidant and protector. To monsters around the world, Ripley simply becomes known as R.I.P. M.D.—Monster Doctor.

“In R.I.P. M.D., monsters get hurt, sick and depressed just like humans, and this series finds humor and a fun protagonist to help them,” notes Schauer.

The new series joins Lincoln Butterfield’s growing catalogue of animation projects in development, including the tween properties TAN (distributed by PorchLight Ent.) and NIT: Neighborhood Investigation Team (debuted at MIPCOM in October), and mature titles Venture Probe and When in Rome. Each of the company’s five properties are being developed with the potential for multiplatform extensions.

SURGE is working for NAMCO BANDAI

Video-game publisher and developer NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc. today announced the formation of SURGE, a new studio and publishing label dedicated to cutting-edge games for western gamers. The first title to be released under the SURGE banner will be an interactive adaptation of the Spike TV animated series Afro Samurai.

“SURGE presents a significant milestone for NAMCO BANDAI as it personifies our commitment to deliver compelling content for the discriminating player who is looking for games that are not only groundbreaking, but also push the envelope,” says Andrew Lelchuk, exec VP of sales and marketing at NAMCO BANDAI Games America. “Through passion and innovation, SURGE will complement our portfolio of established franchises and intellectual property while positioning the company as a creative force.”

The Afro Samurai game will be released on Jan. 27. Additional intellectual properties currently in development and slated for 2009 will also be published under the SURGE label. For more information on Afro Samurai and other NAMCO BANDAI games, go to

Mattel Puts Brakes on Bratz

Don’t mess with Barbie. That’s the message MGA Ent. got last night when U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson granted Mattel’s request for an injunction to stop the Van Nuys, Calif.-based company from selling certain Bratz products, including the top-selling fashion dolls. The order will be stayed until February of 2009 while the court considers additional legal briefing on post-trial issues. MGA intends to immediately appeal the decision, and will request that the stay be extended pending resolution of the appeal.

“We believe the jury verdict was clear in denying 99% of Mattel’s copyright infringement claim and that issuing such a broad injunction is inconsistent with the limited jury verdict and the law,” says MGA CEO Isaac Larian.

Mattel’s lawsuit lingered in court for nearly two years until a jury finally ruled in favor of Mattel this past August. Mattel was reportedly awarded $100 million for copyright infringement, though MGA claims that judgment was for $20 million.

The latest blow comes in the thick of the holiday shopping season, which has historically been a very lucrative period for the Bratz brand. As word gets around, the news could cause a run on Bratz dolls since they might not be available come February.

MGA execs say they were shocked by the verdict since Judge Larson previously stated that Mattel’s request was “quite a leap,” and that “the measurable value to Bratz, the brand Bratz, to the dolls Bratz, to everything that came of it, is so much a function of what Isaac Larian and his team at MGA put into it.”

Saddled with hefty legal fees, MGA had to lay off 70 employees in October. Larian notes that the company currently employs more than 1500 people, and hints that more layoffs would be inevitable if Mattel succeeds in stopping the sale of Bratz dolls, which have seriously bit into the sales of its own iconic Barbie products. Barbie sales have reportedly dipped 15% since the Bratz strutted onto the scene. Mattel recently cut about 1,000 jobs worldwide.

The Dark Knight, Iron Man Scores Nominated for a Grammy

The nominations for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards have been announced and both The Dark Knight and Iron Man made the cut!

Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
(Award to Composer(s) for an original score created specifically for, or as a companion to, a current legitimate motion picture, television show or series or other visual media.)

* The Dark Knight
James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer, composers
[Warner Sunset/Warner Bros.]

* Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
John Williams, composer
[Concord Records]

* Iron Man
Ramin Djawadi, composer

* There Will Be Blood
Jonny Greenwood, composer
[Nonesuch Records]

Thomas Newman, composer
[Walt Disney Records/Pixar]

Lucas on Indy 5, Star Wars 3D & "Tails"

George Lucas shows up at American Cinematheque's 23rd annual award presentation honoring Samuel L. Jackson and managed to snag him for a few questions.

Is he seriously looking at an Indy V? "We're looking for a "MacGuffin," which is an object that he goes after. They're very hard to come by."

Will Marion and Mutt be involved? "It really depends on what it is Indy goes looking for and then how the story falls out of that, and then how convenient or inconvenient to have the group there."

Will we see "Star Wars" in 3D? "Oh yeah. The technology is very difficult. It exists - it's just extremely expensive, and so what we're trying to do is figure out a more practical way of pulling it off."

Finally he says his Tuskegee Airmen project "Red Tails" is currently casting and will begin shooting in the spring with Anthony Hamilton directing.

Three More Hollywood Remakes! That's right...THREE MORE REMAKES.

Ok, so we all know Hollywood has a hard-on for remakes. Why? Because they've been out of ideas for the last fifteen years. Here's three of them that are slowly cooking on the burner. I hope one of them isn't a Michael Douglas favorite!

Romancing The Stone

Damn! Here's the article:

Fox is bringing "Romancing the Stone" to the big screen again, swinging into development a remake of the 1984 adventure movie and tapping Daniel McDermott to write it.

The original movie helped launch Robert Zemeckis as a director, turned Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito -- then best known for their TV work -- into film stars and established Kathleen Turner as a romantic lead.

Written by Diane Thomas, "Romancing" told the story of a repressed romance novelist who travels to Colombia to find her missing sister only to meet up with an American soldier of fortune. The two embark on a cross-country adventure involving a map, a jewel and a private police force. Thomas wrote the script while working as a waitress in Malibu. It turned out to be her only produced screenplay; she died in a car crash the year after the film's release.

No producers are attached to the remake.

McDermott, a former head of DreamWorks Television who segued to screenwriting, most recently co-wrote the DreamWorks thriller "Eagle Eye." He is developing a contemporary adventure movie for Tom Cruise at UA titled "Adventurer's Club" and working on a remake of "Soylent Green" for Warner Bros.

McDermott, repped by UTA and Media Talent Group, also created and executive produced the Lifetime drama "Angela's Eyes."

Christ. and they're doing a remake of Soylent Green as well? ARGH!!! What's next, a remake of They Live?

They Live

Oh, for f***'s sake...why??

"They Live" is finding life again.

John Carpenter's cult 1988 film is getting the remake treatment from Universal and studio-based Strike Entertainment, which are in negotiations to acquire the film rights with rights holder Les Mougins.

Strike's Marc Abraham and Eric Newman will produce, while Shep Gordon of Les Mougins and Carpenter will serve as executive producers.

The original film, part sci-fi thriller and part social satire, told the story of a down-on-his-luck construction worker (Roddy Piper) who discovers glasses that let him see aliens walking among us and controlling humanity. The man races against the clock to find a way to stop them.

The movie is known for a fight scene that lasts 5 1⁄2 minutes between Piper and actor Keith David, and for the line, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass ... and I'm all out of bubblegum."

No writer is on board.

Gordon, an entrepreneur and music impresario who worked with Alice Cooper and Blondie, holds the rights, having financed the film as part of a multipicture deal with Carpenter that also included
"Prince of Darkness" and "Village of the Damned." Universal distributed the film as part of an output deal Gordon constructed.

Strike, whose credits include
"Bring It On" and "Children of Men," had success in the remake arena with 2004's update of "Dawn of the Dead." Strike is also working on a remake of Carpenter's "The Thing."

This is getting out of hand. What's next, Russell Brand spitting on the grave of Dudley Moore?


Now this is just getting silly. Here's the article on that one:

Russell Brand might soon be caught between the moon and New York City.

The British comedian is developing a remake of "Arthur," the 1981 comedy that starred Dudley Moore, for Warner Bros. as a potential starring vehicle.

Brand is meeting with scribes to write the screenplay, which will be produced by MBST's Larry Brezner, whose credits range from "Good Morning, Vietnam" to HBO's recent "Little Britain USA."

The original movie followed a boozy playboy rascal who is set to inherit a fortune if he marries an heiress his family thinks will make something out of him. However, he falls in love with a working-class woman and turns to his valet for help when his family makes him choose between money and love.

Moore was nominated for an Oscar as was Steve Gordon, the film's writer-director. John Gielgud, who played the valet, won the best supporting actor Oscar, and the movie's theme song,
"The Best That You Can Do,"
won for original song.

Sarah Schechter is overseeing for Warners.

Brand already has a rascally reputation, not only for his past sex-, drugs- and alcohol-infused lifestyle but also for on-air radio pranks that recently led him to being suspended by the BBC. He subsequently resigned.

American audiences got their first taste of Brand in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," in which he played a rock star lothario. He next appears with Adam Sandler in "Bedtime Stories," which opens on Christmas Day. The Endeavor-repped actor is filming Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and will reunite his "Marshall" co-horts for "Get Him to the Greek."

1 comment:

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