Tuesday, January 20, 2009

News - 01/20/09...

CN Offers Kids’ Advice to Obama

Cartoon Network will celebrate the inauguration Tuesday of President-elect Barack Obama with a series of 30-second spots in which kids from a Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta give the new president advice.

The kids were also asked their thoughts on other presidential matters, such as their favorite president and presidential trivia.

The network will also alter its on-air environment icon to one created for the President that will be used in all on-air bumps and menus.

“I Can’t Stand Modern Animation”

That’s the headline in the Singapore based The Straits Times this morning. The outspoken Hayao Miyazaki was quoted by Hong Kong’s Sunday Morning Post in an interview to promote his latest movie, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.:

Miyazaki said his recruits are tested in a boot camp where mobile phones, iPods and other electronic devices are banned. “Young people are surrounded by virtual things,” Miyazaki was quoted as saying. “They lack real experience or life, and lose their imagination. Animators can only draw from their own experience of pain and shock and emotions.”

That’s why we love this guy. Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy and John Lasseter are currently producing the English dub featuring Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Cloris Leachman.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

A Christmas Carol concept art; new image from The Princess and the Frog

Collider shares some concept art from Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming 3D feature A Christmas Carol. The animated feature which is being made using 3D motion-capture technology will be out in theatres on November 6, 2009.

In addition the website also shares a new image from Disney’s upcoming animated feature The Princess and the Frog. The film which marks Disney’s return to traditional 2D animation will see a Christmas Day release.

Toons Open Sundance; Doc Pair Eye SpongeBob

Animation is making waves at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

First, the Australian claymation feature Mary & Max from writer/director Adam Elliot (Harvie Krumpet) opened the festival and has earned plenty of attention even as reviews are mixed.

On the pro side, Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere says the film is “adult yet sweet, tender but not twee, beautifully written, honest about handicaps and melancholia but full of warmth and caring and a general mood of oddball quirk.”

But the trades were less taken with it. Variety writes, “Its combo of mordant whimsy and tearjerker moments winds up curdling in an unappetizing fashion.” The Hollywood Reporter says, “The coolness of its technique and the air of melancholy that pervades its story keep a viewer at arm's length.”

Meanwhile, Variety reports filmmakers Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley — the duo that made the films Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A. — announced plans to make a one-hour documentary about SpongeBob SquarePants as part of the character’s 10th anniversary. The film will air on various MTV Networks platforms in July.

Holiday Weekend Box Office ‘Cops’ Big Increase

BoldSony’s Kevin James comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop topped a strong Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend at the box office, earning a whopping $33.8 million.

The Friday-Sunday gross was up more than 30 percent from last year, with Monday’s holiday expected to bring more good news to the studios, according to Variety.

In second place was holdover
Gran Torino from Warner Bros. and director Clint Eastwood, bringing in $22.2 million for a six-week total of $73 million. It was followed closely by My Bloody Valentine 3-D, which pulled in $21.9 million for Lionsgate in the widest 3-D release to date. Valentine played on just over a thousand screens in 3-D and about 1,500 more in 2D.

Fox Searchlight’s rap biopic
Notorious opened in fourth place with $21.5 million, while Paramount/DreamWorks’ comedy Hotel for Dogs took fifth with $17.7 million.

Of the animated features in release,
The Tale of Desperaux grossed $722,000 in its fifth week for a total of $48.8 million, while Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
earned $543,000 in its 11th week to top $178 million.

Waltz with Bashir, the animated documentary film from director Ari Folman, grossed $84,000 on nine screens and is likely to get a boost from the Oscar nominations, due this Thursday.

Humanity to Put SpongeBob on Eco-Friendly T-shirts

SpongeBob is celebrating his 10th anniversary by lending his well-known image to a line of environmentally themed T-shirts and an ongoing water conservation campaign.

The T-shirts are the result of a deal between Nickelodeon/Viacom Consumer Products and Humanity, a cause-driven clothing line. The T-shirts will be available in five designs and will be made from 100 percent organic cotton and encrusted with crystals, featuring various marine life posing with SpongeBob as he urges folks to “Save the Big Blue.” The inside of the shirt tells the story of Nickelodeon’s Big Green Help campaign.

Retailing at $98, the first shirt is set to debut this week at Sundance and hit store shelves later this year.

Sit Down, Shut Up Premiere Set

Long-delayed animated series Sit Down, Shut Up will finally air as part of Fox’s Sunday lineup starting April 19, Variety has reported.

The show was hobbled over the summer when the writers stopped working after they learned the show would be under the jurisdiction of the IATSE Animation Guild instead of the WGA. Most of the writers were lured back to work after producer Sony Pictures TV offered each writer a blind script deal and residuals that were up to WGA standards.

The standoff saw exec producer Bill Oakley quit the show and split from his long-time collaborator Josh Weinstein, who is still with the show.

Sit Down, Shut Up is based on the short lived live-action Australian sitcom of the same name about the students and faculty of a dysfunctional high school. Sony and Fox are producing with Granada America and Tantamount. The show was conceived by Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum (Two and Half Men), who will share exec producer credits with Weinstein. The cast includes SNL vets Will Arnett, Will Forte, Cheri Oteri and Kenan Thompson, SpongeBob star Tom Kenny as well as Jason Bateman, Kristin Chenoweth, Nick Kroll (The Life and Times of Tim) and Henry Winkler.

Steve Jobs: A Tough Act to Follow

As stories continue to circulate about the Head of Apple's health problems, Disney Legend Floyd Norman looks back to the 1960s. When another company you may know suddenly had to deal with leadership & succession-related issues

You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Phil Schiller, Apple’s vice president of marketing, when he stepped onstage to deliver the keynote at San Francisco’s MacWorld Expo a few weeks ago. Apple CEO and visionary leader Steven P. Jobs would not be making an appearance at this year's show, so the speech would have to be delivered by Phil. Stepping into the considerably large shoes of the CEO would be a tough act to follow.

If you’re lucky, you might have had the opportunity to work for one great leader in your lifetime. I’ve done better than most. I’ve worked for two. Walt Disney and Steve Jobs are more alike than you think. For the two men were not just leaders of their respective companies -- they were the company.

When news of Steve Jobs’ health began to leak to the media, I couldn’t help but remember how I felt back in 1966 when Walt’s health became an issue. Disney had already guided us through “The Jungle Book.” He had begun development on Epcot and Walt Disney World, and had dozens of ideas on the drawing board. I guess it was natural to minimize the concerns about Walt’s health at the time. He couldn’t be sick, we thought. How could we go on without him?

Much like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs insisted that his team give no less than their best. And if this didn't sit well with you, you'd best seek employment elsewhere.

Phil Schiller did his best to deliver the goods at the Apple Keynote on Tuesday, and you’ve got to give the guy credit for that. Likewise I’ve gained a good deal more respect for my old boss, former Disney CEO Ron Miller. Ron, along with his wife, Diane now runs Silverado Vineyards in Napa. Late last year, we sat and talked about our old days at the studio, and what it must have been like to step into the leadership role at Walt Disney Studios. Can you even begin to imagine what it must have been like to follow Walt Disney? This is a task I would not wish on anybody.

While chatting with an Apple employee at MacWorld some years ago, a tall fellow in a black mock turtleneck shirt walked up to us. It was the boss, Steve Jobs. And quite frankly I had the same feeling of awe and intimidation whenever Walt Disney entered the room. Not that both men were scary -- although I’ll confess they sometimes were -- it’s just that you knew you were in the presence of someone truly special.

I had the privilege of observing Walt Disney in action over a ten-year period, from 1956 to 1966, and there’s a lot you can learn about an individual even watching from the sidelines. Likewise, I was lucky enough to be at Pixar Animation Studios when Jobs was boss. Known for his legendary tantrums and bull-headed behavior; Jobs had suddenly become a mature, mellow individual. Perhaps his years in “exile” had changed him, or maybe it was because he was now a father. Known for his excessive meddling, Steve was totally “hands off” at Pixar. And although he maintained a modest office at the company, I never saw him encroach on Pixar’s creative process. Unlike most high profile, power-obsessed executives; Steve was smart enough to leave his artists alone.

I drew this sketch of Steve Jobs after arriving at Pixar Animation Studios in 1997.

The Silicon Valley wonks and tech heads say Apple will do just fine should Steve Jobs not return to the company in June. They say that Apple is well positioned to thrive in the coming years because they’ve got millions in the bank, and new innovative products still in development. I agree that Apple is not going broke anytime soon, and the company will continue on with or without Steve Jobs. However, it won’t be the same company.

You see, leaders like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs come along once in a lifetime. It might surprise some to learn how much these two companies parallel each other. Both companies began with two guys tinkering in a garage, for heavens sake. Both companies had charismatic, visionary leaders who wanted things done the right way -- their way. Both companies shaped and profoundly influenced American popular culture, and created products eager customers continue to gobble up, because they practically sell themselves.

Apple will eventually change, I’m sad to say. Much the same way Disney’s change was inevitable once we no longer had Walt. All companies change because the leader either passes on, or simply decides to step down. What does remain is the legacy, and hopefully, that won’t be forgotten.

Late in 1998, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. And not long thereafter, he gave us the iMac. The Walt Disney of technology had returned to Apple and the magic had returned as well

Did you enjoy reading Floyd Norman's thoughts on Steve & Walt? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at all the years that Mr. Norman has spent working in the entertainment industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories --
"Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out
Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

Tony Hart Passes On at 83

Tony Hart, the artist famous for a series of a UK television series which encouraged children to draw and create, has died at the age of 83. He passed away peacefully on Sunday morning.

Hart was a well known staple of UK nostalgia culture. His television series such as Vision On, Take Hart (which introduced the Aardman Animations character Morph) and Hartbeat taught children many creative techniques, providing early inspiration and encouragement for budding artists.

Shuffling at Film Roman

Not only was I shuffling around over at FR on Friday, but people are going in and out of the place like passengers on a tight deadline at the Bob Hope Airport.

Down in the Goode Family unit, artists were carrying boxes of person belonging out to their cars as I walked in. A big chunk of staff was departing as their gigs came to an end; a couple asked me:

Know where there's any work?

I told them nothing came to me off the top of my head. I'm often full of useful information like that, but I also said that maybe I'd know something in a week, maybe two. (You just never know when a studio might need staff for something pronto.)

King of the Hill is also losing staff as the last of the half-hours wrap up. Everyone is still ignorant if another network (ABC?) will pick the series up, but various optimists remain hopeful ...

Up in the Simpsons unit, one of the artists, a person who's been with the show a few years and knows which heads are rolling and who's are likely to be lopped off next, confided:

None of us know if Fox is going to order another season of The Simpsons after we're done with this one. The actors are signed, but Fox hasn't said if it wants another twenty episodes. I think Gracie Films [the producing company of The Simpsons] would like another order, and so is offering up sacrifices to Fox to show that they're serious about cutting costs. Some old hands have been let go.

But the sacrifices are all coming from around here, not over the hill on Pico. Gracie seems to think that Richard Reynis is worth hanging onto. Don't ask me why ...

I think the cost cutting is getting to everybody. It's going on across the movie and cartoon business. There must be some kind of recession going on.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Middle January Linkorama

The Links of the week, starting with animation tyro Craig McCracken talking about WhupAss Girls:

I had pitched Whupass [aka Powerpuff Girls] before the shorts program was developed. I had always thought it would have been a television program. It was in development as far back as 1992, 1993. I had originally shown it to the development department and they immediately loved it. We were already starting to negotiate for a television series. That was before What A Cartoon was developed. I was talking contract for a 13-episode series. While we were negotiating, then they came up with the shorts program.

That actually stopped the green light. Fred Seibert saw the potential in the Whupass Girls, very early on. The really weird thing about it is I thought I was going to get that contract when they called me in way back in 1993 and it took until 1997 for me to finally get it.

While we're on the subject of edgy cartoons, Jerry Beck discusses animated shorts of yore that began life as family fare but somehow went bad.

... [S]everal cartoons, created as theatrical cartoon shorts in the 1930s and 40s ... though aimed at kids back then are no longer suitable for our children today. For example "No If's And Or Butts" finds Buzzy Crow (a black stereotype) trying to help his friend Katnip the cat kick his nicotine habit. It's extremely violent, promotes smoking and is racist! Several of tonight's cartoons are films that were personally disturbing to me. For example, the Max Fleischer Color Classic "Ants In the Plants" which concerns the battle of an army of ants against a hungry anteater. The anteater's snout looks like a giant male sex organ and it is shown chasing the ants through their ant tunnels... the whole thing is like a bizzarre sex dream.

But hey. Aren't cartoons supposed to be like bizarre sex dreams? I mean, isn't that why eager young artists got into the business?

(Jerry is showing some of these specimens at the Silent Movie Theatre here in L.A. The line forms to the right ...)

Keanu Reeves is going to become an anime action figure. Kind of.

[Keanu Reeves] is attached to topline a live-action bigscreen adaptation of the Japanese anime TV series "Cowboy Bebop" ... Reeves will take on the role of Spike Spiegel, an adventurous bounty hunter traveling through space in 2071.

Ah yes, another Scooby Doo-style franchise.

Variety reviews an Aussie stop-motion feature, and has its quibbles:

"Mary and Max" ... a glum tale of friendship between two very unlikely pen pals, writer-director-designer Adam Elliot's follow-up to his Oscar-winning 2003 short "Harvie Krumpet" has its share of deadpan amusements, but its combo of mordant whimsy and tearjerker moments winds up curdling in an unappetizing fashion. A strong voice cast headed by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman could buoy the toon's otherwise uncertain prospects beyond Oz.

This could explain why Jeffrey had his talk with the staff in the DreamWorks commissary a couple of weeks back:

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter on Thursday cut his fourth-quarter revenue and earnings estimates for DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc (DWA.N), citing lower-than-projected sales of the "Kung Fu Panda" DVD, released in early November.

Pachter said in a note he cut his fourth-quarter estimate of
"Panda" DVD unit sales to 11 million from his revised estimate of 12 million in early December, which was down from an original estimate of 14 million units.

DVD sales just aren't what they used to be.

Lastly, Bolt launches in the United Kingdom on February 6th, and Disney has begun the tub-thumping, with the British press aiding and abetting here ... and here.

On Wednesday night [John] Lasseter ... gleefully revealed how he's been cutting a swathe through the Disney ranks since being appointed chief creative officer at the animation studio in 2006 following Disney's Pixar takeover, while also retaining the equivalent title at Pixar, where he oversees all projects as an executive producers.

"We just got rid of the executives who were controlling everything and handed the power back to the creatives," he said. "These guys were great animators and the best thing to do if you have great animators is give them their head."

History, as they say, is written by the winners. Have a fine and life-giving workweek.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Fund animators, not adaptations

Someone is allowing Keanu Reeves to play Spike Spiegel.

If the response across the web is any indication, fans of Cowboy Bebop are mostly infuriated by the news, with a hopeful few clinging to the notion that Keanu's anime fandom will translate into a performance along the lines of, well, faithful cosplay.

But add it to news of Leonardo DiCaprio's live-action Akira, (with Joseph Gordon Levitt playing Tetsuo), and a live-action Ninja Scroll, plus M. Night Shyamalan's live-action whitewash of Avatar: The Last Airbender,* and we're looking at a definite trend of live-action anime adaptations, the first of which to hit screens being Dragonball Evolution, which also features white actors playing roles originally created, written, directed, animated, and performed by Japanese people.**

According to Edward Said, one of the principles of Orientalism is a belief that Asia cannot speak for herself, and that the West must do it for her, constantly re-interpreting and clarifying the "mysteries of the Orient" for Western audiences, regurgitating the complexities of other cultures into an easily-digestible whole. The trouble with the Orientalist position is that it creates a false discourse that operates on the premise that a whole country and its inhabitants can be reduced to a single brand identity, a cognitive simplification equivalent to saying that "all anime is tentacle porn." Moreover, it assumes a fundamental incapability of the Western mind to grasp the multi-faceted nature of that which is Other, because "the gaijin won't get it."

But as all anime fans know, this is simply not true. However one feels about fansubs and scanlations, they frequently take the time to explain to an eager and intelligent audience the delicate nuance of a Japanese reference or phrase or pun. And if the recent developments at Crunchyroll have proven anything, it's that anime fans want anime, and they want it animated, and soon, not months or years from now.

Igor, Ember, complete Powerpuff hit DVD

Finally, a mad scientist’s assistant finally got their chance to star in a film with Igor, the CG-animated feature that arrives on DVD this week. The movie, directed by Anthony Leondis, stars John Cusack in the tale of an assistant out to prove he’s worthy of being a mad scientist all on his own. The film is available from MGM in both a regular DVD edition for $29.98 and a Blu-Ray version for $39.99.

Based on a popular sci-fi novel for children, the fx-laden live action film
City of Ember also arrives this week. Starring Bill Murray and Saoirse Ronan, the film was directed by Gil Kenan of Monster House fame and arrives on DVD from Fox and Walden Media for $29.98.

But perhaps the big news for animation fans is the chance to revisit Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup in Townsville, thanks to the release of the six-disc set
The Powerpuff Girls: The Complete Series
(Turner, $59.97). The set includes all 78 episodes of the series, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, plus a few extras.

Also arriving on DVD this week is videogame adaptation
Max Payne, starring Mark Wahlberg. The film is available in three editions: Unrated DVD ($19.99), Special Edition 2-disc DVD ($34.98), and Special Edition Blu-Ray ($39.99). Saw V also hits for horror fans, in a widescreen unrated edition ($29.99), full-screen DVD ($29.99) and unrated Blu-Ray ($39.99)

Other animated releases this week include
Back at the Barnyard: Cowman Uddered Avenger
(Paramount, $16.99); Berenstain Bears: Kindness, Caring & Sharing (Sony, $12.99); The Great Polar Bear Adventure (Genius Prodcuts, $14.95); and Ki-Kids: Six Pack
(Indican, $24.99).

WB casts Green Lantern as next DCU star

The release of the back cover art for Warner Bros.’ forthcoming Wonder Woman DVD animated feature reveals Green Lantern will be the next superhero to get the same treatment.

Wonder Woman
reaches stores March 3rd, and is the fourth original DVD feature WB has produced based on classic DC Comics heroes. Directed by Lauren Montgomery and exec produced by acclaimed animation veteran Bruce Timm, the new DC movie centers on the mythic origins of the classic heroine on the secluded Island Themyscira and the arrival of Steve Trevor (voiced by Nathan Fillion), who crash lands on the island of no men.

Which version of Green Lantern will appear in the film — the original Golden Age version, the classic Hal Jordan edition,
Justice League star John Stewart or the more modern Kyle Rayner version — will likely be the focus of much fan attention.

Greg Berlanti
(Everwood, Brothers and Sisters) signed to write and direct a live-version adaptation of the comic-book, featuring the Hal Jordan character in 2007. Writers Michael Green (Heroes) and Marc Guggenheim (The Flash, Wolverine comics) were also attached to the project, which was originally slated for 2010, but may be delayed. David Boreanaz (Angel)
has been interested in portraying Jordan. Donald De Line is producing the pic.

Toei buys out partner in HK facility

Japanese animation giant Toei announced plans to buy out partner Animation International’s shares in the Hong Kong-based Toei Animation Enterprises, Variety reports.

The move is part of a general expansion of Japanese animation companies into the Chinese market, and comes after GHD began Friday broadcasting animation into China via the internet and television.

Animation Co-op shuts down

Kevin Geiger and Moon Seun have closed down Animation Co-op, the interactive website community for animators that they founded in 2003.

The announcement was made in an open letter posted on the site that reads as follows:

“When we founded The Animation Co-op in the summer of 2003, it was to fill a need that we saw for an interactive community of independent animation artists, brought together by their love of this remarkable art form and a desire to share their experiences, creations and dreams with one another.

“For the next five years, from our first informal mixer of 36 people to project pitch sessions and panel discussions exceeding one hundred attendees, The Animation Co-op actively supported the creation and promotion of new animated works. By providing venues for collegial expression and interaction through our online project database and in person at nearly 20 chapters worldwide, The Animation Co-op was a hub of inspiration, resources and energy for independent animators.

“Of course, expended energy never truly disappears -- it just takes a different form. Likewise, it is time for The Animation Co-op as we have known it to disperse into the community. Every person who has attended one of our events, pitched a project, or simply checked into our website now and then carries a bit of that flame with them.

“We offer our sincere thanks to all those who made The Animation Co-op what it was, and extend our best wishes for what will be.”

Cartoon Art Museum to host Coraline exhibit

The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco will present an original exhibit of props, puppets and artwork from the feature film Coraline from Jan. 24-Feb. 15.

The film, directed by Henry Selick and produced by Oregon-based LAIKA studios is a stop-motion animated feature shot in 3-D that will be released nationwide by Focus Features on Feb. 6.

The exhibit will feature nearly 80 pieces from the production of the film, including storyboards, sets, costumes and more. For more info about the 3-D stop-motion project, visit www.coraline.com.

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