Thursday, February 19, 2009

News - 02/19/09...

Third and final Wolverine backstory trailer is live

The third of three new 60-second ads for X-Men Origins: Wolverine has gone live, and you can view it after the jump.

The spot, titled "Legends," focuses on Stryker (Danny Huston) assembling a team of mutants, including Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), as well as glimpses of other mutants, including Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, Taylor Kitsch as Gambit and Tim Pocock as a young Cyclops.

The first and second spots aired earlier. X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens May 1.

Marvel Assembles Squad for CN

Marvel Entertainment’s top superheroes are teaming up for a new series on Cartoon Network.

The cable channel has ordered up 26 episodes of a new animated series called Marvel Super Hero Squad, which will feature such well-known heroes as Captain America, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Iron Man and Wolverine.

Variety reports the series will feature voices by Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Steve Blum and Grey DeLisle when it debuts late this year.

The toon is based on a toy line of the same name and will be aimed at a younger demographic.

SpongeBob Tops China Ratings

SpongeBob SquarePants’ return to China has been a ratings success.

Nick’s hit animated series, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, returned to China Central Television in December and was the top-rated show for kids ages 4-14.

In announcing the ratings success, Nick reports the program ranked No. 1 of all children’s or teenage programs in 15 key cities. It also reports that 45 percent of viewers were under the age of 14, and 33 percent were between 25 and 44.

The program first aired on CCTV in 2006 and also was shown in the fall of 2007.

Target Brings New Fifi, Roary Series to MIPTV

London-based Target Entertainment Group will be bringing new series of the hit U.K. preschool shows Fifi and the Flowertots and Roary the Racing Car to MIPTV.

Both shows were developed by Bob the Builder creator Keith Chapman, whose Chapman Entertainment is producing both series.

Target is selling international TV rights to both series, which air in the U.K. on Five’s preschool block, Milkshake!

Giochi Preziosi Lands Geronimo Stilton Toy License

Italian toymaker Giochi Preziosi has landed the European master toy license to the upcoming animated TV series Geronimo Stilton.

Deal was struck with Atlantyca Entertainment, the Milan-based licensor of the property, and France-based production and distribution company MoonScoop Group.

The series, set to debut in Italy in the fall and across Europe next year, is based on the internationally kids’ chapter book series by Elisabetta Dami. It is the first license for the series, which is in production on 26 episodes of 22 minutes each.

"Hippo in a Tutu" reveals the hidden history of Disney's cartoon choreography

Jim Hill reviews Mindy Aloff's book, which talks about the many talented performers who labored in secret in order to help create dance sequences for the Studios' animated shorts & features

Almost from the very moment that Disney cartoons first came on the scene, Walt's characters began to dance.

I mean, look at Mickey's big screen debut in "Steamboat Willie." The very first time that moviegoers saw this character, he was tapping his foot & bouncing in place. That mouse was a natural-born hoofer.

Or -- better yet -- how about those bony Baryschnikovs who capered around that graveyard in the very first
Silly Symphony, "Skeleton Dance"

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Walt seemed to know -- almost instinctively -- that, if his films were going to stand out from the crowd, that they had to take a much more sophisticated approach to music & dance. Which is why Disney Studios began offering after-hours classes in the early 1930s. Where Don Graham of the Chouinard Art Institute would bring in ballet dancers from the Los Angeles to model, so that Disney's artists & animators could then get a better handle of how to draw the human form in motion.

Which -- of course -- was the real key to Walt Disney Animation Studios being able to graduate from being this strictly-shorts operation to becoming the sort of Company that could then produce full-length animated features. This continual striving for quality, that constant effort to improve the pictures that the Mouse Factory was producing.

Of course, when it came to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Disney did have a secret weapon: 14 year-old Majorie Belcher. Starting in 1934, this professionally trained dancer appeared in dozens of 16 mm films that the Studios artists then blew up into photostats. Which were then traced so that the movement of this film's title character would be that much more life-like, would come across as that much more believably human.

To say that Belcher (later to achieve fame as the wife & longtime dancing partner of Broadway legend Gower Champion) worked under tough conditions is an understatement. More than 70 years later, Marge recalled her first day on that "small, not very well-equipped soundstage" at Disney's old studio on Hyperion Avenue:

"In cartoon language, the head is always larger than it is on the body of a human being, at least the way they were animating in those days. So in order for (the artists) to see ... the (proper) proportions, they had taken a football helmet and punched holes in the top and had painted Snow White's hairline around it.

I was under very strong lights. Now, with this football helmet on to make my head bigger, I was doing whatever (the animators) showed me from their storyboards. Well, these are the days before air conditioning (and) I nearly fainted under the lights ... It was a most uncomfortable day ... (That) football helmet was heavy and I was sweating like mad underneath it."

Eventually Disney ditched that football helmet. Though (as you'll see in the photo below) they did have young Miss Belcher work in a version of the Snow White dress that had boldly outlined seams. Which made this footage that much easier for the artists to work with when those individual frames of 16 mm film were then blown up into full-size photostats.

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Marge may been the first dancer to toil in secret for Disney (Says Belcher: "I was sworn to secrecy about all that I did ... The words rotoscoping and tracing ... were forbidden"), providing live-action reference for the Studio's artists and animators. But she wouldn't be the last. Ballet dancer Helene Stanley was filmed repeatedly in the 1950s ...

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

... Which is one of the main reasons that Briar Rose / Princess Aurora moves with such grace in "Sleeping Beauty."

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But so little is known about this aspect of Walt Disney Animation Studios' history (i.e. the on-going collaboration between animators & dancers to create cartoon choreography). Which is why it's so great that Mindy Aloff stepped into this breach. Writing "Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation " (Disney Editions, February 2009), a solid, scholarly study of dance in the Studios' animated shorts & features.

Ms. Aloff is the ideal author to have tackled this tome. As a former fellow of the Dance Critics Institute of the American Dance Festival, she has a keen understanding of this art form. More to the point, given the many columns that she's cranked out for
"The New Yorker" and "The New York Times,"
Mindy has a gift for rooting out entertaining and informative anecdotes.

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Take -- for example -- the part of "Hippo in a Tutu" that touches on the "I Wan'na Be Like You" number from Disney's "The Jungle Book." Sure, Aloff talks about how jazzman Louis Prima provided both the voice and the live-action reference ...

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

... for King Louie.

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But Mindy also talks about what a troubled production "The Jungle Book" was. How Walt continually fought with the creative team behind this screen adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's work. Which eventually caused Bill Peet (who was then WDAS' only writer) to walk out of the Mouse House and never return. All because Bill favored a far darker take on this material. Whereas Walt wanted a version of "The Jungle Book" that could really get up and dance.

But where
"Hippo in a Tutu" really shines is when Aloff talks about all of the behind-the-scenes effort that's involved in making Disney's characters dance. The people who labor in the shadows to make all this cartoon choreography seem so effortless and free. Take -- for example -- Esmerelda's oh-so-memorable pole dance in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame " 's "Topsy Turvey"

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Did that sensuous series of sketches just ooze out of some artist's pencil? Nope. Once again, we're in the land of live-action reference footage. In this case, Disney hired Naomi Goldberg to choreograph this particular moment in the motion picture. According to Mindy, Naomi recalled asking "Hunchback" 's producers how Esmerelda wound up on that pole. Disney's reply? "This is a cartoon. We can make anything happen."

Which is how Susan Castang (i.e. the dancer Goldberg selected to serve as Esmerelda's live-action reference model) wound up spinning around some street signs next to a playground "somewhere in the Valley" in 1996. As a Disney videographer stood nearby and recorded Susan's performance for the animators who were then working on this scene in "Hunchback."

Thanks to her thorough scholarship, Aloff is able to pay tribute to all sorts of unsung heroes of Disney dance. Not just folks like Goldberg & Castang (who worked on the Studio's contemporary animated features), but also the real pioneers of live-action reference footage. Talented performers like Freddie & Eugene Jackson, the "flash" tap act that provided inspiration for the artists who were animating the crows in "Dumbo." Or -- better yet -- African-American actress Hattie Noel ...

Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

... who served as the "body double" (so to speak) for "Fantasia" 's Hyacinth Hippo character. Mindy unearthed this amazing story about the lengths Disney artists would go to in order in order to make these dancers comfortable while they were shooting all of this live-action reference footage. As special-effects animator Al Holter recalled:

"As a student in the CalArts Animation program in 1979 to 1981, I had a caricature class taught by T. Hee, who directed the 'Dance of the Hours' sequence (in "Fantasia'). When I met (T.), he was a frail, thin old man who advocated vegetarianism. By contrast, when (Hee) was at Disney in the late 1930s, he was a huge guy with a lot of weight. (T.) once related how they shot live-action reference footage of a large dancer for the hippo. A lot of it was high-speed footage in order to catch the fleshy overlap of body mass. (Hee) said the dancer was very self-conscious about how the footage would be used. About whether or not it was being done in mockery. T. Hee said, 'No,no,' it was just going to be an aid to the artists. Then he peeled down to his shorts and, in his words, 'danced with all my bulk in front of the camera to show her that it was all done in a light spirit."

In essence, that's what Mindy Aloff has done too with "Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation." She's stripped away years of myth & misinformation in order to reveal the real history of cartoon choreography. Loaded with hundreds of photographs & drawings, this 176-page hardcover is a must-read for anyone who has a serious interest in Disney animation history.

"Wonder Woman" and First "Green Lantern" Footage at Wondercon on Feb 27, 2009

The direct-to-video animated movie Wonder Woman will be screening at Wondercon in San Francisco at the Moscone Center on February 27, 2009, at 6:00 PM. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and voice cast of the movie, including producer Bruce Timm and actor Virginia Madsen, who plays Queen Hippolyta in the movie. The panel will also premiere the first footage from Green Lantern: First Flight, the next DTV animated movie in the pipeline.

Wonder Woman will be released on 1-disc, 2-disc, and Blu-ray on March 3, 2009. For more details, read our previous coverage here, and also check out our review of the screening at New York Comic Con 2009 and our coverage of the Wonder Woman

The full press release follows.


San Francisco Screening Precedes March 3, 2009 Release of All-New DVD

BURBANK, CA, (February 17, 2008) – Wonder Woman, the highly-anticipated fourth entry in the DC Universe animated original movie series, will receive a West Coast big screen premiere at WonderCon on February 27, 2009 in the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

The 6:00 p.m. screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring filmmakers and voice cast, including animation legend Bruce Timm and Academy Award nominee Virginia Madsen. Filmmakers will also screen the world premiere of the first footage of Green Lantern: First Flight, an upcoming DC Universe animated original movie.

Wonder Woman Panel from New York Comic Con 2009
(click to enlarge)

Presented by Warner Premiere, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Comics, the all-new Wonder Woman animated original movie will be distributed by Warner Home Video on March 3, 2009. Wonder Woman
will be available as a Single Disc DVD, 2-Disc Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray Disc. The animated original movie will also be available OnDemand and Pay-Per-View, as well as available for download day and date, March 3, 2009.

Madsen, making her first-ever Con appearance, provides the regal voice of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and mother to Diana/Wonder Woman. The actress, who received an Oscar nod for her performance in the 2003 hit film Sideways, is joined in the stellar voice cast by Keri Russell (Waitress, Felicity), Nathan Fillion (Firefly/Serenity & the upcoming ABC series Castle), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), Rosario Dawson (Sin City), Oliver Platt (The West Wing) and David McCallum (NCIS).

Wonder Woman is an origin story produced by multiple Emmy Award winning animation legend Bruce Timm, directed by Lauren Montgomery (Superman Doomsday) and written by Michael Jelenic (Batman: Brave & the Bold
). All three will participate in the post-screening panel and Saturday’s autograph session. DC Comics Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck will moderate the post-screening panel.

An autograph session for all panelists is being scheduled for Saturday, February 28.

Green Lantern movie moving forward, writer says

Michael Green, who is co-writing the upcoming film adaptation of DC Comics' Green Lantern, told reporters that the film is "moving forward."

"Green Lantern seems to be moving ahead," Green said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday while promoting his upcoming NBC series Kings. "I love the material. I was fortunate enough to get to adapt something that I've loved for a long time."

Green added: "They have a director [GoldenEye's Martin Campbell] attached to it now and seem to be moving forward, they being Warner Brothers. And I hope they do, because, as a fan of [the character and title], I just want to see the movie."

Greg Berlanti wrote the script with Marc Guggenheim and Green. Donald DeLine will produce with Berlanti.

DreamWorks Animation Watch

Yesterday, in between running around like the proverbial headless rooster, I bopped over to the DreamWorks Animation campus. The place is humming. And it's not just inside the studio's vine-covered walls:

Dreamworks Animation (DWA) was upgraded today by analysts at Wedbush Morgan ... The analysts upped DWA to "Buy" from "Hold." Over the last 52 weeks the stock has ranged from a low of $20.39 to a high of $32.73.

The stock getting a greenlight, particularly in this market (see below) is a good thing, yes? On the other hand:

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. is teaming up with Cerelink Digital Media Group of New Mexico to use the resources of the Computing Applications Center so DreamWorks can render its three-dimensional films in New Mexico.

As part of the project, an ultra high-speed link now connects New Mexico to Hollywood. That was done by the Computing Applications Center in collaboration with the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico Department of Information Technology, National LambdaRail and Cerelink DMG ...

More jobs in New Mexico, fewer jobs in Glendale. And yet again On the other hand:

Goldman downgraded Dreamworks (NYSE: DWA) to Neutral from Buy and lowered its target to $25 from $35 citing high expectations for "Monsters vs. Aliens" and DVD market softness ...

DreamWorks Animation steady hiring of new personnel has now leveled off. Even when you're a cartoon studio with a hot hand, you play it cautious when 1) the stock market's having conniption fits, 2) you only have one film coming out in 2009, and 3) you don't have a great roadmap for what lies around the next corner.

Cost containment is the order of the day, and while nobody is thrilled with wage levels not rising, nobody is complaining (at least, not to me).

The sentence I hear over and over ... and let me know if you've heard this before ... is:

"I'm happy to have a job ..."

It's rapidly becoming 1936, all over again.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

"The Mighty B!" Comes to DVD on February 24, 2009

Nickelodeon will be releasing the first DVD of The Mighty B! on February 24, 2009. The Mighty B! We Got the Bee will contain 8 episodes of the show, plus a behind-the-scenes featurette, an original animatic from the episode "Bat Mitzvah Crashers," and a karaoke music video for "Running with the Rainbow Unicorn."

Created by Amy Poehler, Erik Wiese, and Cynthia True, The Mighty B! follows the young and overly boisterous Bessie Higgenbottom (voiced by Poehler) and her quest to obtain all the Honeybee merit badges with the help of her little brother Ben and her dog Happy.

The full press information follows.


1 Disc - Total Runtime: 88 min.
Street date: 2/24/09

About the DVD:

To be a bee, or to be the bee: that is the question. But not for Bessie Higgenbottom. This determined, imaginative, and compassionate gal just wants to grow up to be a hero (of the super kind). And for this dedicated member of Honeybee troop #828, that means becoming the mighty bee!

In this buzz-worthy collection of hilarious episodes, get stung by the laughing bee while you catch Bessie rockin’ out, goin’ overboard on the party circuit, bravin’ the great outdoors, and more.

Episode Descriptions:

-We Got the Bee
oWhen Portia’s band doesn’t let Bessie join, Bessie starts rockin’ to her own beat!
-So Happy Together
oTo enter the Honeybee Dog Show and earn the Animal Appreciateion badge, Bessie sets out to find a stray.
-Sweet Sixteenth
oJust the teensiest bit under minimum height to ride The Punisher, Bessie goes to extremes to measure up.
-Bee My Baby
oTo dupe Bessie into babysitting, Portia and Gwen tell her about the non-existent Baby Wrangling Badge.
-Bee Afraid
oIn her quest for the Happy Camper Badge, Bessie goes, well, you know. But it’s scary in the dark. Especially with Portia and Gwen around.
-Artificial Unintelligence
oWill Bessie’s entry in the science fair finally win her the Mad Scientist Badge? Or just make other people mad?
-Bat Mitzvah Crashers
oBessie and Penny love crashing Bat Mitzvahs, then vow to stop when the partying takes a toll. But can they resist crashing “the Bat Mitzvah of the century?”
-Super Secret Weakness
oThe Mighty B is sure to find herself in quite a pickle if Bessie doesn’t help her ‘squash’ her only weakness.

Special Features:

-Behind The Mighty B!: Meet the Creators and Cast
-”Bat Mitzvah Crashers” Original Animatic
-“Running with the Rainbow Unicorn” Karaoke Music Video

Sultan The Warrior

Four scary words: Motion Capture from Bollywood.

Submitted for your approval: Sultan The Warrior. This new Tamil-language animated feature opens in India in May through Big Pictures, a Reliance Group company (Dreamworks recently partnered with them). It will then be distributed throughout the rest of the world by Warner Bros. Consider yourself warned.

(Thanks, Liam Scanlan)

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

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