Wednesday, February 25, 2009

News - 02/25/09...

Iwao Takamoto exhibit at Van Eaton

The Van Eaton Gallery is holding a special event on Saturday March 14th, a tribute to Iwao Takamoto. The exhibit not only showcases original character designs and artwork (non-Animation and Animation) by Takamoto, but other work found in his estate, including pieces by Alex Toth (original Model Sheets), Ray Aragon (Last Of The Curlews) and Floro Dery (The Last Halloween).

The event will also serve as a publication party for the new biography, Iwao Takamoto My Life with a Thousand Characters, copies of the book be on hand and will be signed by the author (Michael Mallory), as well as Willie Ito and Barbara Takamoto. You can check out the exhibit’s artwork online and pre-order books beginning March 5, 2009. The event is open to the public, March 14th from 5pm to 9pm, however you must RSVP because space is limited. The gallery is located at 13613 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, California. The RSVP number is (818) 788-2357. For more information contact the Van Eaton Galleries.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Futurama’s Final Finale, Plus Akira Arrive on Blu-ray

Comic and tragic visions of the future lead off this week’s animated DVD releases.

Up first is Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (Fox, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray), the fourth and apparently final outing for the long-running series from Matt Groening and David X. Cohen. Directed by series regular Peter Avanzino, this new adventure finds Bender in love with a married fembot and Leela on the run from the law—Zapp Brannigan's law, while Fry emerges as the last hope for the universe. Guest voices include illusionist Penn Jillette, hip-hop star Snoop Dogg and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. In addition, fans get to discover the truth about “Number 9 Man,” an enigmatic character from the earliest days of the series.

The DVD offers a slew of bonus features, including clever audio commentary from Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, writers and animators, a making-of mockumentary, deleted scenes,
How to Draw Futurama, “Bender’s Movie Theater Etiquette,” and “ZaBoldpp Brannigan’s Guide to Making Love at a Woman."

Coming for the first time in high-def is the Blu-ray release of
(Banda/Honneamise, $49.98), the groundbreaking 1988 anime from Katsuhiro Otomo adapting his popular manga epic.

Also coming to DVD is
Wonder Pets Join the Circus, available as a single disc (Paramount, $16.99) or as part of a new three-disc collection called Wonder Pets: Big Missions, Little Heroes (Paramount, $36.99).

Recently announced animated DVD releases include
Franny’s Feet: Princess Franny (Peace Arch, March 3, $14.99), Gulliver’s Travels, (E1 Entertainment U.S., March 10, $14.98 DVD, $19.98 Blu-ray), South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season (Paramount/Comedy Central, March 10, $49.99 DVD, $69.99 Blu-ray) and Tom and Jerry’s Greatest Chases, Vol. 2
(Warner Home Video, June 16, $14.97).

Autodesk Introduces Softimage 7.5

Autodesk has launched Softimage 7.5, adding features such as UV unfolding technology and an integrated mental ray renderer into the popular game creation and visual effects application.

This release sees a name change for the software, which was formerly known as Softimage|XSI and was acquired by Autodesk from Avid Technology.

"It has been three months since we acquired substantially all of the assets of Softimage and its integration into Autodesk is going extremely well, says Marc Petit, Autodesk Media & Entertainment senior VP. “The team has kept Softimage 7.5 on plan and it has shipped without delay. We remain committed to delivering solid future releases of the software."

The UV Unfolding Technology enables artists to unwrap polygon models with just a few clicks. The package also provides UV editing tools that assist in the creation and editing of UV maps.

Softimage 7.5 also includes a Multithreaded Syflex Cloth Simulator, enabling artists to use the cores on their machine to iterate faster. Also, scenes saved in Softimage 7.5 will load into Softimage 7.0.

Sesame Joins Universal’s Dubai Park Plans

Universal Studios Dubailand has signed a deal with Sesame Workshop to develop three Sesame Street-themed venues for an under-construction theme park in the United Arab Emirates.

Anchoring the addition is Sesame Street 4-D Movie Magic, an experience that will explore the moviemaking process using such familiar characters as Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Grover and Prairie Dawn. The experience will be presented in a 400-seat auditorium.

The park also will feature a Sesame Street carousel, a live stage show and a retail outlet called Elmo’s Emporium.

“Our collaboration with Universal Studios has allowed us to design and build an extraordinary family destination in the region and our new partnership with Sesame Workshop will enable us to deliver incomparable family entertainment featuring the legendary Sesame Street experience,” says Khalid Al Malik, CEO of Tatweer Dubai, of which Universal Studios Dubailand is a member.

“The park offers a remarkable opportunity to share all the laughter and learning of Sesame Streetwith the people of the U.A.E. and visiting guests from around the world.” says Gary E. Knell, president and CEO, Sesame Workshop.

DreamWorks Taps NM Supercomputer

DreamWorks Animation has linked up with a New Mexico-owned supercomputer to make CG movies more efficiently.

In a deal announced by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, DreamWorks is teaming up with Cerelink Digital Media Group to use the New Mexico Computing Applications Center’s Encanto supercomputer for rendering its 3D movies.

The project works with an ultra high-speed link connecting the studio’s California studios with Encanto, which is capable of 172 trillion calculations a second.

Built by Silicon Graphics, Encanto is the 12th fastest computer in the world and the fastest non-federal computer. It is housed at Intel’s plant in Rio Rancho and owned by the government of New Mexico.

Here's a video tour of Encanto from its debut last year:

Nick Grabs Elephant Princess for Global Markets

Nick International has picked up the live-action tween series The Elephant Princess to air in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

The channel also picked up from distributor ZDF Enterprises the rights to extensive online content that will debut in conjunction with the ramp up to the series debut. The show, set for 26 30-minute episodes, will first premiere in the United Kingdom this spring.

Produced by Jonathan M. Shiff Productions, Elephant Princess stars Emily Robins as an ordinary teenage girl who learns she has magical powers and is the heir to the throne of the enchanted kingdom of Manjipoor.

AWN Interviews Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Film Directors

AWN has interviewed the directors of the five nominees for Best Animated Short Film. All discuss how they learned they were nominated for an Oscar, what inspired their respective films, and many discuss what they will be working on next.

ANN Interviews Tony Oliver on "Adventures in Voice Acting" Seminars

Anime News Network has interviewed voice actor Tony Oliver on the new "Adventures in Voice Acting" seminars he is conducting with Bang Zoom Entertainment designed to help people break into the voice acting business. Oliver discusses how the project was started from the same questions being asked all the time at anime conventions, what attendees can expect in each class, how the class deals with anime dubbing vs. conventional cartoon voice acting, and whether he's hired anyone out of the classes.

Marvel announces Thor release date, Iron Man 2 start

Kenneth Branagh's Thor movie will hit theaters on July 16, 2010, while Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2 will begin principal photography in early April, Marvel announced Tuesday.

Branagh is set to direct Marvel Studios' Thor, which Paramount Pictures will distribute worldwide, based on the classic comic superhero.

Iron Man 2
will bring back stars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow and add new cast member Don Cheadle.

That Spidey musical swings onto Broadway in 2010

Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, a new musical based on the Marvel Comics superhero, begins previews at Broadway's Hilton Theatre in New York on Jan. 16, 2010, Playbill reported.

Directed by The Lion King's Julie Taymor, the musical will officially open Feb. 18, 2010. Casting will be revealed shortly. (Evan Rachel Wood previously announced that she'll star in the musical, but no official casting has been announced.)

Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark features music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge and a book by Taymor and Glen Berger.

Here's the official description of the show: "[It] spins a new take on the mythic tale of a young man propelled from a modest rowhouse in Queens to the skyscraping spire of the Chrysler Building, the bustling offices of the Daily Bugle, through the dizzying canyons of Manhattan, to new vistas never before seen. The musical follows the story of teenager Peter Parker, whose unremarkable life is turned upside-down—literally—when he's bitten by a genetically altered spider and wakes up the next morning clinging to his bedroom ceiling. This bullied science-geek—suddenly endowed with astonishing powers—soon learns, however, that with great power comes great responsibility as villains test not only his physical strength but also his strength of character."

New "Batman: The Brave And The Bold" Videos From Upcoming Two-Part Special Event

Cartoon Network has provided The World's Finest with two new clips from the upcoming Batman: The Brave and The Bold two-part event.

Cartoon Network has passed along new video clips from the upcoming
Batman: The Brave and The Bold episodes "Deep Cover for Batman!" and "Game Over for Owlman!" Both episodes are part of a special two-part Batman: The Brave and The Bold
event. To view the new videos, click HERE.

Be warned that these clips do contain spoilers. The Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode "Deep Cover for Batman!" is scheduled to air Friday, February 27th, 2009 at 8pm (ET) on Cartoon Network, with "Game Over for Owlman" scheduled to air the following week on Friday, March 6th, 2009 at 8pm (ET) on Cartoon Network. Further details on this special two-part event can be found here.

Imagi Update - Again

I spent the afternoon at Imagi in Sherman Oaks, and to keep folks up to date, about 40-50% of the staff is back at work as of today. As one of the freshly returned artists said to me:

"The company seems to be working to make things right, but if it doesn't come through on its promises, I won't be around here long ..."

I met with Imagi administration for an hour, and here's what they related:

* Checks for "pay in lieu of notice" came in late Friday, and the company has been issuing them to employees who haven't been recalled, with other staff to follow.

* The company, though it isn't required to do so under the TAG contract, says it will be paying laid-off employees through February 14th. Vacation pay will also be paid out.

* Dismissal pay that's due under the TAG contract will be paid to individuals who haven't been rehired 110 days after layoff. (Assuming employees are paid wages through February 14th, the clock starts running on February 15th.)

* Employees being brought back include 1) Crew working on Astro Boy. 2) Individuals who have term Personal Service Agreements (with those agreements honored). 3) Some board artists working on Tusker and Gochaman, to help get these projects up on reels.

A SAD NOTE: Since individuals have been flamed in previous "Imagi" comments, we simplify matters here by shutting down the comments section.

It's a shame we have to do this, but life is too flipping short to have to police for virulent bullcrap. We find it, we delete it. And if that means closing comments, or pre-screening comments, we'll do it.

As your fifth grade teacher once said: "A few bad apples are ruining it for everybody else."

If anybody has questions about Imagi that aren't answered above, feel free to call the TAG office (818-766-7151) ... or e-mail me at ...

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Bakshi and Mighty Mouse circa 1988

Ralph Bakshi and his Mighty Mouse crew in a TV news piece circa 1988. John K., Jim Reardon, Eddie Fitzgerald, Tom Minton and Kent Butterworth can be spotted. I don’t know what show this is from or who posted it, but it’s priceless.

(Thanks, Jeff Pidgeon)

(Thanks cartoon brew)

I Yam Mulan

Spotted outside of an Asian grocery store in Queens, a cardboard box from a yam producer that uses an unauthorized rendition of Mulan as its logo. Here’s the original Disney coloring book page that they used for the swipe.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Michel Gondry to Direct Green Hornet

Michel Gondry is in negotiations to direct The Green Hornet, Columbia Pictures big screen adaptation of the classic crime-fighting hero being played by Seth Rogen.

Stephen Chow had been tapped to direct but dropped out over creative differences. He is still expected to co-star as Kato, the Hornet's trusty sidekick and chauffeur.

The Hollywood Reporter says the studio is intent on making the feature one of its 2010 tentpoles.

Gondry's credits include
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind

"Hornet" follows the adventures of Britt Reid, a bored playboy who inherits his father's crusading newspaper, The Daily Sentinel. By night he is a masked hero, fighting crime with his sidekick Kato, who has incredible martial arts skills.

VIZ Lays Off Employees in Restructuring

VIZ Media laid off an unspecified number of employees last week as it restructured to face current economic conditions.

“VIZ Media is in the process of refining its focus and is restructuring to adjust to changing industry and financial market realities. VIZ feels confident that with these changes, the company will be more streamlined to face the current economic climate,” the company’s CEO, Hidemi Fukuhara, said in a statement to Anime News Network.

VIZ, based in San Francisco, is North America’s largest publisher of anime and manga titles from Japan, including such hits as compilation periodical Shonen Jump, Naruto, Pok√©mon, Dragon Ball and Bleach.

DreamWorks Falls Short of Q4 Estimates

DreamWorks Animation posted lower-than-expected profits for the fourth quarter of 2008.

This quarter saw the studio put out the theatrical release Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and the DVD of its summer hit Kung Fu Panda, which has sold about 11 million copies to date.

Times were tough, however, compared to the same quarter last year, when
Shrek the Third did big business on DVD. The studio posted income for the quarter of $51.6 million, compared with $94.1 million in the same quarter of 2007. Revenues also declined to $199.8 million, short of the $232 million expected by analysts, according to Reuters.

Up next for the studio is
Monsters vs. Aliens
, its first 3-D feature, due out March 27.

Iron Man DVD Lifts Marvel Earnings

Marvel Entertainment reported stronger than expected profits for 2008, fueled in large part by strong sales of the Iron Man DVD.

Net sales for the company were $224 million, up from $109.3 million for the fourth quarter. That powered the year’s net sales to $676 million, up from $485 in 2007.

Results were up for all the company’s major divisions, licensing, publishing and film production.

The company is looking to animation to play a big role in building its brands in 2009. Marvel pointed in particular to the success of
Wolverine and the X-Men, currently airing the first 26 of a planned 52 episodes on Nicktoons, and the upcoming Iron Man: Armored Adventures series, due to air in the second quarter also on Nicktoons.

Marvel also has 8 half-hour episodes of a
Black Panther animated series set to air on BET in the second quarter and is self producing two new series, Super Hero Squad and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
, with Film Roman for premieres in late 2009 and 2011 respectively.

The company also has set February 2010 for the premiere of the long-awaited Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, directed by Julie Taymor and featuring music by Bono and The Edge of U2.

Bandai Acquires Digimon Toy License

Bandai Asia has acquired from Toei Animation the Australian toy license for the animated children’s series Digimon Data Squad.

The deal covers the right to sell such toys as a digivice data link, 1.5-inch collectible figures and 3.5-inch lightning digivolving figures. The products are available now in stores.

“We are pleased to be working with Bandai Asia in expanding the Digimon brand and we’re confident that Bandai Asia will be an excellent ambassador for programming in this important territory,” said Toei president and COO Kanji Kazahaya.

"Akira" Blu-ray: Still Da Bomb After Two Decades

Speedy Boris from Toon Zone reviews the "Akira" Blu-Ray -

I'll never forget the first time I saw the 1988 animated feature film Akira. It was Saturday morning on the Sci-Fi Channel, back in the '90s when that was their timeslot for Japanese anime. While I had somewhat enjoyed my samplings of anime to that point, Akira really impressed and intrigued me. Here was a movie so radically different from my own country's animation that it was almost ... alien. But the good kind of alien—the fascinating kind, like the ones in Close Encounters, not the kind that try to eat your face. While the movie had obviously been edited for content and time, it was still a cool experience and probably one of the reasons I'm an anime fan today.

Why did I enjoy
Akira, and why do I still enjoy it? Well let's get a huge reason out of the way right now: the artwork. Holy. Cow. Some people stereotype anime as a lot of cheap work, featuring characters sliding into the frame, reused animation sequences, and generic open-and-close lip-flaps that poorly match even the native language. Not in Akira. It's got full animation most of the time, rivaling Walt Disney. Characters' mouths actually form specific shapes depending on the sentence. (And, oddly, it doesn't look too awkward even when matched with English words!) A great amount of care is put into character movements, yet they're given some distinct personality so that it doesn't look cheaply rotoscoped. The backgrounds are gorgeous, detailed, and dynamically lit. The film uses parallax scrolling to give the illusion of depth, which can be seen in the movie's famous opening with the numerous high rise buildings and highways. And, perhaps best of all, debris from explosions are intricately animated to show every little particle. Bottom line: Akira is a sight to behold, even twenty years later.

Now obviously this would all be for nought if the story was bland or uninteresting. Luckily,
Akira has an engaging premise to go along with the pretty exterior. In a nutshell, a motorcycle gang of high schoolers roams the streets of Neo Tokyo in 2019. One night, Tetsuo, one of the members of the gang, has a motorcycle accident by avoiding a freaky-looking kid on the freeway. He's taken into a hospital for experimentation, and it turns out he harbors a dangerous mental ability similar to "Akira", the mysterious being who caused the destruction of Tokyo in 1988. Tetsuo tries to keep his newly-discovered power under control at first, but is unsuccessful and goes on a killing rampage.

His friend and fellow gang member Kaneda is trying to rescue Tetsuo, but is rejected by Tetsuo, who realizes that with his new power he can protect himself and no longer needs Kaneda's help. Of course, he goes too far and nearly causes the second destruction of Tokyo in the process. Throughout this, a character known as the Colonel is dealing with the scientist that let the Akira experiment go too far, as well as city politics that won't let him stop this ticking time bomb; despite an arrest warrant, he is desperate to protect the city at all costs.

If it wasn't already clear,
Akira owes its storyline to Japan's own horrific experiences in the atomic bomb blasts of 1945. From its famous opening scene of the destruction of Tokyo to the apocalyptic visions of the end, Akira plays out as a cautionary tale about tampering with science to the point where complete human annihilation becomes a real and constant possibility—a theme that has been present in many Japanese works for decades. The only difference is that Akira showcases a personification of this destruction in the form of a human being in Tetsuo. Personally, I found this to be a more interesting approach than if it was just some one-dimensional foreign enemy trying to bomb Japan. The vision of an average teen who holds the power of life and death and can't control it is a powerful metaphor for science run amok.

Any classic film has a multitude of memorable scenes, and
Akira is no exception. I already mentioned the motorcycle dueling scene, with its jungle drums bringing a primitive, chaotic nature to what is supposed to be a civilized futuristic society. In addition, there is the scene where Tetsuo hallucinates a teddy bear, a toy race car, and a stuffed rabbit growing giant and crushing his hospital room, all while a creepy minimalist choir chants in the background. There's a scene when Tetsuo is able to skyrocket himself to a satellite orbiting Earth that is trying to shoot him and control it from there. (I especially like that they don't have sound in space! What a concept!) Even the brief bits of comic relief are memorable, like when the biker gang is brought in for questioning by the police, and some random thug's grenade fails to go off, causing the police to beat him mercilessly for being such an idiot.

Some may scoff that the film doesn't go as in-depth as the manga, but it's best not to look at the film as an inferior, incomplete version of the manga, but as part of the overall franchise. If you see
Akira and love it, you may be inclined to check out its source material, where apparently many storylines are more fleshed out. This abridging of the source material doesn't make the film itself bad, though. Far from it.

Akira Blu-ray is a mixed bag. Let's discuss the positives first. The audio and video quality is top notch. Granted, I only recently got a Blu-ray player, so I'm still wowed by the video quality over DVDs, but even taking that into account, I was constantly impressed by Akira. The picture is crystal clear, with well-defined and bright (though not overpowering) colors. If it weren't for a few random specks of grain, you would swear this movie was brand new. That's how crisp and clean it looks.

Sound is also impressive, with a fine TrueHD sound mix that does the film justice and offers no discernible compression, drop-outs, or muffled moments. This release, as with the previous Geneon offerings, comes with the Animaze dub as opposed to the Streamline dub. Having not heard the Streamline version outside of a few snippets, I can't definitely say which version I like better, but I will say that the Animaze version has always been an effective English dialog track. Johnny Yong Bosch, whom you may know from more recent roles like Ichigo
(Bleach) or Lelouch (Code Geass) may seem familiar due to his wealth of roles now, but he is perfect for the part of Kaneda, especially in the second half, when he tries to get through to the tortured Tetsuo. Speaking of Tetsuo, Joshua Seth is effective in the role, hitting all the right dramatic notes.

But while the presentation is a solid showcase for Blu-ray's abilities, the extras are lacking. All we get are some trailers and commercials. No material from the fancy two-disc DVD from a few years back appears here, which is a shame, as I haven't seen any of it; I bought the bare bones version back then. The set redeems itself a tad with a 32-page booklet that contains staff interviews accompanied by production and finished art. I always appreciate when anime companies include this sort of thing, but sadly it seems to be turning into a luxury in this recession.

Over twenty years later,
Akira still holds up as a fine achievement in the field of Japanese animation. I've watched it numerous times now, and each time I watch it I enjoy it just as much, and marvel at the craft it took to make. And even at two hours, the film surprisingly doesn't drag too much either. The Blu-ray disc displays superior graphics and sound, but loses some points for the slim extras. However, if you've never had the pleasure of owning Akira
, you might as well buy the Blu-ray version despite the lack of extras, as that DVD special edition is getting hard to find and won't look as good.

Click on any thumbnail image to see sample high-definition images from the Blu-ray disc. All images ©1988 MASHROOM / AKIRA COMMITTEE All Rights Reserved.

Based on the graphic novel
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo. First published by Young Magazine, Kodansha, Ltd.

The best fan art of the new Enterprise from J.J. Abrams' Star Trek
 has posted some breath-taking fan-created images of the U.S.S. Enterprise, based on designs for J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek movie, suggesting how the ship might look in the new film.

The artwork—by German computer-graphics artist Tobias Richter, owner of The Light Works graphics studio in Cologne, Germany—has based his renderings of the new Enterprise solely on the few official images released, as well as the three trailers for the movie and even some toy images. Since the total source material is limited, some areas of Tobias' details are conjecture; however, he tells that he's confident his depictions are fairly accurate.

You can see more here.

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