Thursday, March 5, 2009

News - 03/05/09...

Green Lantern: First Flight Animated Film Promo

We've been waiting a while to get our first glimpse at the new Green Lantern animated offering from Warner Home Video and DC Comics. The last week has brought us full disclosure of the contents of the disc and order/release date details but avoided showing any artwork outside of the packaging. Well, now, thanks to YouTube, we finally have a sneak peek behind the scenes of the Direct To Video film set to hit shelves on July 28th.

Copyrights, Fair Use, Creative Commons and You

We've written before about copyright, as well as its ethical and cultural implications.

For those you don't know exactly what it's all about and who don't want to read a law book, Eric Faden created A Fair(y) Use Tale, a short film (with a little legally acquired help from Disney) explaining what copyright, fair use and the public domain are.

Large media corporations are often quick on the trigger when it comes to proactively defending their property. The recent kerfuffle between Fox and Warner Brothers over the Watchmen movie, is but one example of copyright going wrong and helping no one, except for some lawyers and a large corporation. It certainly did not benefit the creators, or the audience. The distinct possibility of no one being able to watch Watchmen existed. This is why many creators fight the modern idea of copyright. As Cory Doctorow said, if copyright kills culture, then copyright has no reason for being. While corporations don't seem to see this, many creators do and are trying to do something about it.

Musicians are often the artists we hear the most about when the media covers copyright issues, but animators are also involved since many of them use music for their films. One of the animators doing her part in trying to make copyright more useful for everyone is Nina Paley; by distributing Sita Sings the Blues, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. You can find out more about why she's doing it on her website and in this interview.

The interview is quite long, if you wish you can also view highlights of it here.

If you want more animated goodness, the Internet Archive also has over 1400 animated films freely available for download, from Lego Brick Films to vintage cartoons from the 30s and 40s.

(Thanks FPS)

Jessica Rabbit tops list of sexy toon characters

Roger Rabbit's seductive wife Jessica is the sexiest character, as measured by a survey conducted by British chocolatier Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Betty Boop, with her short skirts and curly black hair as major attractions, came in second with 21% of the votes.

Third at 10% was the chocolate-loving Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramel Bunny, the chocolate company's seductive rabbit. The survey was done to celebrate the Caramel Bunny's return to billboard and magazine ads. The bunny was first seen on British TV screens in the 1980s.

Strong competition to the top three came from Cinderella, Wilma Flintstone, Snow White and Daphne from Scooby-Doo.

"The top three are all similar in that they share the most alluring virtues, but what we find most impressive is that she is the only British character on the list," Cadbury Dairy Milk marketing director Lee Rolston said of the Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramel Bunny. "In this way, she very much echoes Cadbury Dairy Milk's British roots."

Of those questioned, 28% considered body shape the most alluring quality in a female cartoon character. Others mentioned large, enticing eyes and a memorable voice.

The most recognizable item of clothing worn by a cartoon character is Jessica Rabbit's red dress, with Snow White's yellow and blue dress coming in second.

Dough!: Pizza commercials and Simpsons don't mix

British media regulator Ofcom has given satellite broadcaster Sky TV a piece of its mind for running Domino's Pizza ads during The Simpsons... this despite the well-known fact that Homer loves donuts and Duff Beer.

Ofcom ruled that Sky TV had violated rules banning junk food ads before or after shows popular with kids.

The complaint was made by the National Heart Forum, which has objected to Domino's ads during the cartoon series as "failing to observe the spirit as well as the letter of the rules" of Ofcom. The forum alleged that Sky TV tried to skirt the ban by showing a pizza being made and delivered, rather than the pizza itself.

Couch potatoes also saw two men in the ad watching TV and ordering a pizza.

"Domino's has just announced strong profits. This is on the back of selling a lot of pizzas, thanks to a promotion Ofcom has found broke advertising rules,' the NHF's Jane Landon lamented.

She stressed the importance of stopping the promotion to children of products with high fat, salt and sugar contents.

"Sky's strong view is that the credits did not breach either the letter or the spirit of the rules," said a spokesman for the satellite network. The Simpsons, which airs on Sky 1, has a mainly adult audience, he added.

Domino's ads were shown about four times during each episode of The Simpsons. However, the pizza chain ended its sponsorship agreement with the show late last year. The Simpsons is now sponsored by 118 188, a telephone directory inquiry firm.

"While the credits do not feature any one complete pizza, it is clear, in Ofcom's view, that the sponsorship of The Simpsons on Sky One promotes not only the Domino's Pizza delivery service, but also its pizzas," the Ofcom report read.

Over half of Domino's pizza products are high in fat, sugar or salt, and "Ofcom considers that this particular sponsorship amounted to product sponsorship," the report added. Sky TV's breach of the rules will be kept on record, an Ofcom spokesperson said.

Restrictions on ads for unhealthy food directed at kids were imposed in 2007 following concern about rising childhood obesity. Ofcom rules state that food or drink with high fat, salt or sugar content cannot be advertised around shows popular with persons under 16.

Sky TV contended the Domino's ads promoted the delivery service, not the pizza, and that The Simpsons "does not seek to exclusively target children."

The National Heart Forum's Landon criticized the lack of a fine for Sky TV.

"This is no more than a slap on the wrist," she said. "There is not a problem with children having the occasional carry-out pizza, but the way they are exposed to these adverts all the time is creating an unhealthy environment and undermining parents' best efforts to get children to eat more healthy options."

UAE blocks online Israeli cartoon mocking bombers

United Arab Emirates officials have blocked a satirical Israeli cartoon series on YouTube depicting two Muslim boys who thwart their father's attempts to make them suicide bombers.

The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said last Wednesday that its decision followed several complaints that the content is extremely insulting to Islam.

"We informed the two UAE Internet service providers, Etisalat and Du, of the decision, and they blocked the movie," a TRA spokesman told, the online version of the Emirates-based Al Arabiya News Channel. "Now users who try to see it will get an 'access denied' message."

Although the skits in Ahmed and Salim are spoken in gibberish, the cartoons are subtitled in Hebrew and English. A laughing audience is audible in the background.

One episode shows the two boys detouring for ice cream while on their way to place an explosive on an Israeli bus. Then they put the bomb on a UAE bus by mistake.

In another, the pair are ordered by their father to torture a Jewish boy, but befriend him instead.

The premises of Ahmed and Salim is that the title characters would rather follow Western pop culture than their father's hopes of having them die as martyrs by carrying out terrorist attacks on "filthy Jews or Americans"... not that the boys succeed at those.

One boy in the series wears traditional Gulf attire, while the other has his face covered by a balaclava. A flag virtually identcal to that of the UAE is seen in the background of several scenes.

Emirates-based activists launched an online drive to ban YouTube entirely, alleging that it regularly allows content insulting to Islam and Arabs.

However, a TRA spokesperson told the Khaleej Times: "We have given choice to the Internet users in the country and not blocked the web site entirely. Adult content on the Web site that is clearly against the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the UAE will automatically be blocked."

"Now all Internet subscribers in the UAE cannot access the movie," Etisalat vice-president Ahmed Bin Ali told

Assigned to torture a Jewish prisoner (right), Ahmed and Salim release him after learning that he shares their love for Guitar Hero.

Mega Fox To Get Plenty Wet As Aquatic Superhero FATHOM!!

Transformers babe Megan Fox will play the title character in Fox Atomic's “Fathom,” based on the Aquamanish/Submarinerish comic book title about a champion swimmer and marine biologist who learns she’s part of an underwater race.

I say? Megan Fox + Water = big win for moviegoing audiences.

Find all of Variety’s story on the matter here.

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, says Fox is negotiating to star opposite Josh Brolin and John Malkovich in Warner Bros.' "Jonah Hex," a far dryer funnybook adaptation. Read about that here.

Final ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ Trailer Debuts Today At 12 PM EST — Here’s A Peek!

Yes, you read that headline correctly, true believers: The final trailer for 20th Century Fox’s much-anticipated “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” — starring Hugh Jackman as Logan, Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed (Sabretooth) and Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson (Deadpool) — will debut on today at 12 PM (EST). Since we know that’s an eternity in Internet time, here’s a sneak peek at what you can look forward to seeing in the final trailer today.

Want more? You can hear about some of the “Wolverine” movie secrets from Hugh Jackman himself while you’re waiting, but make sure to come back tomorrow, March 5, when we’ll bring you the full “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” trailer at 12 PM EST

Future of 'anime' industry in doubt

The Japan Times Online today presents an article discussing concerns over the supposed decline of the Japanese animation industry. Key concerns include the disillusionment of animation graduates and the global financial recession.

Money, success elude; outsourcing, piracy abound

After graduating from Tokyo Animator College, Yuko Matsui began working at a midscale animation production agency.

Work in progress: A student works on a project at Tokyo Animator College. ALEX MARTIN PHOTO

Two years later, she earns roughly ¥80,000 (or $805 US) a month, averaging 10 hours a day doing the grunt work of filling out "in-between cels," drawings on transparent sheets used between key scenes to help create the illusion of motion.

Although she lives with her parents, she can't save any money and has given up on paying her national pension fees. Still, the 22-year-old apprentice considers herself better off than some of her peers who say they have to endure frequent all-nighters with few days off.

"There were seven others I knew who graduated with me at the same time, but three of them have already given up and quit," she said.

Matsui's story is typical of what many aspiring animators must face in a trade where only the best survive in a shrinking job market. And it's not just the employees who are hurting.

The deepening recession and rapid shift in the overall landscape surrounding the industry have caused many to fear for the future of one of the nation's most prized cultural exports.

"The global fan base for Japanese 'anime' is increasing, but with the old business model crumbling it isn't translating into profits," said Yasuo Yamaguchi, executive director of the Association of Japanese Animations.

For the past decade, the industry has been hammering out average annual sales of ¥200 billion in what experts described as an "animation bubble."

Yamaguchi predicted, however, that the industry's proceeds for fiscal 2008 — which have yet to be calculated — would be lower than 2007, when total sales dropped almost ¥20 billion from 2006, a record high year, according to AJA statistics.

"The financial crisis is forcing sponsors to cut down on television advertisement fees, and this in turn is shrinking the budgets for animations, pressuring everyone involved in the production," Yamaguchi said.

"I think we'll see a major decrease in the number of anime programs broadcast. Agencies dependent on television as a primary financial source will need to search for alternatives."

Besides the gloomy economy, the overwhelmingly adult content of recent television animation — many featuring violent or highly sexual material and broadcast during late-night hours — has played a part in limiting the audience and making both marketing and merchandising of anime-related products difficult.

Crunch time: Cartoon character Doraemon, Japan's animation ambassador, smiles at the sight of his favorite Dora-yaki pancakes, presented last March by then Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura. KYODO PHOTO

Yoshihiko Noda, director of the media content division for ad agency Asatsu-DK, buys TV time slots for popular family programs such as "Doraemon" and "Crayon Shin-chan." He said these trends were a relatively recent phenomenon.

"The demographics of anime fans began shifting seven to eight years ago. Those who grew up watching cartoons became older, and began craving more 'otaku' (geek) and adult content," Noda said, noting such animation is mainly produced for DVD sales, with the late-night shows — usually consisting of only 13 episodes — used as bait to draw viewers into buying the full DVD set that comes with increased content and special features.

This lack of mainstream acceptability in anime content, combined with expensive title licenses and the exploding popularity of video-sharing sites, has helped erode the industry's distribution market in the West.

"Anime-related profits in the United States, especially DVDs, are dwindling," said Keisuke Iwata, director of animation channel AT-X.

"Thanks to megahits such as 'Evangelion' and 'Pokemon,' Japanese animation has fared well in the past. But it has already maxed out as an export industry," Iwata explained, adding that besides the lack of big-name titles and a decrease in overseas airplay in recent years, the greatest obstacle lies in the illegal Internet sites that provide free content.

"These sites upload programs almost immediately after they are broadcast in Japan," accompanied with "fan subs" — English subtitles translated by fans," Iwata said. "This is causing a very big dent in sales."

To counter the trend, TV Tokyo tied up with popular San Francisco-based animation-sharing site Crunchyroll in January, offering some of TV Tokyo's popular titles in advertisement-free, high-quality format with subtitles for a monthly fee of $6.95.

Yukio Kawasaki, manager of TV Tokyo's animation business department, said the move was an attempt to create a legitimate distribution channel between animation producers and overseas fans, as well as a way to send out a message.

"Animation isn't free. It's the product of hard work and a lot of money, and we cannot continue producing quality content without the financial help from fans," Kawasaki said, explaining that if the strategy succeeds, they could expand by selling DVDs and comic books on the site, "like," and establish a valid business model.

Kawasaki said they have signed up more than 10,000 fee-paying members since the tieup began Jan. 8 and hope to reach 50,000 by the end of this year.

"We are seriously concerned that the industry will not survive if things go on like this," he said, acknowledging that whether their new plan succeeds or not, the structural issue undermining the industry will still exist.

"You've got to really love animation to be in this trade," said Takeo Ide, chief animator for the popular television series "One Piece."

Ide recalled how he used to make ¥70,000 a month (or $705,54 U.S.) in his rookie years, sharing a cheap apartment to get by before being assigned to draw the more pricey key frames — drawings that define the starting and ending points of movements.

Ide's is a success story in an occupation that, according to a study conducted by the Japan Council of Performers' Organization, has an appalling turnover rate of 80 percent.

The study revealed that a single cel on average earns animators a meager ¥186.9 (or $1.91 U.S.). Considering how a grunt worker has to fill in 500 in-between cels per month for a television animation series, this means a monthly wage of ¥94,000 at best (or $947.65 U.S.)— for an average of 250 hours of work — until an artist gets to handle key frames or storyboards.

With an estimated 90 percent of in-betweens being outsourced overseas — a result of the industry trying to squeeze out more content than it can from domestic hands — there are also concerns that opportunities to nurture future generations of quality animators are being lost.

"Drawing in-between cels is hard work and it sure doesn't pay much, but it's still an important skill that every animator should learn," said Masayuki Kawachi, president of the All-Toei Labor Union.

Kawachi, who handles special effects at Toei Animation Studio, said that in the current situation, most of such work is done in countries like China and the Philippines.

"And with the recession eating away at production fees and forcing agencies to downsize or go bankrupt, young and aspiring animators can't find places to work," Kawachi said.

Reflecting such times, animation studio Gonzo, a well-known name in the industry, recently confirmed it plans to pare the number of contracted creators from 130 to 30 over the next five years.

The Japan Fair Trade Commission on Jan. 23 released a report on the state of the animation industry, listing several major concerns.

One is the lack of copyrights attributed to production agencies — copyrights are divvied up among sponsors, a system widely criticized for robbing the actual creators of any secondary-use benefits, not to mention motivation.

Another is the popular practice of commissioning and recommissioning production work to smaller agencies that often leads to shady transactions.

Kawachi said such issues — not new to the industry — have largely been ignored in the past but will need to be dealt with one way or another if the industry hopes to remain the dominant force behind the global animation market.

In 2006, Kawachi's union, joined by the Federation of Cinema and Theatrical Workers Union in Japan, presented the culture ministry with a proposal on restructuring the animation industry, outlining main issues and suggesting solutions. Kawachi said they received no response from the government.

Yamaguchi of AJA, who also lectures on animation literacy at Nihon University's law school, predicts that in the end, quality, not quantity, will come to be emphasized.

"When we look at viewer ratings of animated television programs, we notice that the top slot is always dominated by 'Sazae-san,' the only program that is still produced using the traditional hand-drawn method," he said, adding that this trend could also be seen in last year's ¥15 billion-grossing hit "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," a hand-drawn movie produced by Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli.

"In this age of mass production, when most animation is digitized, we need to consider the implications of such data," Yamaguchi said.

"I think we need to think, philosophically, about what our users really want."

(Thanks Japan Times Online)

Fulle Circle Interviews "Hoodwinked" Director Cory Edwards

The Fulle Circle weblog has interviewed Cory Edwards, director of Hoodwinked (which he describes as "the most profitable animated film of its time") and the American re-release of Doogal ("To this day, you can say the word "Doogal" to me and I feel like I'm going to break out in a rash."), as well as the upcoming Fraggle Rock movie. Among other topics, Edwards discusses how Hoodwinked moved from a small direct-to-video animated feature to becoming a full-fledged feature film, why he's not directing the sequel, what his involvement in Doogal entailed, and how he's approaching Fraggle Rock.

How "Coraline" Will Save the Economy of Oregon

An article in the Oregonian takes a look at "the Coraline Economy" in Oregon, named for the Laika Animation Studios movie and based on the idea that "The creatives -- hanging at the local coffee shops and clubs and brewpubs, huddling in the corners and madly pounding their laptops -- will lead us back to prosperity." The claim is that a concentration of creative and artistic individuals is more important for economic recovery, citing urban planners and economists to support the idea. Or something.

Goodbye to King of the Hill

The King of the Hill crew ... on the Fox lot July 22, 2008, celebrating the 250th episode.

Yesterday afternoon I walked through KOTH's production space at Film Roman. There's a few artists, supervisors, checkers and directors wrapping things up, but mostly it's paper and artwork going into boxes as the show completes its long run.

A lot of people left last Friday. The rest of us go this week. Know of any shows anywhere that are starting up?"

So it's adios to the King ... after 13 seasons and 250+ episodes.

The atmosphere was more cheery up in Simpsons land,where the staff is a little more relaxed now that they know they have two more seasons on which to work. But ...

"The funny thing is, Gracie Films hasn't yet given us the word. Richard Raynis likes to keep people off-balance ..."

Ah, the irrepressible Mr.Raynis. Boosting employee morale wherever he goes ...

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

The Plot Sickens (1961)

Man, those guys at Famous must have really hated their wives. By popular demand, I am posting the 1961 Modern Madcap cartoon, The Plot Sickens. This is another of the Paramount’s series of dark “domestic” comedies, but unlike the others this one is pretty funny - thanks to Irv Spector’s storyboards and Eddie Lawrence’s voice overs. This one was one of several that was released to theatres, but never shown on TV… the subject matter was way above and beyond the viewers of the New Casper Cartoon Show (where most of this era’s Modern Madcaps ended up). It would’ve been a great short to play in front of Jack Lemmon’s How To Murder Your Wife.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

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