Tuesday, March 31, 2009

News - 03/31/09...

Genesis Awards Honor Bolt, Simpsons

The Humane Society of the United States has awarded Genesis Awards to Disney’s animated feature film Bolt and to an episode of The Simpsons.

The awards, now in its 23rd year, honor representations of animal protection issues in the media, reports the Los Angeles TimesThe Envelope blog.

Bolt was recognized for the film’s recognition of the issue of abandoned cats and dogs.

The Simpsons was honored for an episode titled “Apocalypse Cow” for its portrayal of 4-H club animals and factory farming.

Other awards honored the ABC series Grey’s Anatomy, The Oprah Winfrey Show and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.

MIPTV Wrap: Day One

Over 13,000 participants and 4,500 companies from 111 countries are expected to attend this year’s MIPTV market in Cannes, France this year. But if you were actually one of the people who made it to the overcast region this week, you may think that the numbers were down this year. Many of the animation industry execs I talked to today were under the impression that the impact of the dire economic climate had made a palpable impact on the business this year. But they also remain cautiously optimistic (yes, we’re using those two words again!!) that things would look up in nine months or so.

Eric Garnet, president of the 5-year-old Paris-based outfit Go-N Productions told me that he hears that a lot of buyers have slashed 40 percent of their budgets and that they are hesitant to commit to shows until 2010. He did have some good news about two of his great-looking toons. One is a 52 x 13 toon called Commander Clark, which is based on an idea from Garnet and Anne de Galard and is written by talented British writer Ian Carney (Shawn the Sheep, Frankenstein’s Cat) and directed by Norman LeBlanc (Dragon Hunter, WITCH). A co-pro with France 5 and Cartoon Network France, the preschool series combines CG-elements with 2D Flash to create a very cartoon-y world inhabited by some fresh animal/space traveling characters. The show is scheduled to debut January 2010. The studio may also have a big Franco-region hit on its hands with Lou!, a girl-skewing toon about a single mother and her 12-year-old daughter, based on a popular French comic series by Julien Neel. Edition Glenat (Titeuf), M6 and Disney Channel France are co-producing the show.

“We were pleasantly surprised when the show was selected to run in the official competition at this year’s Annecy,” says Garnet. “We think it’s going to appeal to a wide audience, although the subject (a single mom, etc.) may be a bit edgy.”

Go-N is also busy producing the second season (26 x 11) of The Large Family. Co-produced with DQ Entertainment in Hyderabad, India, and Coolabi Productions, the 2D toon is based on the series of best-selling books by Jill Murphy about a very-humanlike elephant family. First launched in 2007, airs on Cbeebies in the UK, TF1 in France and Disney Channel. The colorful preschool series is a co-production between Coolabi Productions Ltd, GO-N Productions in Paris and DQ Entertainment in Hyderabad, India. Although Garnet and his hard-working team are busy with three shows at the moment, they are also developing several new projects for the near future. “You always have to be on the look out for your next show. That’s why we’re hoping that people will be more optimistic about the economy in coming months.”

Go-N is only one of the many busy French studios creating quality toons for the global market. Founded by Marc du Pontavice in 1999, Xilam has been steadily creating original toons such as Oggie and the Cockroaches, Shuriken School and A Kind of Magic. Pontavice, who has also delivered full-length features such as Kaena: The Prophecy and last year’s Go West: A Lucky Luke Adventure, took some time to talk about his primetime, adult-skewing toon Mr. Baby. The 50 X 4 Flash-animated show centers on a Gallic version of Family Guy’s Stewie. But you can definitely expect more attitude and mature humor from this opinionated baby!

“It’s a simple concept and it’s all set in one room — the kitchen,” says Pontavice. “But our central character is a misanthropic, cynical baby who manipulates the whole family verbally. The French rarely do sitcoms, but this is quite different from anything we’ve done in the past. It will air on France 3 at 8:10 p.m., and we think it’s going to create a good buzz.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the first day. I talked to so many people about their upcoming animated slate that I have a feeling I may be dreaming of space-traveling dinosaurs and Hannah Montana clones tonight. Oh, and I got to meet Atlantya and Moonscoop’s awesome new media rodent Geronimo (at least, I met a crazy Italian guy in a giant mouse suit at the launch party of the show on Monday evening who was desperate for some parmesan cheese).

The star of the upcoming 2-D toon is a delightful mouse who is kind of an old-fashioned journalist (remember those!?) … so it’s not surprising that reporters love this very retro character. I’ll write more about the new toons on the horizon soon, but I’ll leave you with one big scoop! I ran into DIC founder, the amazing Mr. Andy Heyward in the lobby of the Majestic Hotel and he told me that he’s formed a new company called A2 that will provide children’s programming to Google and youtube. Trust Andy to always be on the cutting edge. He told me that he spend six months sailing around the world thinking hard about what he wanted to do after selling DIC to the folks at Cookie Jar. More on that and other stories fresh from the MIPTV zone tomorrow, after I catch some Zs.

DQ Opens a New Chapter in The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book is coming to TV through a co-production between DQ Entertainment and London-based AIM.

The companies are set to produce 52 11-minute episodes of an animated series plus a 60-minute TV feature.

The project is a global co-production lead by DQ, with German broadcaster ZDF and ZDF Enterprises co-production the series with a multimillion-Euro production budget.

Other partners in the series include TF-1 Broadcasting and TF-1 Enterprises in France and NBC Universal London.

The series is based on Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel and will follow the escapades of Mowgli and his friends in a fast-paced, funny and dramatic series. The Jungle Book was previously produced as a Walt Disney animated feature in 1967.

Slumdog, Family Films Come Home

Family films that include a good size portion of animated and VFX-heavy fare are sweeping onto DVD and Blu-ray this week, alongside this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire.

The Danny Boyle directed
Slumdog (Fox Searchlight, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray) is the powerhouse release of the week, giving home viewers a chance to see why it won eight Oscars and was nominated for two more.

Disney delivers a pair of Earth Day-themed animated features to DVD, with
Handy Manny: Manny’s Green Team ($19.99) and School House Rock: Earth!

Animated (Inter)Views, plus win Pinocchio on Blu-ray Disc!

Over at Animated Views, Jeremie Noyer has been keeping us up to date with all the theatrical and DVD releases by interviewing the key players behind a whole host of last week’s big titles:

Azur & Asmar: Michel Ocelot’s Quest For Tolerance - the director speaks about his latest feature and the first of his films to use CGI animation.

Bolt: One Super-Director + One Super-Voice Make One Super Rhino - with Bolt’s story supervisor Nathan Greno, and director Greno’s DVD short’s voice artist Mark Walton.

Lilo & Stitch: producer Clark Spencer on a Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride - on how the film came together back in the glory days of Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida.

Lilo & Stitch: A Little More Conversation with directors Chris Sanders and Dean De Blois - about what made their film so special as to hit a chord with audiences on its original release.

Monsters vs Aliens: Conrad Vernon vs Animated Views - one of the film’s directors (with Rob Letterman) speaks exclusively about MvA’s genesis and influences from sci-fi’s past.

Also new to the site is a chance to win the recent Pinocchio: Platinum Edition on Blu-ray Disc, plus a full review of the disc itself.

New Planet 51 poster

A new low-quality poster for Planet 51 has appeared on the web, and can be seen at LatinoReview. Planet 51, which tells the story of an American austronaut who gets stranded on an alien world, is schedualed to hit theaters on November 20th, 2009.

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells is a largely hand-drawn 2-D animated feature that is garnering a lot of good buzz from people who have seen it, such as this Variety review that calls it “absolutely luscious to behold…UPA-studio-meets-the-Dark-Ages characters with intricate, Celtic design-inspired detailing.” The 6 million Euro feature originated out of the studio Cartoon Saloon in Ireland, but is a truly global co-production with studios from Brazil to Hungary working on the film.

A couple weeks ago, the film was screened privately for artists at Disney and Pixar. Below is a post-screening Q&A that took place at Pixar with the film’s director Tomm Moore and producer Paul Young, the duo who founded Cartoon Saloon in 1999. They get a lot of praise and positive feedback from the folks at Pixar. Tomm Moore also has a blog about the film here. No American release has been set, though Secret of Kells is playing at a lot of festivals, including Annecy in June.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Oddball Sixties Disney Industrial Films

The Social Side of Health and The Fightare a couple of oddball industrial films directed by Nine Old Man Les Clark at Disney in 1969. The films are rarities which I’d never seen, which is why I’m posting them here. There’s a reason though why these haven’t appeared on any of the “Disney Treasures” DVDs. Like every other major Hollywood animation studio, Disney was not immune to the restrained film budgets of the 1960s and the results are evident, if not unintentionally amusing as well.

The Social Side of Health

The Fight

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Gorillaz DVD Sales Will Go Bananaz

Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz wasn’t the first virtual band to emerge (Alvin and the Chipmunks was), but it was perhaps the best animated (we love Metalocalypse too). And thanks to the design wizardry of Jamie Hewlett and the world-class animation by Passion Pictures, Gorillaz took the music world by storm in 2001, and sold over 7 million albums of their debut release. A third album is reportedly on the way, but so is a DVD, titled Bananaz, that features six years of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Hoping some of that covers the animation itself. The film will premiere on the web on April 20th and then it will release on DVD. Here’s a trailer:

‘Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?!’ Video Series Kicks Off

Marvel teased its new stop-motion video series last month with a Christian Bale tantrum-inspired trailer for “Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?!” The series finally kicked off today on YouTube, with a premiere episode that featured a de-powered Bobby “Iceman” Drake trying to earn a living as a talk show host.

The series features “Robot Chicken”-style, stop-motion animation of a wide variety of Marvel characters, including the ol’ “Mental Organism Designed Only for Kittens” himself, M.O.D.O.K. (Yeah, yeah — I know he was designed for “Killing”… but I don’t care.) You can watch the full episode below.

Overseas American Animated Feature

From time to time we discuss "Is It All Going to India?".

I keep saying no, it isn't. But of course, I'm no more a soothsayer than anybody else. I take what knowledge I have and make educated guesses.

Like any guesses, they could be wrong.

But since a commenter offered the prognostication that Southern California animation was going to go away in the next several years, let me tee up -- again -- the reasons why it won't ...

It's not just a matter of cost, you see. It's also a matter of producing a feature that will make lots of money at the box office. Thus far, that means "Do it stateside," because it does no good to create something for $30 million if all it makes if $40 mill. Much better to spend more money and grab at those hundred million grosses.

The reason that so much of the animation industry lives in California is: cartoon studios are here developing talent, which causes more studios to spring up, the better to partake of that talent, which causes more talent to grow here ...

And so on.

This is, after all, about talent that creates value, about critical mass and gravitational pull. Obviously that pull is tested all the time. In fact, it's being tested now. Currently there are two animated features scheduled for American releases that are being (mostly) produced overseas. One is Astro Boy from Imagi. The other is Despicable Me from Chris Meledandri's new studio Ilumination Entertainment, bankrolled by GE/Universal.

Now here's the nitty gritty: If Astro Boy hits a three of four bagger box office-wise, heads might look up in Hollywood's front offices, and small light bulbs might wink on. But it will take a sizable hit to make the wattage power up to where attention starts to be seriously paid.

Despicable Me is getting produced in France by Mac Guff Ligne. Why? Mac Guff has talent, and France has tax rebates. As Meledandri explains:

"I came to France because of the extraordinary talent of French artists working in animation," says Meledandri. "They have one of the very best animation schools in the world, Gobelins, as well as a great cultural tradition of animation."

But of course, there is also that tax thing:

... [T]hanks to the 20% tax rebate plan approved by the French parliament in December, foreign CG and toon producers doing business with Gallic houses will be able to seek tax breaks worth up to €4 million.

My best estimate is that both AB and DM will do respectably at the world box office. But neither will do the kind of jaw-dropping numbers that cause the Masters of the Cinema Universe to put down their I-phones and rejigger their business models in any large and meaningful way.

Naturally, I could be in error here, but it takes a long time to turn an ocean liner around. So too conventional wisdom about animation business practices. And it's going to take more than a brace of mega-hits from outside the U.S. to bring sizable change. Even those numbers might not be enough.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

The Oncoming Cavalcade of Cartoons

Sitting in a movie theater watching the usual half hour of trailers, you get the idea that there are a poopload of animated features coming soon to your local AMC, because there are a whole lot of animated trailers touting them.

Ten years back, the Mainstream Media got it into its large, dim head that the Second Golden Age of animated features happened during the decade that straddled the late 1980s through the bulk of the 1990s. Disney, Bluth, DreamWorks Animation, Turner, Warner Bros., all of them were turning out bright, hand-drawn cartoons of the ninety minute variety.

But as impressive as it all seemed at the time, the numerical output and quality is but small potatoes compared to the animated features coming at us in the soon-to-be future ...

Let's do a little inventorying, shall we? First, the olden days, and the tally of animated feature created in the U.S. of A. when Franklin Roosevelt ruled with a benevolent hand.

The first "Golden Age of Animation," -- 1937-1942 --saw exactly six full-length animated features made. (I'm not counting the two Fleischer P0peye featurettes, nor Fantasia or The Reluctant Dragon, since those were compilation features.) Here's the list:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Gulliver's Travels
Mr. Bug Goes to Town

And that's it. A paltry half-dozen, after which the production of same stopped dead for twelve-plus years, until Cinderella rolled into neighborhood Bijous during the age of Milton Berle. Thereafter, Uncle Walt pretty much had the feature playground to himself for the next few decades because nobody else was making them. (Oh sure, there were occasional pretenders to the throne like Yellow Submarine and the Magoo Arabian Nights feature, but by and large it was Disney, Disney, Disney.)

Then in the 1980s, Don Bluth decamped from the House of Mouse and began producing a long string of animated features on his own, and Katzenberg/Eisner arrived at Disney where they ended up revitalizing the basic hand-drawn program. After that, of course, there was the frenetic nineties where huge grosses for the newer Disney product had everyone and his Aunt Tilly opening animation studios in their own quest for big pots of gold.

Which brings us to the 21st century ... and now. And take a look at the animated extravaganzas that are in theaters as I write ... or will be over the next thirty-three months:

Monsters Vs, Aliens
The Battle for Terra
Astro Boy*
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
The Princess and the Frog
How to Train Your Dragon
Despicable Me*
Shrek Goes Fourth
Ice Age 3
Toy Story 3
Master Mind
Kung Fu Panda 2
Cars 2
Crood Awakening
Green Eggs and Ham
The Bear and the Bow

If I'm adding correctly, that's nineteen features over thirty-three months, the seventeen without asterisks produced wholly in Aux Etats Unis. (No doubt I've left a few specimens out, but this is a damn blog post, not an article for the Atlantic Monthly.)

And if you include the features in release between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011, the total bumps up to include Bolt and the French feature The Tale of Despereaux. A grand total of twenty-one.

Now. Compare that number to the first dozen years of cartoon features, when a big six got made. Another wrinkle to that first Golden Era? Way more live-action features were being ground out by Hollywood then than get made today. Way more.

Which makes the current rate of output even more amazing, at least to me.

So if you want to talk about Golden Ages for longish cartoons, in a commercial sense there is one that towers over the rest, and we happen to be living in it.

Add On: Then there's Christmas Carol from Disney/ Image Movers Digital at Christmas.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Correcting Myths

Down below, there is a snark-fest going on about c.g. animators versus graphite animators. Who's better? Who's more skilled? Who deserves more respect? ... and so on.

Me, I think both sets of artists are talented, and should get our praise and our thanks for all the entertainment they've provided us. But that's not what I want to get into here. Rather, it's observations like these:

…I agree about CG animators being mostly button-pushers compared to the artistry of 2D animators like the Nine Old Men …

...I think long gone are the days when animators were considered "super stars" or even "actors". With schools pumping out animators at a record pace...animators are becoming acknowledged as little more than button-pushers by the big studios. …

... 2D had many artists who produced the girth of the animation with their single hand. They got higher salaries because they could not be so easily replaced ....

Judging from the above comments, people seem to think that:

A) Disney's vaunted "Nine Old Men" were animation stars who made lots of money, and

B) Artists who drew hand-drawn animation earned bigger salaries than others in the field.

Actually, no.

Woolie Reitherman, who climbed to the summit of the Disney empire running the company's feature animation department, told me:

"I didn't get rich from the salary they paid me around here. It was never very much. The reason I'm well off is because of the stock options. It's the reason all of us are doing better than all right."

A veteran Disney layout artist ... who worked at the studio for three and a half decades ... said to me at one of TAG's award banquets honoring fifty-year veterans:

"Animation is the part of the movie business where you work fifty years because you have to ..."

My father, a Disney background artist for decades, was once screamed at by a talented but disgruntled short-timer on his way out the door:

"I don't know what's wrong with you people! You work here year after year, and for next to nothing! Why do you put up with it?!"

Dear old Dad, at the time of his death, was making $500 per week. After thirty-six years of employment.

Please don't misunderstand me. Nobody was chained to their desks at Disney. Nobody slept under their desks (at least, not in the modern era). The place was considered the "country club" of animation studios, with ball fields, ping-pong tables, a pleasant commissary, and a work schedule that (usually) wasn't soul-crushing.

But high pay? It wasn't part of the equation.

And while many Disney animators were known inside the profession, nobody on the far side of Monrovia knew who they were. It was only in later years that wider recognition arrived.

There was really only one ten-year span where animators' fame and salaries grew geometrically, and that was the 1990s. For one brief shining and unsustainable moment, animators made fairly ginormous salaries and got their names and pictures in glossy magazines. But it didn't last. Animated features didn't make the mountains of money the conglomerates expected, and after a little while supply of talent caught up to demand.

At which point, weekly paychecks fell back to earth.

So let's stop hallucinating over wage levels that never were. With the exception of the nineties, animation salaries have never been exorbitant. Even for the Nine Old Men.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Warner Wanting WONDER WOMAN Once More?

IESB.net says that the frustrating 'Wonder Woman' feature film project may gaining momentum again. Sources who are said to be inside of the Warner Bros. camp claim that the hunt is on for a new director to sheherd the Amazon Warrior Princess to the big screen.

'Wonder Woman' is, perhaps, the last truly iconic superhero yet to be adapted to the big screen in the modern age of cinema. For the almost 12 years that I've been reporting on the Comics2Film front, a movie version of this character has been discussed, written, cast, re-written, handed from one producer to another, and from one director to another. For some reason Diana Prince as proven an elusive character to capture on the big screen.

The IESB implies, and we heartily agree, that the new heat on 'Wonder Woman' likely owes a huge debt to the terrific animated movie that just came out on DVD. That film did an amazing job of striking the balance of humor, action and character, while bringing the comic and mythic underpinnings into the modern world in a completely credible way.

Come on, Joel Silver. Come on, Warner Bros. Let's see a great 'Wonder Woman' movie!

(Thanks Mania)

Angel star Andy Hallett dies of heart failure

Andy Hallett as Lorne (with Angel co-star Amy Acker) at The WB's Television Critics' Association party in January 2004

Andy Hallett, who starred as Lorne ("the Host") on the TV series Angel, died of heart failure last night at age 33, his longtime agent and friend Pat Brady told E! Online.

Hallett, who was a fan favorite, died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles after a five-year battle with heart disease, with his father Dave Hallett by his side, the site reported.

Andy Hallett

A Massachusetts native, Hallett appeared in more than 70 episodes of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff series between 2000 and 2004. The accomplished actor was also a musician and sang two songs ("Lady Marmalade" and "It's Not Easy Being Green") on the Angel: Live Fast, Die Never soundtrack, released in 2005.

Hallett's green demon character assisted Angel (David Boreanaz) and his team in the investigation of underworld mysteries while serving as the host and headliner at a demon bar.

Hallett had spent his post-Angel years working on his music career, playing shows around the country. He had been admitted to the hospital three or four times in the past few years for his heart condition, according to Brady.

A private funeral service will be held for family and close friends in Cape Cod, most likely over this weekend.

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