Thursday, April 23, 2009

News - 04/23/09...

Up receives PG rating

Pixar’s forthcoming feature Up has received a PG rating by Motion Picture Association of America. The official Up website displays the PG rating for “Some Peril and Action.” Up is the second Pixar film after The Incredibles to receive the PG rating.

Ex-claymation artist a finalist for Pulitzer Prize

Former clay animator Matt Wuerker, now a cartoonist with the Washington, D.C.-based political journalism organization Politico, is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for editorial cartooning, Columbia University announced Monday.

A former employee of Will Vinton Studios, Wuerker was cited for his "engaging mix of art and ideas, resulting in cleverly conceived cartoons that persuade rather than rant and that sometimes use animation to widen their impact."

Also nominated as a finalist was Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press for his "compelling collection of print and animated cartoons that blend the great traditions of the craft with new online possibilities."

The winner of the Pulitzer -- along with $10,000 -- was Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune for his "agile use of a classic style to produce wide ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor."

Wuerker provided additional claymation for the 1986 movie The Adventures Of Mark Twain, Will Vinton's first feature film. He also animated Vinton's award-winning 1980 short films Dinosaur and A Christmas Gift.

"My first job out of college (Lewis and Clark College Class of '79) was with Will Vinton's clay animation studio in Portland, Oregon, where we had a great time animating little clay figures in the shop that would later become famous for the California Raisins," Wuerker recalled on the Cartoonist Group's Web site.

"I went back to animation [in the mid-1980s] traveling back up to Portland to work with a filmmaker friend, Jim Blashfield, in the new world of music videos. I worked as an animator and designer on a number of Jim's videos, including ones for Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and even Michael Jackson," Wuerker continued.

"One of the more surreal moments of my life came when I found myself on a soundstage in Los Angeles where we were shooting some live action of Michael Jackson dancing against a big blue screen that would be used in animation later. My friend Jim couldn't make it that day, so I was filling in the director's chair, and it was up to me to tell Mr. Jackson if his dance moves were going to be acceptable. So I say to him, 'Michael, this sliding your feet on the floor is kind of cool, but have you thought about doing it backwards. Like this...,'" he claimed.

"One of the most distinctive journalistic talents at Politico is not a reporter or editor or photographer -- though his work sometimes does more than anyone's to penetrate to the essential truth of the stories we cover," said Politico editor-in-chief John F. Harris. "We think Matt Wuerker is one of the most talented political cartoonists working today. So we are thrilled that the Pulitzer Prize Board recognized his talent by naming him as a finalist for this year's prize."

Wuerker's Op Ed illustrations are syndicated by the Tribune Syndicate and also by He is also a proud member of Sarah Thaves' Cartoonist Group.

His work has been published widely in publications that range from monthlies such as Funny Times, The Nation, The American Prospect and Z Magazine to daily newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor -- to name a few. He's also "Staff Artiste" for Jim Hightower's "Lowdown."

Two collections of his cartoons have been published: Standing Tall in Deep Doo Doo, A Cartoon Chronicle of the Bush Quayle Years (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1991) and Meanwhile in Other News... A Graphic Look at Politics in the Empire of Money, Sex and Scandal (Common Courage Press 1998). He also co-authored The Madness of King George (Common Courage Press, 2003).

Thompson's work is syndicated to more than 400 publications via Copley News Service. Thompson, who draws for USA Today on a regular basis, has had his work reprinted in such publications as Time, Newsweek, Forbes, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. In addition, his cartoons have been featured on CNN, C-SPAN, the CBS Evening News, PBS, the Today show and Fox News Network.

Thompson began his career as contributing cartoonist for the Milwaukee Journal and later worked as staff cartoonist for the St. Louis Sun and the Copley Illinois newspapers before joining the Free Press in November 1998. His work has won numerous awards.

Artist's conception of artist: Self-portrait of Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker.

Celebrate 87 years of Disney animation in Kansas City!

Thank You Walt Disney, Inc is honoring the 87th anniversary of Walt Disney opening his first animation studio in Kansas City, MO. Located on 31st and Forest; this humble brick building was home to Disney’s Laugh-O-Gram studios, which produced cartoon shorts for local theaters. It was here that Disney developed his “Alice” shorts that combined live action with animation. These shorts led to a contract with a national distributor and were Disney’s ticket out to Hollywood. It was also in this building that Disney found himself sharing his lunch with a little mouse that he tamed as a pet. This little friend later became the world famous Mickey Mouse!

To honor this piece of Kansas City, Disney and Hollywood history, TYWD is announcing that May 2009 will be it’s first annual Disney Month in Kansas City. This year’s celebration will focus on the restoration of the building, which has been saved from demolition and stabilized.

*May 2nd at the Laugh-O-Gram building TYWD will be hosting a “painting party” where local artists will decorate the building with Disney characters. There will also be volunteers to clean and landscape around the building

*May 30th, TYWD will host Virginia Davis, the original star of Disney’s “Alice” shorts at an event to benefit TYWD. There will be a meet and greet with Ms. Davis, a presentation on the history and future of the Laugh-O-Gram building, and a live animation art auction.

Thank You Walt Disney, Inc. is a not for profit organization dedicated to preserving the Laugh-O-Gram building in Kansas City.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" returns to No. 1 spot in UK

DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens" has taken its revenge, coming back to the top spot in the United Kingdom and Ireland box office in its third weekend.

Debuting at No. 1 two weeks ago, Monsters vs. Aliens fell last week to second place with the arrival of Vin Diesel thriller Fast and Furious.

British trade publication Screen International says that the cartoon made £2 million ($2.9 million U.S.) this past weekend, just slightly ahead of Fast and Furious at £1.9 million ($2.8 million).

Ticket sales for the DreamWorks film exceeded its rival by £128,000 ($188,000). Monsters vs. Aliens was screened in 517 British locations.

Featuring the voices of Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland and Seth Rogan, Monsters vs. Aliens had this year's largest opening weekend so far in North America. It's about a monster gang drafted to fight an invasion of alien robots.

Over the weekend, Monsters vs. Aliens, which collected $17.6 million from 6,371 theatres in 49 countries abroad, lifting its international gross to $126 million. It's made $162.7 million in North America.

According to distributor Paramount, 3-D venues for Monsters in Britain are collecting an average of $9,000 per screen, compared with $3,000 for conventional showings.

In its second weekend in France, Hayao Miyazaki's animated family adventure Ponyo on the Cliff brought in $1.2 million from 147 theatres for an accumulated gross of $3.1 million. It's being distributed in France by Disney.

Call for Entries: Too Art for TV

Too Art for TV, the annual art show exhibiting the fine art work of New York’s animation community, is gearing up for its fourth edition. The application deadline for this year’s show is April 30. The show is open to anybody who has worked in the animation industry, and while the focus remains on artists in New York City, they are also open to entries from animation artists outside of the city. Full entry details are available on the Too Art for TV website.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Upcoming Disney Books

I got a peek at the latest Disney Book Group catalog, prepared for this week’s London Book Fair. There are plenty of things coming up this fall of interest to our readers, for example:

THE PIXAR TREASURES by Tim Hauser (similar to The Disney Treasures with all sorts of removable “keepsakes”) - publication date September 2009.

THE MAKING OF DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Diane Landau (based on the Zemeckis motion capture film) - publication date September 2009

SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM DISNEY by Jeff Kurtti (a collection of vintage studio Christmas cards) - publication date September 2009

SOUTH OF THE BORDER WITH DISNEY by J.B. Kaufman (major history of Disney’s South American films) - publication date October 2009

WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS ARCHIVE SERIES: ANIMATION, Intro by John Lasseter - publication date October 2009

WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING - a sequel to a previous Imagineering book, with a Forward by Bob Iger Intro by John Lasseter - publication date November 2009

WALT DISNEY’S PETER PAN by Dave Barry (yes that Dave Barry) and Ridley Pearson, Illustrated by Mary Blair - publication date September 2009

I was also intrigued by the catalog’s listing of two children’s books based on upcoming shorts: Pixar’s Partly Cloudy and Disney’s Prep & Landing. Click thumbnails below to see the catalog pages about these two unusual projects.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

"He's here to save the nation. So stay tuned to this station. If not, we'll be unemployed ..."

Nancy Stadler chats with Paul Rugg about "Freakazoid!," that Daytime Emmy Award-winning Kids' WB series which recently became available on DVD

Paul Rugg has had a hand in many popular animated television series. He’s written for and/or done voice work for “Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Dave the Barbarian” and “Histeria!” to name just a few.

But were you to ask this three-time Emmy Award-winner what his favorite TV show was, that would probably be “Freakazoid!” The short lived Warner Brothers Television Animation production that Rugg not only wrote for, but also voiced the title character on.

“I have a real soft spot in my heart for ‘Freakazoid!’,” Rugg remembered. “We had so much freedom back then. We didn’t have to worry about any corporate interference. Our only concern was with making a really funny show.”

Paul Rugg

When I spoke with Paul at last year’s Comic-Con International, he recalled that one of the main reasons the “Freakazoid!” production team enjoyed so much freedom was that this particular WBTA project was a Steven Spielberg show.

“Steven was the one who initially came up with this concept for a jokey super hero show,” Paul explained. “Bruce Timm & Paul Dini then did the first pass on the project. Tom Ruegger came in next and wrote lots of short comedy bits for the show. Then John McCann and I came in and fleshed the concept out into … Well, whatever it was that ‘Freakazoid!’ eventually became.”

When this new animated series premiered on the Kids’ WB in September of 1995, no one really knew what to make of “Freakazoid!” Which supposedly followed the adventures of Dexter Douglas, nerd computer ace. Who (according to the show’s theme song)...

Copyright Warner Bros. Television Animation. All Rights Reserved

… went surfing on the internet
And was zapped to cyberspace

He turned into the Freakazoid
He's strong and super-quick
He drives the villains crazy
'Cause he's a lunatic

But as goofy as this show’s backstory may have been, that was nothing compared to how crazy the “Freakazoid!” show itself would eventually become. There’d be episodes where the program’s plot would stop dead in its tracks just so Cosgrove the cop (voiced by Edward Asner) & Freakazoid could then go watch a bear ride a motorcycle.

Copyright Warner Brs. Television Animation. All Rights Reserved

So was “Freakazoid!” random? Absolutely. But this Kids’ WB show could also be riotously funny. Like that episode where Freakazoid suddenly stopped tormenting Dexter’s bully of an older brother, Duncan, so that this blue-faced freak could then streak halfway ‘round the globe. To Tibet, to be exact. Where Freakazoid could then confront this priest who was working in his monastery’s tranquility rock garden. Begging him to “ … stop with that infernal racking!? You’re driving me crazy! Jeeze!”

And then when you factor in “Freakazoid!” ‘s spectacular vocal cast (which included Ricardo Montalban, Mark Hamill, Jonathan Harris, Bebe Neuwirth, Stan Freberg and Tim Curry) plus those great production values that Warner Brothers Television Animation brought to the table (i.e. a full orchestra was used to record the score of every episode) … This was clearly a series that Kids’ WB & Steven Spielberg expected a lot from.

And yet – given everything that was riding on “Freakazoid!” – Rugg & McCann never felt any pressure from above to produce a hit. All that Jean McCurdy – the then-head of Warners Bros. Television Animation -- asked was a funny show that could maybe win a few Emmys. And that’s what Paul & John tried to deliver.

Copyright Warner Bros. Television Animation. All Rights Reserved

“That was the only rule on ‘Freakazoid!,’ Rugg continued. “ ‘Is it funny?’ Because if something was funny, then it stayed in the show. The whole ethos of ‘Freakazoid!’ was that this series wasn’t about the story, but – rather -- about the telling. And how many silly things you could add in along the way.”

So with all this talent behind it, why was “Freakazoid!” then such a short-lived show? Paul thinks that there were a couple of factors that ultimately contributed to this Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated series getting canceled. First & foremost, the Kids’ WB kept changing “Freakazoid!” ‘s timeslot. Then this show missed its target audience and wound up becoming a cult favorite with older viewers.

“Sure, there were kids who got ‘Freakazoid’ back then, who got what we were trying to do,” Rugg said. “But the show was so new and so different, it never really caught on with the audience that Kids’ WB was actually aiming for. Which is why it’s so great now to come to shows like Comic-Con and talk with people who say that ‘Freakazoid!’ was their favorite show when they were a kid. Finally see these characters embraced.”

Copyright The Jim Henson Company. All Rights Reserved

Ever since
wrapped production back in 1996, Paul has become a highly sought-after writer & performer in the industry. Most recently, he’s written pilots for Aardman & Nickelodeon as well as doing improv with that talented troop of puppeteers that appears in the Jim Henson Company’s “Puppet Up!” Which is presented monthly at Hollywood’s Avalon Theater.

But if Paul had his druthers, he’d get back into the
“Freakazoid!” business. Which – in this age of “Family Guy” & “Futurama” actually going back into production after the DVDs for these cancelled animated series sold so many units – is not nearly as far-fetched as you might think. Especially when you consider that the first "Freakazoid!"
DVD set – which was released late last July – remained in Amazon’s top ten for family-friendly releases, boxed sets and TV animation for weeks at a time.

“John McCann and I actually have some fun ideas for ‘Freakazoid!’ direct-to-videos,” Rugg said. “Which is why we’re hoping that the DVDs sell well enough so that we can then pitch these ideas to Warners.”

Copyright 2009 Warner Home Video. All Rights Reserved

So if you’d like to make Paul Rugg and Dexter Douglas’ dream come true (“Why Dexter Douglas?,” you ask. Let’s remember that the “Freakazoid!” theme song did feature that “ … hopes to make a movie deal” line), you may want to go out and buy a couple of copies of the “Freakazoid!: Season 2” DVD set. Which just hit store shelves yesterday.

"Ni Hao, Kai-lan" Renewed for Second Season to Debut on May 11, 2009

Nickelodeon has renewed its pre-school series Ni Hao, Kai-lan for a second season of 20 half-hour episodes, which will begin on May 11, 2009. The series is a variation on the Dora the Explorer formula, centering on a young girl Kai-lan and her adventures with her animal friends and grandfather, teaching life-lessons for pre-schoolers and simple Chinese words and phrases.

SpongeBob's "To SquarePants or Not to SquarePants" Coming to DVD and Marathon reports that Paramount and Nickelodeon will distribute "To SquarePants or Not to SquarePants," in which SpongeBob goes in search for a new pair of pants. The new episode will air on Nickelodeon as part of a 100 episode marathon airing July 17th-19th, 2009.

The DVD will feature the episode as well as 7 new-to-DVD episodes and will hit stores on July 21st.

Shout! Factory Releases Details on "Transformers: Complete First Season" DVD Set

Following earlier reports, Shout! Factory has announced The Transformers: The Complete First Season 25th Anniversary DVD set, which will re-release the classic 1980's TV cartoon that introduced Optimus Prime, Megatron, and the rest of the robots in disguise. The 3 DVD set will be released on June 16, 2009, and will contain more than 38 hours of content, including a restored video and soundtrack, a featurette on the origins of the Transformers TV show, a printable script, and a rare PSA. Suggested retail price is $29.99.

THE TRANSFORMERS: The Complete First Season 25th Anniversary Edition

Four million years after crash-landing on an unfamiliar planet, sentient robots with the ability to disguise themselves as common vehicles awaken on present-day Earth. Engaged in a crucial race to find a new energy source for their home planet of Cybertron, Optimus Prime and the heroic Autobots must defend the innocent people of Earth against their archnemeses, Megatron and the power-hungry Decepticons.

Bonus Features Include:
Restored To The Original Broadcast Versions With A New Stereo Soundtrack Created From The Original Audio
Triple Changer: From Toy To Comic To Screen – The Origins Of The Transformers
A Printable Script
Rare PSA

Technical Information
Street Date: June 16, 2009
Packaging: The 3 DVDs are collected in thin packs with a deluxe foil board sleeve with embossed accents
Rating: Not Rated
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
DVD Selection Number:
Running Time: approx. 360 min.
Discs: 3
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Technical Info: English, Stereo.

One Stuck Duck’s “Test”

On Friday, April 17, One Stuck Duck Productions held a big bash for the premiere of their new music video Test for the Subterraneans. It was a packed house and the band was there to perform a live show. I must say this video’s pretty darn cool. The animation is amazing and a lot of fun to watch. I thought for sure it was done in Maya, but turns out the majority’s done in After Effects. Those One Stuck peeps sure are talented. The music video features a huge brawl in the streets of New York City as two giant robots fight over… ice cream? I do love me some ice cream! The backgrounds are mostly live action as are the the two members of the band controlling the robots. The use of color the design of the robots are really interesting as well. You can watch the video here:

(Thanks asifaeast)

Gundam Unicorn Anime Announced

The popular light novel series Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn – part of the ongoing Gundam universe — is being animated for a winter 2009 release.

The project, titled simply Gundam Unicorn, was revealed by an advertisement in the new issue of Gundam Ace magazine. The ad, however, doesn’t reveal whether the anime project will be a movie, original video animation or series.

The project will be directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi and written by Yasuyuki Muto.

Alioscopy, Autodesk Bring 3-D Workflow to NAB

Alioscopy USA, a maker of 3-D visualization technology, announced at NAB it is working with Autodesk, demonstrating how its 3-D auto-stereoscopic workflow works with its ally’s 3ds Max and Toxik software applications.

Alioscopy is a company specializing in glasses-free auto-stereoscopic 3-D display technology, and is using the alliance to build a community of digital artists who can master content creation for playback on its LCD displays. Those displays are fitted with a proprietary 3-D lenticular lens that lets audiences see 3-D without special glasses.

The company plans future support for Autodesk’s Maya and Softimage packages.

“The association between Autodesk and Alioscopy products will introduce 3D artists and compositors to a growing creative community, and open up business-to-business (B2B) opportunities in new markets to provide attention-getting, immersive 3D—without glasses—where audiences almost feel what they are seeing,” said Philippe Roche, CEO and President of Alioscopy USA.

iTunes Gets its Hands on Thumb Wrestling Federation

The Thumb Wrestling Federation can now fit in the palm of your hand.

The popular Cartoon Network short-form series created and produced by the New York-based Animation Collective is the latest animated content to make its way into the Apple iTunes Store.

Episodes from the third season, currently airing as part of CN’s Saturday Morning “Crush Zone” block, will be made available shortly after their premiere. The first and second seasons of the show will become available in late May.

Episodes of the series also are available for download via the Xbox Live services.

Disney Leads Top Licensors List

Disney Consumer Products topped a showbiz and animation-heavy list of the top-ten licensors of 2008, according to License! Global magazine.

The company success — $30 billion in sales — came from brands such as Disney Fairies, Disney Princesses, Pixar’s Cars, Hannah Montana and High School Musical.

Warner Bros. Consumer Products scored $6 billion in sales thanks in part to the success of
The Dark Knight to third place. Batman got plenty of help from other DC Comics properties such as Wonder Woman and classic animated fare including Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes and the live-action Harry Potter films.

Marvel Entertainment landed in fourth place with $5.8 billion in sales, buoyed by the success of
Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Super Hero Squad and X-Men. Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products had $5.5 billion in sales, finishing the year in fifth place on the strength of animated properties Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants

Next Animated Feature Into the Marketplace

It's not Up, but this one:

Battle For Terra has something to do with the remains of the human race threatening to wipe out the inhabitants of Terra by colonizing the planet.

WALL-E did well for Pixar, grossing $223 million, and Disney’s Lilo & Stitch pulled in $145 million, but those films had brand recognition in the Pixar and Disney names. Terra has Lionsgate. If you’re looking for films involving a serial killer forcing you to self-mutilate in order to save your life, Lionsgate is the go-to distributor. For an agenda laden sci-fi epic, you’d better get a more trusted name in animation ...

Terra has an interesting pedigree> A c.g.i. feature produced in L.A. over two-plus years, it toured various film festivals, and was ultimatelyh picked up for distribution by Lionsgate. And like several other animated features in recent times, got itself retrofitted with glorious 3-D.

I have no idea how Battle for Terra will perform in the marketplace. The one thing I know is, the film is being released between DreamWorks Animation juggernaut Monsters Vs. Aliens and Pixar's behemoth Up.

But we'll shortly find out how it performs, since the feature rolls out on May 1st.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

A Few Black-and-White Shoots Spring From a Frosty Marketplace

A dollop of good news:

In just a few weeks, the animated "Penguins of Madagascar" has claimed a royal perch at Viacom's Nickelodeon, the cable network famous for "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "iCarly." ...

We knew it was going to be a hit; we didn't know it was going to be quite this big a hit," said Brown Johnson, Nickelodeon's president of animation ...

Nobody working in television animation has to be told that the business has been depressed for awhile. Studios that ordinarily employed a hundred artists or more have lately fielded half that.

But in the last few months, formerly moribound studios have started to come back to life. Warners now has three series and DVD features percolating. The fact that Nickelodeon has a sizable Burbank crew working on the penguin franchise, including board artists, designers, and c.g. staff can only help improve the health of the L.A. animation business.

When a patient is sick, you're always glad when he gets better.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Big Boi Animation by Puny - King Henry

Big Boi, one of half of the hip hop duo Outkast, is getting set to release his overdue solo album Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son Of Chico Dusty. While we wait for the official release, here’s a taste of a comedy track found on the album, set against animation by Puny Entertainment. This is Big Boi Presents: King Henry. [NSFW - language]

M. Kahl

(Milt by Milt. That guy on the left? He's copyrighted by the Disney Co.)

The L.A. Times notes that animator Milt Kahl's centennial is being celebrated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

... [A]mong the veteran Disney animators, Kahl was considered the most accomplished and influential. Characters he brought to life included the animals in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, Peter in Peter Pan, Tramp in Lady and the Tramp and the villainous Madame Medusa in his last film for Disney, The Rescuers. ...

Uh. I think maybe Frank Thomas would have an issue over that "most accomplished" part.

Milt quit Disney before I got there, but I did have a few lunches with him. In retirement, he didn't come off as the fierce fire-breather that studio veterans had described to me, but a guy who was okay with moving on to the next phase of his life and enjoying San Francisco.

And he could also be admiring of other people's drawing skills. When he was down from San Francisco doing character designs for The Black Cauldron, I walked with him when he looked at drawings hanging in the caricature show hanging in the studio library. He came to one of Dan Haskett's drawing, straightened up and said:

"Jesus Christ! This is great! Who the hell drew this?!"

I told him it was a young animator at the studio. Milt said: "Well, he draws like a son of a bitch."

Besides being a tyro animator (and ... okay ... a little crusty), Milt was an appreciator of talent.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Talking Toons in Baton Rouge -
A Report from Red Stick Animation Festival

The beautiful port town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is hosting the fifth edition of the eclectic, entertaining and all-around useful Red Stick International Animation Festival this week (April 22-25). Under the direction of Stacey Simmons, associate director for ecocnomic development at LSU Center for Computation and Technology, the fest has grown remarkably in the past few years.

“Our state and city have long been known for good food and music, but we wanted to create a festival that showcased the combination of lucrative tax incentives, talented workforce, strong partnership with universities and innovate research underway that create exciting economic development opportunities in our capital city,” says Simmons. “Attendance at the event has increased each year, and this year, we were pleased to receive a record-breaking number of entries to our Best of the Fest competition—421 films from 45 countries. Through Red Stick, Baton Rouge is becoming recognized as an up-and-coming market for this exciting and innovative field.”

This year, in addition to enjoying the wonderful local Creole food, crawfish expeditions and riverboat jaunts, animation fans can take advantage of a wide selection of screenings, informative panels on the state of the industry, workshops, digital technology updates, portfolio reviews by Disney and Electronic Arts and one-on-one pitch sessions to industry executives. How to integrate traditional and digital animation; analyzing the biology of Bolt, how to draw dinosaurs, creating the perfect pitch, mastering visual effects with 3ds Max, a look at the digital industry in Louisiana, the art of guerilla animation, video game development, and a preview talk about the making of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog are all part of the this year’s jam-packed workshops and lectures.

Screenings of animated features such as Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, Waltz with Bashir, Persepolis, Bolt, WALL•E and Voices in the Dark are also part of the lineup. Comet Entertainment and Somuga’s new animated feature Around the World…for Free will also be having its world premiere here at the Manship Theater of the Shaw Center on Saturday evening.

First Session Highlight

I was lucky to catch two of the first-day panels at Red Stick on Wednesday. The morning session on “New Business Models” was moderated by festival director Stacey Simmons and featured Leah Hoyer, director of current programming at Disney Channel, Erik Koland, manager of business development at Vuze and Catherine Branscome, founder of Branscome Intl. During the informative hour, the panelists discussed the ins and outs of finding the right animated properties today and how the availability of independently made content on the web has increased the chances of new talent to break into the market.

“In the early days when I began at Disney Channel, we used to rarely take pitches from people who weren’t established writers or animators,” said Hoyer. “Today, we look at popular acts at comedy clubs, comic-books, children’s books, art galleries, and of course, the web to find up and coming talent. When a series has a viral buzz, it’s like you have a build-in test market out there, and you can easily tap into what audiences want to see out there.”

Koland sited shows such as Sci Fi Channel’s Sanctuary and Afterworld as perfect examples of properties that started out on the web by indie outfits that became hugely successful with the 18-35 male audience, which is courted by Vuze. “People are still waiting to get the right answer for monetizing the web, but new models are popping up all the time,” he pointed out. “We see indie content creators taking incredible risks. The less you have to worry about digital rights management, the more eyeballs you can get on your properties.”

Entertainment industry sales veteran Branscome also pointed out that because of this democratization of content, smaller outfits have a better shot of getting their work seen if the have original ideas that strike a chord with audiences. “I sell a collection of shorts by animator Bill Plympton around the world,” she said, “and 25 years ago, when he created his first short, the only place you could see his work was in festivals. He’s an amazing self-marketer, he goes from festival to festival—and there’s a huge viral aspect about his world, because no matter where I go, I can mention his name, and if you know anything about animation, you instantly recognize it.”

Panelists then went on to offer their take on how to pitch to an industry development exec or buyer. “For a while, everyone wanted to get the next SpongeBob,” said Hoyer. “Right now because of the popularity of Hannah Montana, Camp Rock, High School Musical, everyone is pitching shows about these four kids in a band who solve mysteries on the side. I don’t want to see any more shows about kids who want to be famous! If you’re new, the best thing you can do is bring something that is very different—whether it has a unique art style or a main character that’s very fresh, or it has a very special dynamic.” She added that because Disney has a famous wholesome family image, many of the pitches tend to be too soft. “It’s about entertainment…don’t be afraid to push the envelope—we’d much rather have something that has too much edge.”

Brancsome also emphasized the importance of being able to wrap your pitch in two minutes. “Everybody is busy and nobody has time to show you how it’s done, so it is important for you to be able to really articulate your idea in a few minutes. Also, whatever you show them, make sure it’s perfect. The bar has been eally raised.”

Koland echoed her suggestion and explained that because Vuze is a High-def channel, animated content done in HD really makes a big impact on him. “In a few years time, everyone will have High-Def content online, and you’ll be ahead of the curve if you spend a few more hours and create your content in High Def.”

Another point raised by the panelists was that once you have a meeting with a decision-maker, it’s important to sell yourself along with your project. “There have been times when I came out of a meeting completely dazzled by a person’s energy and personality,” noted Hoyer. “But after a few hours, I thought, ‘Wow, that wasn’t such a great concept. But even if the project doesn’t go, you will always remember that person so when something else comes along, you can call that person and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got something else for you.’ Once you option a pitch, you are optioning the idea and the talent who’ll be executing it. SO it’s important for you to show us what you can do. If you’re a writer and don’t have good art, don’t worry. This is Disney, we’ll find a good artist for your show!”

When asked about the worst pitch she’d ever received, Hoyer responded, “It was a show about a cross-dressing butcher!” without missing a beat.

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Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam reads for Thor

Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam confirmed to IGN that he has screen-tested for the title role in Kenneth Branagh's upcoming Thor.

Hunnam told the site that he has only shot one screen test so far. Asked if it involved running around with a helmet and a hammer, he replied with a smile, "Something like that."

Hunnam added that he believes that since Marvel pushed the start date of Thor back a few months, the studio is taking its time to make the best decision for the film.

The 29-year-old Englishman's credits include the sci-fi epic Children of Men.

Which sci-fi TV pilots will live and which will die? We take a look

NBC's Day One

It's been a long hard winter, but spring is finally here bringing with it budding flowers, warm weather and the national pastime of trying to figure out which television pilots might be picked up by the networks next month.

The television networks will announce their fall 2009 television schedules soon, and we'll then have an entire summer to stew about it, hoping another
Lost or Heroes will invade our homes.

Among the potential new series are plenty of sci-fi and fantasy possibilities. While 71 pilots are being developed, only a few will make it onto the fall schedule. After the jump, our list of the hopefuls, and how they stack up. (This is part one of a two-part article covering pilots from ABC, CBS and NBC. Part two on Fox and the CW's pilots will run tomorrow.)


Flash Forward For 2 minutes and 17 seconds, everyone in the entire world blacks out and has mysterious visions of their future. They wake up to chaos. An FBI agent desperately attempts to figure out why this has happened to stop a future he can't bear to face. Based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer. Flash Forward comes from executive producers David Goyer and Brannon Braga, the creators of the short-lived Threshold, and stars Joseph Fiennes, Sonya Walger, John Cho, Christine Woods, Courtney Vance, Brian O'Byrne, Jack Davenport, Payton List and Zachary Knighton.

Does our vision
Flash Forward to the future? It does. Despite the loss of such imaginative endeavors as Pushing Daisies and Eli Stone
, ABC continues to push the creative envelope. This isn't like anything else on television.

Which means ... It may be a tough sell to the audience, but the network is sold. Flash Forward already has a series commitment.

Eastwick This dramedy mixes Desperate Housewives with a little devilish fun when three modern-day women discover they have magical powers. Based on John Updike's novel and the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick. Eastwick was written by Maggie Friedman (Jack & Bobby) and directed by the amazing David Nutter, who has helmed an astonishing number of pilots that made it to series. It stars Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, Jaime Ray Newman, Sara Rue and Veronica Cartwright.

Eastwick cast a spell? It's looking good. Eastwick
is the women of Wisteria Lane with magic. What's not to love?

But ... What worked as a movie with an all-star cast might not work on television. Still, this incarnation of Updike's novel has a good chance of getting a time slot come fall.

V Alien visitors come to Earth with promises of peace and technological advancements. Unfortunately, they are liars. And that's one of their better qualities. When a human agent discovers that the visitors have sinister motives, it leads her to join the growing human resistance movement. Based on the 1983 miniseries, V. This re-imaging comes from Scott Peters, the creator of The 4400, and stars Firefly's Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf, Elizabeth Mitchell, 4400's Joel Gretsch, Morris Chestnut and Smallville's Laura Vandervoort.

V invade our television sets? Possibly. The miniseries was a blast, with fun alien bad guys whose humanity only ran skin deep. If this V
can hang on to some of that fun factor—remember those live-mouse snacks?—it has potential.

Unfortunately ... We remember the 1984 television series that came after the miniseries. It was bad.

Captain Cook's Extraordinary Atlas A 13-year-old girl named Gwen discovers a magical atlas that unlocks a fantastical world of adventure and magic that exists right beside our own, leading to amazing and sometimes terrifying adventures. Captain Cook's Extraordinary Atlas comes from writer Tom Wheeler and was directed by Emmy winner Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing). Jodelle Ferland takes on the role of Gwen, with West Wing's Janel Moloney and Patrick Breen playing her parents.

Captain Cook's Extraordinary Atlas fly? It's iffy at best. This fantasy pilot was actually created for last season but was put on hold until now. It's supposed to be Harry Potter meets Pan's Labyrinth, with a dab of Nim's Island. With the new Harry Potter
movie headed our way, the timing might be perfect.

But .... It's gonna be expensive to maintain. Really expensive.

No Heroics Based on the British series, this sitcom explores the lives of a group of superheroes who aren't so super. These less-than-formidable, not-so-heroic heroes like to hang out at a bar. No Heroics stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Arielle Kebbel, Paul Campbell and Eliza Coupe.

No Heroics will live to fight another day? Not good. Yes, it's Cheers meets Mystery Men, but is ABC ready to give No Heroics a shot when the hysterically funny The Tick
couldn't survive?

Still ... Considering ABC took on Cavemen as a sitcom, anything is possible.


I Witness Not actually sci-fi, but it may be of interest to sci-fi audiences. It sounds like there's more than a little Bones going on when a detective/professor utilizes her psycho-physiological skills to solve crimes. From writers Pam Veasey and Trey Callaway, who produced CSI: NY.

Will we get a chance to witness
I Witness
? Unlikely. No cast has been announced yet, and there's not much buzz about this one
Nevertheless ... It does seem like a perfect fit for CBS.


Day One After a "global event" devastates the Earth's infrastructures, a group of survivors attempts to rebuild society and figure out what happened.Heroes' Jesse Alexander wrote the pilot, which was directed by Alex Graves (Fringe). Day One stars Julie Gonzalo, David Lyons, Carly Pope, Adam Campbell, Thekla Reuten, Derek Mio, Addison Timlin and Catherine Dent.

Day One get a day two? Chances are promising. Day One was specifically announced by NBC as a possibility to take over Heroes' Monday timeslot.

But don't forget ... That pesky Jay Leno will be taking over five prime-time hours a week come fall, and there's only a handful of dramas are going to make it onto the schedule. And one other little tidbit ... This sounds an awfully lot like

Check back tomorrow to take a peek at the upcoming Fox and CW pilots.

(Thanks SCI FI Wire)

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