Tuesday, April 28, 2009

News - 04/28/09...

Red Stick’s Peek at Disney’s Princess & the Frog

Disney’s veteran animation visual effects supervisor Marlon West gave an excellent and inspiring presentation about the making of the much-anticipated holiday release The Princess and the Frog on Friday at the Red Stick Animation Festival in Baton Rouge. The Disney veteran showed several animatic clips and one semi-finished sequence from the feature, while discussing the process of bringing the studio’s first African American princess to animated life.

West began his presentation by talking about how as a child he was fascinated by monsters movies and early vfx-driven feature such as the 1925 feature The Lost World and 1933 version of King Kong. He said, “I saw this picture of stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien in this book—and there they were this grown man and his homies playing with dinosaurs and toys at work, and I thought I got to get a gig like that!”

He went on to discuss how he got his start in Los Angeles as an effects animator, adding production values such as smoke and fire to animated projects. Having worked on 2D Disney hits such as The Lion King, Hercules, Tarzan and Pocahontas, he then segwayed into CG-animated projects such as Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons. He noted, “Back then, the common wisdom was that 2D was dead, and the studio shut down the traditional animation department, so I got into digital effects.”

Of course, Disney’s purchase of Pixar and the arrival of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull at the help of the Mouse House changed the scened dramatically. “Those guys had this bright idea to bring back hand-drawn animation, but everything had to be started again from the ground up. One of the first things we did was focus on producing shorts, to help us re-introduce the 2D pipeline. I worked as vfx supervisor on the Goofy short, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater.” West said the only difference now is that he his Wacom tablet replaced paper. “It was a real plus for the effects department, so we went paperless for The Princess and the Frog.”

Directed by Disney veterans Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet), the movie is set in New Orleans during the ’20s and centers on a hard-working African American woman named Tiana (voiced by Dreamgirls’ Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of owning her own restaurant. Her aspirations are sidetracked after encountering a prince (voiced by Bruno Campos) who has been turned into a frog by the evil Dr. Facilier (Keith David). Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman, Jenifer Lewis and Terrence Howard are also part of the voice cast. New Orleans native Randy Newman provides the jazz and blues-influenced music for the film.

Impact of Company's Culture Change
West pointed out that everyone could really feel the impact of the leadership of Lasseter on the project. “There was a real cultural change at the studio,” he added. “Everyone had more ownership of the film…I’ve been on projects were the team that worked on clean-up didn’t talk that much, but on this show, the 2D people were so delighted to be back, they felt more of a collaborative vibe. Ron and John [the directors] don’t need anyone’s opinion, but everyone was really interested in making the best film possible. Everything was in the service of making the coolest 2D film possible. It really was kind of like Our Gang… just everyone saying, ‘Hey, let’s get together and put on a show.’ ”

When asked about the production time of the project, West said that although the directors were on the project for about three years, overall it probably took five years from the time somebody said “let’s make a movie about a sister who turns into a frog!” He also added that the movie has been screened every 12 weeks for people at the studio to get feedback and to tweak the story and design elements. “It’s really gotten better and better every time. There were times when the movie wasn’t so good, but we really have a great movie with a sweet story as a result of that process.”

According to West, digital effects were employed, but they weren’t “crazy dimensional” sequences. “You could compare them more to old-school multiplane camera effects seen in Pinocchio or Lady and the Tramp.” The team used Toon Boom’s Harmony to create compositing effects, as well as Maya, Houdini and After Effects. However, West says there was a conscious effort on the behalf of the creators to make sure the backgrounds had a beautiful texture of guache paintings of the classic Disney films. “We definitely have digital elements, like fireflies, doors, the magical transformation sequences … to keep the production values up, but we don’t want them to be noticeable.”

When someone in the audience asked why it took Disney so long to create an animated feature about an African American princess, West blamed it on the tough development process. “Through the years, there have been lots of things in development, but for an animated movie to get greenlit, all the different elements have to be in place. This time around, everything just came together—we had two directors with real juice behind them who really wanted to make this movie. John Lasseter was really excited about this movie—and all three gentlemen really love New Orleans. The truth is that while 35 movies have been made at the studio, there are 500 or more ideas that people were hoping to get made and they just didn’t happen because all the different elements weren’t in place.”

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

The Controversial Non-Controversy

The problem for any company ... or labor organization? ... in the 21st century is, no matter what they do, someobdy doesn't like it. For instance this long-percolating "issue."

While some of the changes made by Disney to its upcoming animated feature "The Princess and the Frog" ... have been applauded by critics, the UK's Times reports that others, including the princess' love interest, are drawing accusations of racial insensitivity.

... Oddly enough, though, Princess Tiana is black; her prince is not. That's right –
even though there is a real-life black man in the highest office in the land with a black wife, Disney obviously doesn't think a black man is worthy of the title of prince.

Uh ... brief note to whoever:

The President of the United States is of mixed race, just like several of President Tom Jefferson's kids (Tom being white, Sally Hemmings being mixed race ... like the current Commander-in-Chief.)

Or as President Obama says of himself: "A mutt."

Given all that, I think the anger about the racial makeup of these particular cartoon characters is a trifle ... misplaced?

Besides which, who's saying the Prince isn't mixed race?

Just asking.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

"Wonder Woman" Direct-To-Video Animated Feature Remains Strong On Home Video

The recent direct-to-video Wonder Woman animated feature continues to be a steady performer for Warner Home Video, closing in on 200,000 united sold.

Wonder Woman
, the latest direct-to-video animated feature from the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, has now sold an estimated 198,000 DVD copies since the title's release on March 3rd, 2009. In it's sixth week of sales, the title pulled in another estimated 12,000 units sold. According to various home media retailing outlets and independent research, Wonder Woman
has remained a consistent seller since its release, and is closing in on 200,000 reported units sold.

While the direct-to-video Wonder Woman animated feature has likely already passed the 200,000 unit mark, that data has yet to be officially released. Even though it is currently the lowest selling DC Universe Animated Original Movie title, the direct-to-video Wonder Woman animated feature is expected to retain steady sales throughout 2009 and will likely breach the 500,000 unit mark before the end of the year. Please note the home video sales figure above does not take into account rental numbers, OnDemand numbers, or legal download numbers.

The Blu-ray sales for Wonder Woman have also remained constant, now selling over an estimated 20,000 Blu-ray copies since hitting shelves at the beginning of March 2009.

Plympton’s Hot Dog Lands Baton

New York’s indie darling Bill Plympton added yet another award to his ever-growing kudos gallery for his 2008 short Hot Dog this weekend.The Annie-nominated short was the winner of the Red Baton for Best Animated Short at the 2009 Red Stick Animation Festival in Baton Rouge. Here is the list of all the Red Baton winners:

Best Student Short: Office Noise (Mads Johansen, Torben Sottrup, Karsten Madsen, Laerke Enemark; Denmark)
Best Animation for Commercials: Virgin Media’s Therapy (Rob Cazin)
Best Animation for Young Audiences: Curse of Skull Rock (Ben Smith)
Best Animated Music Video: Eatliz’s Hey (Guy Ben Shetrit, Israel)
Best Experimental/Visual Music: Escape from the Temple (Zhou Zing, China)
Best Student Experimental/Visual Music: Lost Utopia
(Mirai Mizue, Japan)

The Los Angeles-based team of Greg Farren, Jeremy Milton and Ben Liu’s animation project The Crazy 8’s (pictured on top) was the winner of this year’s Pitch Event. The visually arresting action-adventure comedy centers on a team of interplanetary 1950s-style Hot Rodders who have a wild variety of adventures as they encounter aliens on different planets.

Henn Receives Lifetime Achievement Prize
The jam-packed festival closed with a special dinner honoring Disney's veteran animator Mike Henn, who was a supervising animator for Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and young Simba (The Lion King). The talented and prolific animator received the festival's Second Lifetime Achievement Award (Disney's Andreas Deja was the inaugural recipient last year). Fittingly, he is the man behind Disney's latest animated heroine from Louisiana, Tiana the star of the upcoming feature The Princess and the Frog.A visibly touched Henn accepted the prize from festival director Stacey Simmons, former Disney VP of feature animation and current Exodus Film Group president Max Howard and Baton Rouge mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden.

For more info about the event, visit www.redstickfestival.org.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Sony Training Program Takes a Page from Animation Mentor

IPAX, the Sony Pictures Digital Productions professional education program, has just wrapped its first online mentorship program using unique technology from Animation Mentor.

The three-month program uses the online school’s technology to pair professionals from Sony Pictures Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation with students from 18 IPAX member schools for online training and mentoring.

Online tools included used in the program include live video conferencing for question and answer sessions, video guest lectures and eCritiques with mentors offering video commentary while drawing directly onto students’ work to help make their points.

For more information about IPAX and member schools, visit http://www.sonypictures.com/imageworks/ipax/.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Bashir Attacks DVD, Blu-ray June 23

Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman’s Oscar-nominated animated documentary about his experiences as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray June 23.

The Sony Pictures Classics release will include an English-language version of the film, a director’s commentary, a making-of featurette, a Q&A with with Folman and a feature called Animatics – Building the Scenes.

The film was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign language film and won a Golden Globe in the same category. It also was nominated for the Palme D’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

The DVD will carry a suggested retail price of $28.96, while the Blu-ray edtion, which includes BD Live features not available on the DVD, will cost $39.95.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Tribe’s Raccoon & Crawfish Tops Vegas Fest

The 3-D animated short film Raccoon & Crawfish has added the top animation prize at the Las Vegas Film Festival to its growing list of festival kudos.

The film, created by the Oneida Indian Nation’s Four Directions Productions studio, tells an ancient Oneida legend that illustrates the dangers of boasting and deception.

It has won top animation prizes at the Moondance Film Festival, the Okanagan Film Festival and screened last year at the Cannes Film Festival.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

David Gerstein’s Blog

The blurry image above is a frame from the “lost” ending to the early Bugs Bunny cartoon Hare-um Scare-um. David Gerstein found the missing sequence while researching this title recently at a major film archive — and now he’s written a post about how he discovered it on Ramapith: The Prehistoric Pop Culture Blog, his new website.

Gerstein, whose books include Mickey And The Gang and Nine Lives To Live: Classic Felix the Cat, is one of the most knowledgeable writers and historians of animation. His new blog will be worth checking on a regular basis.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

The Anime Business

VIZ Media Europe has launched a new business to business site at www.vizeurope.com for managing the development, marketing and distribution throughout Europe of Japanese animated entertainment and graphic novels (manga).

Yaoi Press on the finances of printing doujinshi

FUNimation presents suggestions for finding a place in the anime industry

Gia Manry presents an essay on future on the anime industry

Going Hollywood

The Last Airbender set pictures

Anime and Animation on TV (and Lack There Of)

Bleach's Arrancar story has begun a with two back-to-back episode on Cartoon Newtork's Adult Swim block. For scheduling, see here.

Musical talent Andrew W.K. has signed on with Cartoon Network to host Destroy Build Destroy, a reality show in which teams of teens will destroy something and build something else out of it.

Cartoon Network is boasting that the premiere of Scooby-Doo & The Samurai Sword (Sunday, 7 p.m.) scored double and triple-digit delivery and ratings gains over the same 2008 time period across all key demos, including 79% delivery growth among kids 2-11, 90% growth among kids 6-11 and 89% growth among kids 9-14. Boys earned even stronger delivery gains with 75% increases among boys 2-11, 93% increases among boys 6-11 and 109% increases among boys 9-14.

Adult Swim claimed the #1 ranking among basic cable networks for total day delivery of adults 18-34, adults 18-24, men 18-34 and men 18-24. Over the previous year, the programming block delivery among young adults increased by 6% while ratings improved by 17%. Delivery of adults 18-24 also rose by 2% while ratings remained unchanged.

Adult Swim telecasts accounted for 14 of the top 50 telecasts of the week (more than any other network) on ad-supported basic cable among adults 18-24, with four telecasts of Family Guy among the top 10—Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Sunday, 11:30 p.m

Worth Checking Out...


Yomiuri Shimbun recently spoke to Miyazaki Hayao about "the god of manga" Tezuka Osamu. Ghibli World offers an English summary

Before the start of the new Tezuka exhibition, which is currently held Edo-Tokyo Museum, Miyazaki told about his Tezuka experiences. In his words, I felt his respect to the great senior, but also a sense of sparkling rivalry. Miyazaki noted, "I've been wrestling with Tezuka. So I'm kind of obliged to him. However, it isn't easy to tell it simply."

There is a famous episode between these two maestros of animation and manga. When Tezuka died in 1989, Miyazaki caustically criticized him in a magazine which commemorated Tezuka, referring him to be just like an
"Ooya no gidayu" animation creator.

The Ghibli Blog talks Love and Theft and Goro-San about Goro Miyazaki and his work on Tales From Earthsea

Bono has this great line from Achtung Baby, "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief." And that's true of just about everyone. But it's doubly true of the young and growing artist.

Also on, the live action Grave of the Fireflies adaptations

Finally, archival Animerica on Porco Rosso

We Remember Love on steps in anime production

The site also has an interesting piece on the behavior of "real robot" pilots

Anime3000 previes the Guin Saga anime

Colony Drop on 1997 two-episode erotic thriller OAV called Tokio Private Police

People are calling Production I.G.’s Kenji Kamiyama, director of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Minipato, the successor to Patlabor’s Mamoru Oshii. What a crock; people, I have found your man and the daring unofficial Patlabor sequel to prove it.

Tim Maughan lists Ten anime films you should see before you die


GhibliBlog has posted a host of Ghibli ad spots for frozen food, beverages, Lawson Spirit Away promos and the like

Spot Musée Ghibli 1
by tetsukyoushin

Umacha Commercials
Miyazaki's Ghibli Museum Commercial
Lawson Spots
Ghiblies TV Shop 1 Ad
The Cat Returns - House Foods Ad

Making the 18meter Gundam statue

Old School Anime Cons YouTube channel

Japanator presents The top ten manly anime openings

Felix Ip western animation style Gatchaman sketch

The Japanese trailer for "Atom" aka Imagi Astro Boy

A couple of things that got cut from J.J. Abrams' Star Trek

Eagle-eyed Star Trek fans will note the name Mark Okrand among the film's credits when it debuts on May 8: Okrand is the linguist who created the Klingon language in the movies. (Possible spoilers ahead!)

But you won't hear any actual Klingon in the film, co-writer Alex Kurtzman told SCI FI Wire in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sunday.

"We actually had a sequence that ended up getting cut from the movie that took place on Rura Penthe, in a Klingon prison," Kurtzman said, explaining the deletion. "And there was definitely Klingon spoken in the movie, and it ended up getting cut."

Rura Penthe, as fans know, is the Klingon prison colony on an ice world, which was first featured in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Images of Nero in the prison—and the line "The wait is over"—are featured in the trailer but do not appear in the movie.

In J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, the Rura Penthe scene was meant to explain where the villainous Nero (Eric Bana) has spent a couple of decades in the story.

Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, meanwhile, told SCI FI Wire that other scenes were cut from the film, including ones of his character as a baby (images have appeared on the Internet) in a birth scene meant to parallel the birth of Kirk.

Star Trek opens May 8.

Amanda (Winona Ryder) and Sarek (Ben Cross) cradle the baby Spock in a scene cut from the movie.

EXCLUSIVE: Co-Creator Of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Reveals More Details About New Film

That sound you heard last week? That was millions of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fans yelling “Cowabunga!” at the news that the famous Heroes in a Half Shell would be returning to the big screen in a new movie scheduled to hit theaters in 2011.

While rumors of a new TMNT movie have been circulating for a while now, last week’s official announcement kicked off a nationwide celebration of the characters’ 25th Anniversary.

Back in September, I spoke with “Ninja Turtles” co-creator Peter Laird to clear up some of the initial rumors surrounding the film, and now that it’s official, he was able to offer a few more details about the return of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo to the big screen.

“I can say that at this point there are a lot of positive feelings about a ‘Batman Begins’-style ‘reboot,’ which would, of necessity, include a retelling of the Turtles’ origin story,” Laird told MTV News of early plot discussions regarding the film. “Having said that, I would also be into an all-new story, if it was decided that that was a more desirable direction. Either way is fine with me, to be honest!”

Laird went so far as to share some specific story points that TMNT fans hold near and dear to their hearts as potential elements in the upcoming film.

“Simply telling the story of what happened in the first issue of the ‘TMNT’ comic book would be a pretty short movie, so I suspect other things from the Turtles’ history in the comics might be brought into it,” continued Laird. “I would not be unhappy to somehow see the tale of Baxter Stockman and the robotic ‘mousers’ folded into this movie, as well as some elements possibly setting up the TCRI connection for a possible sixth (or seventh) movie. But I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself there.”

As for other characters we’re likely to see in the film, the “Ninja Turtles” co-creator said the villainous Shredder would be a necessity for any TMNT origin story, and also mentioned that both intrepid reporter April O’Neil and vigilante Casey Jones came up during recent creative discussions.

Finally, Laird also offered a few more details regarding the way in which the live-action filming and computer-generated effects will blend to bring the Turtles to the screen in the upcoming film.

“The basic idea, as I understand it, is to do an all live action shoot, with actors and stuntmen in full Turtle suits,” said Laird. “To add expressiveness to the Turtles’ faces which would be difficult if not impossible to get with animatronics and/or puppetry, there would be ‘face replacement,’ with CGI Turtle faces superimposed on the live action performers’ heads.”

“This technology has been proven to be incredibly effective if done correctly,” added Laird. “Look at the character of Davey Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, with his mass of writhing tentacles… an incredible effect.”

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