Tuesday, December 22, 2009

News - 12/22/09...

Flaunt Toggles Controls For GAME Spot

UK-based Flaunt Productions recently revealed this new holiday promo for GAME, the leading video game retailer in the UK.

Shepherd Goes Solo For Star Wars Uncut

As of today, all but 15 shots have been claimed in the Star Wars Uncut project. You may have seen Mike Geiger’s clip, and how Matthew Shepherd has submitted. Here’s Scene 279:

via FloobyNooby

“The Art of The Princess and The Frog” takes you behind-the-scenes on Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation

Jim Hill reviews Jeff Kurtti’s latest making-of book. Which does an excellent job of explaining how Ron Clements & John Musker’s latest animation feature went from script to screen...

Okay. I know. It’s verging on panic time when it comes to holiday gifts. Especially if you’re still looking for something for the Disneyana fan on your Christmas list. You know, the one who’s always so difficult to shop for?

Not to worry, though. The always reliable Jeff Kurtti (i.e. the guy behind “Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park,” “The Art of Disneyland,” “The Art of Walt Disney World,” “Treasure Planet: A Voyage of Discovery,” “The Art of Mulan,” “The Art of the Little Mermaid: A Disney Miniature,” “A Bug's Life: The Art and Making of an Epic of Miniature Proportions” among other Disney-related titles) has a new book out. One that literally hit store shelves last Tuesday.

Copyright 2009 Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

And given that this 160-page hardcover celebrates Walt Disney Animation Studios’ return to hand-drawn animation, I guarantee that the Disneyana fan on your holiday shopping list will be thrilled to find a copy of “The Art of The Princess and the Frog” (Chronicle Books, December 2009) under the tree.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, one of the main reasons that Disneyana fans will delight in receiving “The Art of the Princess and the Frog” is … Well, to be blunt, Jeff’s written quite a few of these making-of books. So he now has a knack for unearthing unusual pieces of production art. Take – for example – this early, early version of Tiana that “Princess” co-director John Musker drew. Back when the film’s title character was supposed to be a seamstress, rather than being a waitress who dreamed of someday owning her own restaurant.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Jeff also shows you how Disney artists will often struggle to get a handle on a character (EX: Kevin Gollaher’s version of Tiana depicted above. This character design was reportedly rejected because it made Tiana look too attractive toward the very start of this animated feature. And given that Ron Clements & John Musker didn’t want their princess & prince characters to start falling for one another ‘til the end of this film’s second act … Well, it just wouldn’t do to have Tiana looking too beautiful towards the beginning of “The Princess and the Frog”).

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of Prince Naveen … Given that this is the first Disney Princess movie set in 1920s America, finding a way to make a prince look believable in this particular setting proved to be a challenge. But as visual development artist Sue Nichols put it:

“I had a lot of fun with Naveen. He is supposed to be very handsome and suave – there is a very specific look of a debonair man in the 1920s. I was going off of a lot of the 1920s movies where a dapper look is very different than what dapper would look like today.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

That’s the advantage of having someone like Jeff Kurtti write your making-of volume. Given that he’s written so many of these behind-the-scenes books before, Jeff can build on his previous interviews with these animators & artists. Get them to share information that they perhaps wouldn’t tell other authors.

Plus given that Kurtti is a Disney historian himself … Well, only Jeff knows enough about the Studio’s earlier animated features to realize that Tony DeRosa drew at least some of his inspiration for Lawrence, Prince Naveen’s not-exactly-loyal manservant from the evil coachman in “Pinocchio.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

And given that fans of production histories just love learning about things that didn’t actually make it into this final version of the film … Well, Kurtti’s a clever enough guy to not only include concept art for the “Little Mermaid” –themed float that does appear in “The Princess and the Frog” but also drawings of “Aladdin” & “Hercules” –themed floats (Which – as any good Disney dweeb will tell you – were also animated features that were directed by Musker & Clements) that didn’t make the cut for this movie’s Mardi Gras sequence.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

It’s Jeff’s great eye for detail, his ability to draw great stories of his interview subjects that make his making-of books so much fun to read. I mean, only Jeff Kurtti could ever get Nik Ranieri to admit that he drew inspiration for the character that he animated for “The Princess and the Frog” (i.e. spoiled southern belle Charlotte La Bouff) from his own family:

“I have five kids under the age of twelve and four of them are girls. So you can’t help but have a wealth of inspiration for a character like young Charlotte. My youngest daughter Lily is just like her. She’s very much a little princess.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

Kurtti also makes sure that you get to see a lot of the nuts-and-bolts stuff associated with the production of a new animated feature. Everything from a size comparison chart (Which helped give the artists & animators who were working on “The Princess and the Frog” a size of how big Louis the trumpeting-playing alligator …

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc, Walt Disney Animation Studios. All Rights Reserved

… was in comparison to Ray, the lovelorn Cajun firefly) to the stylized storyboards that Eric Goldberg and his team created for Tiana’s dream sequence, “Almost There.”

So honestly, folks … If you’re almost done with your holiday shopping (except for a Christmas gift for that Disneyana fan on your list), you just can’t do any better than “The Art of The Princess and the Frog.” Though it’s not even been out in stores for a week now, I guarantee that this new Jeff Kurtti book will bring years of joy to the animation enthusiast in your family.

Alaina Reed Hall, 63, was Olivia on Sesame Street

Actress and singer Alaina Reed Hall, best known as Gordon's kid sister Olivia on the long-running PBS kids' series Sesame Street and Rose Lee Holloway on the NBC sitcom 227, died Thursday. She was 63.

Although the cause of her death was not officially reported, she had been public about her continuing battle with breast cancer.

Credited as Alaina Reed, she was in the voice cast of the 1993-94 DiC Entertainment series Sonic the Hedgehog, which aired on ABC. She was also in the voice cast of DiC's Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, which appeared on FOX from 1993-96.

Hall was the voice of Mama Lou in Film Roman Productions' unreleased The Blues Brothers Animated Series. In 1997, UPN gave Film Roman the go-ahead to produce an animated version of the Blues Brothers and ordered 13 episodes of the series. That fall, the network canceled its order, although eight episodes already had been produced.

She was born Bernice Ruth Reed in Springfield, Ohio on November 10, 1946. Beginning her career in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, she was in the original cast of the 1974 off-Broadway production of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road. She was also in productions of Hair, Chicago and Eubie!

In 1976, Hall was hired as Sesame Street's Olivia, neighbor of Gordon and Susan. From then until she left the show in 1988, she taught letters and how to count.

She joined the original cast of 227 in 1985 as Rose Lee, which offered the opportunity to display her singing voice.

A series of guest appearances by 7'2" actor Kevin Peter Hall as Rose's flame led to the two beginning a real-life relationship in 1988. That year, they married both on the show and for real.

Kevin Peter Hall died of AIDS-related cancer (some say of pneumonia-related complications) in 1991 after becoming HIV-positive through a blood transfusion. That year, 227 was canceled.

Alaina Reed Hall continued to act until she died. She made frequent appearances on such sitcoms such as A Different World, Friends and Ally McBeal. She also had a recurring role as Lena in the comedy series Cleghorne, which ran for just three months in 1995.

As well, Hall returned to theater with a one-woman show, Alaina at the Bijou.

She appeared in such movies as Death Becomes Her (1992), opposite Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep; Cruel Intentions (1999); and the 2007 independent feature film I'm Through with White Girls (The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks).

Hall took part in the documentary Breast Cancer Examined: An African-American Perspective, sharing her fight against the disease. The film was made to commemorate 2009 National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Married three times, she had two children from her first marriage, which ended in divorce.

At the time of her death, Alaina Reed Hall was married to Afghan-American TV editor Tamim "Tim" Amini.

Condolences and cards may be sent to Tamim Amini at 10044 Woodley Avenue, North Hills, CA 91343.

"Simpsons" may prevent glowing view of nuke plants

The pratfalls of paterfamilias Homer on "The Simpsons" may have caused many people to be concerned about nuclear power, according to an American philosophy professor who has edited a series of books about how TV programs affect popular culture.

Dr. Bill Irwin, a philosophy professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, suggests that Homer may have helped give nuclear power a bad name, what with his gaffes at a nuclear power plant in Springfield. Homer's exploits have included randomly pressing buttons on a console in an effort to stop a meltdown.

Irwin observes that Montgomery Burns, the owner of the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons, is depicted as a greedy industrialist with a heart of ice. At the same time, Homer's daughter Lisa, the show's most intelligent character, is shown as a vocal friend of the environment.

"She's very eco-friendly, and very much against nuclear power and the nuclear power plant run by Mr. Burns," Irwin, the editor of the book The Simpsons and Philosophy said in an interview on a Saskatchewan radio talk show.

Such shows as The Simpsons taking a jab at the nuclear industry make it somewhat unfortunate that so many negative stereotypes appear in the media about nuclear power, Irwin said.

Irwin has edited a series of other books which examine the effect that such TV shows as The Sopranos and Seinfeld have on pop culture and philosophy.

UN honors young Palestinian, S. Korean filmmakers

A group of 12 Palestinian children were honored Friday at a United Nations-backed ceremony in New York for their animated film Warda, which examines how young people perceive the wall between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The children were winners in the 9-12 age category of the PLURAL+ Youth Video Festival Awards, an initiative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the International Organization for Migration. The winners were selected by an international jury out of more than 150 videos from 36 countries.

Youngmin Kim from South Korea, in the 13-17 age category, was given an award for her clay-animated video narrating the challenges of a young girl of Korean and Uzbek descent.

The awards recognize young filmmakers from around the world for their efforts to highlight migration, identity and diversity issues.

The festival seeks to give voice to youth on integration, inclusiveness, human rights and social cohesiveness, and also to promote respect and appreciation for all people.

The award-winning videos will be shown at festivals and events around the world next year.

Friday's ceremony coincided with International Migrants Day, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay drawing attention to the plight of an estimated 200 million migrants worldwide, many of whom are exposed to violations of their basic rights and continue to be treated as commodities.

"Despite the increased efforts of the international community, including civil society, in promoting sound, equitable, humane and lawful conditions of migration, the human rights of migrants often remain out of sight," she said in a statement.

More With Less

Last week I walked into one of our fine animation studios and heard this from a director:

"We're getting hammered around here. The schedules are tightening up, and the production people are piling on more and more to do. I'm working way longer hours Monday through Friday, but I refuse to come in on weekends.

I used to take more time to polish the work. Now I just slam it out and grab my paycheck. Funny thing is, the last couple of months they've had less criticism of the work I've pushed through fast ..."

I hear variations of this all over town. And I hear variations of it from my union compatriots in the live-action community. Hard as it is to believe, this is apparently going on nation-wide:

Many U.S. workers are being pushed to toil harder and shoulder the load once carried by colleagues who've since been laid off. That can mean long days without overtime pay or raises, less family time, and more mental and physical fatigue.

Don't like it? Walk out the door and you'll join 15 million unemployed Americans, the largest segment of whom have been idle for more than three months. Your former boss will have plenty of replacements to choose from. There are about six job seekers for every opening.

The workload for many survivors is likely to mount in coming months. As business cycles accelerate, companies get busier, but employers are typically reluctant to add staff until they're convinced the good times will last ...

The fact that everyone in Toon Town is hunkered down, working their tails off, is not news at this site. The fear of layoffs is not news. But it's always useful to step back and look at the forest instead of just the different bits of bark on the trees.

But there's another tough reality for unions just now , and that's in the area of organizing.

Such workers would seem likely to welcome approaches from unions to gain bargaining power with their employers. In fact, it's just the opposite. ...

"It makes it more difficult for unions to organize because people are grateful to have any job," ....

Yep, I'm familiar with this dynamic. People are happy when they have a paycheck, any paycheck. And in that frame of mind, there is a reluctance to rock the boat.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Toonage in Foreign Lands

Variety reports that the film directly above is now the fourth largest grosser in this wide world.

It seems to me that Christmas Carol has kind of followed the Polar Express trajectory: okay opening, but nothing to phone up Aunt Hilda about, then ... good staying power:

Robert Zemeckis' Disney's "A Christmas Carol" placed No. 3 for the frame, grossing $14.8 million from 5,298 screens in 50 territories for a cume of $146.8 million. The 3D holiday title had grossed $124.4 million domestically by the weekend for a worldwide total of $271.2 million. Many dismissed the film after a soft opening, but it has proved to have staying power.

However, the going could get tough for "Christmas Carol" as "Avatar" takes away 3D screens ....

Gee, you think?

But of course, there's lot of other animation in the overseas marketplace.

... Placing No. 4 for the frame at the international B.O. was the blockbuster launch of toon "One Piece: Strong World" [see up top] in Japan, scooping up $11.7 million to beat the $11.6 million scored by the Hayao Miyazaki toon smash "Ponyo" in its first weekend in 2008...

[Animated hybrid]
"Arthur" came in No. 5 internationally, followed by Disney's traditionally animated toon "The Princess and the Frog." ... [TP&TF's] foreign launch was 10% ahead of the opening of Disney's "Bolt" in the same markets, according to the Mouse. Key drivers were Germany at $2.8 million from 544 screens and Mexico at $1.5 million from 425. "Princess" moves into Italy and Russia on Dec. 31. ...

"Up" placed No. 9 for the sesh, grossing $6.4 million, led by a dazzling $5.9 million in its second sesh in Japan. Foreign cume is $401.4 million for a worldwide total of $678.1 million. ...

Coming in No. 10 at the international B.O. was toon
"Planet 51," grossing ... a worldwide haul of $70.1 million ...

Think about everything up above for a minute. The animation hybrid Avatar is at #1. Christmas Carol is closing in on a $300 million gross. The French hybrid Arthur was fifth at the global box office, and The Princess and the Frog is running ahead of Bolt overseas. Up is still minting money, and the Japanese One Piece: Strong World has landed in fourth place worldwide.

There's a broad and diverse river of animation making money in the 2009 marketplace, which isn't lost on the bean counters. This could explain why global employment for animated features continues to expand.

Add On: The Times of Los Angeles reports:

"Avatar" sold a studio-estimated $232.2 million worth of tickets around the world this weekend, the ninth-biggest global debut of all time not accounting for ticket-price inflation. It was the biggest ever for a non-sequel, a sign that Fox's marketing machine succeeded in generating huge interest in a picture whose name alone didn't have much built-in excitement, as evidenced by modestly attended midnight screenings Thursday night.

The film's $73-million domestic gross was, like every movie in the market, significantly affected Saturday by snowstorms that kept East Coast audiences, from Washington, D.C., through New England, off the roads. ...

The big money for
"Avatar," however, is coming from the rest of the world. Despite not yet having opened in Japan and China and frigid weather in northern Europe, it collected $159.2 million, the sixth-highest simultaneous foreign launch of all time...

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Toons of the 2000s: Top 25 Animated Television Series Countdown #20-16


Dates: 1997–present
Comedy Central
195+ episodes

Created by Trey Parker & Matt Stone
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mona Marshall (1999–present), Eliza Schneider (1999–2003), April Stewart (2003–present), Isaac Hayes (1997–2006)

Four foul-mouthed kids in a strange little Colorado town constantly bump into celebrities, aliens, and other oddities.

Why It Made The List
For twelve years South Park has mixed biting social commentary with some of the funniest and most offensive stories ever written for the small screen.

Produced in a style that mimics crude paper-cutout animation, the show is able to use its generic, inoffensive designs to front no-prisoners-taken satire. During its run it has targeted everyone from Christian conservatives to liberal Hollywood celebrities. It is often crude and mean-spirited, and yet more often than not its viciously ad hominem barbs puncture their targets at weak points that other satirists have overlooked.

It does so while also sustaining a richly characterized central cast. Its budding sociopath, Cartman, deserves special mention. No actor could hope to capture his depravity in a live-action adaptation while retaining audience sympathy, but as an animated character he works brilliantly.

Not only for its keen eye for contemporary folly does South Park deserve its place on this list; its ability to use the animated art form to create satirical effects beyond the capability of film or stage also marks it as one of the great cartoons of our time.


Dates: 2007-present
44+ episodes

Created by Dorothea Gillim
Starring: Dannah Phirman, Tom Kenny, Maria Bamford, Cree Summer, Ryan Raddatz

A crimefighting girl from another planet lives alongside humans without her friend knowing who she is.

Why It Made The List
is one of the smartest shows on television right now. This might be news to most of you because it airs on PBS Kids.

But don't let that put you off. Its screen credits overlap with those of such shows as Dexter's Laboratory and The PowerPuff Girls, which goes a long way toward explaining why it so successfully pulls off humorous and fast-paced dialogue.

The show centers on schoolgirl Becky Bottsford, who as "WordGirl" fights crime with the help of her pet/sidekick, the monkey Captain Huggyface (a.k.a. Bob). In a rare departure from form, Becky is as strong, as funny, and as interesting as her superpowered alter ego.

The series also offers a wide range of unique villains, from a human with an evil mouse-brain to an older woman who uses her senior citizen status to mask her depraved deeds. There is also a wide assortment of secondary characters, each zany in their own right. Oh, and there’s also a narrator, whose commentary makes for some of the greatest highlights of the show.

WordGirl is nominally an educational program, but there is nothing nominal (that's a word meaning "in name only") about its entertainment value.


Dates: 2004-2007
53 episodes

Created by Butch Hartman
Starring: David Kaufman, Rickey D'Shon Collins, Grey DeLisle, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Paul Robsen, Kath Soucie, Martin Mull

A coming-of-age tale about a ghost-powered teenager balancing his normal existence and his superhero life.

Why It Made The List
In less skilled hands, the cliché-ridden Danny Phantom might have played out as a substandard Spider-Man clone. But a skilled cast and crew wove familiar elements into a natty skein that, whatever its origins, felt new.

Its characters were key to its success, and it took special delight in developing their personalities both in stand-alone adventures and series-spanning arcs. Of particular note was its treatment of Danny's sister, who graduated from "smart but overprotective older sister" to supportive and appreciative helper.

Artistically, the series also stood out, with a "ghost mode" set of visuals that gave it a genuinely eerie feel that was nevertheless enjoyable.

Danny Phantom might have taken its plot points from a well-drawn stock of materials, but its adept treatment of story, characterization, and color earn it a place on this list.


Dates: 2001-2004; 2004-2006 (as Justice League Unlimited)
Cartoon Network
52 episodes (Justice League), 39 episodes (Justice League Unlimited)

Justice League produced by Rich Fogel, Glen Murakami, Bruce Timm, James Tucker
Justice League Unlimited produced by Dwayne McDuffie, Bruce Timm, James Tucker
Justice League starring: George Newbern, Kevin Conroy , Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly, Michael Rosenbaum, Phil LaMarr, Maria Canals
Justice League Unlimited starring: George Newbern, Kevin Conroy , Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly, Michael Rosenbaum, Phil LaMarr, Maria Canals, Morena Baccarin, Kin Shriner, Amy Acker, Jeffrey Combs, Nicholle Tom, Gina Torres, Corey Burton, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, C.C.H. Pounder

Beloved heroes of the DCverse battle evil.

Why It Made The List
Justice League
and Justice League Unlimited testify to Bruce Timm and his colleagues' mastery of the animated-action form. They submitted themselves to "The Challenge of The Superfriends", and they won.

In the 1990s, Timm and his collaborators had shown how to make a grand cartoon series centered on a single hero. In the 2000s, they tested themselves with a show about a team. Block by block, episode by episode, they experimented and built on their successes. Around tightly crafted situations they wove choreographic fight sequences; blended individual heroics into ensemble adventures; turned interpersonal conflicts into intramural competitions.

By the end of the first 52 episodes, they knew how to balance seven heroes, so they upped the challenge by extending the League to include almost every DC universe character they could. Stories became even larger with the long-running Cadmus and Secret Society arcs, even as they became more intimate with the occasional standalone tale.

And yet, despite the terrific grandeur of its concept and its ambition, it never lost the most important attribute of the cape-and-tights genre: it was always fun.


Dates: 2004 (Japan), 2005 (USA)
WOWOW (Japan), Adult Swim [Cartoon Network] (USA)
13 episodes

Created by Satoshi Kon
Starring (English dubbing): Michelle Ruff, Sam Riegel, Michael McConnohie, Liam O'Brien, Carrie Savage

An assault on a famous character designer is the catalyst to a string of violent attacks.

Why It Made The List
Paranoia Agent
is one of those rare shows whose "mature content" descriptor implies more than nudity and sexual acts. There is some of that, to be sure, but this fascinating experiment in storytelling is an intriguing exploration of the many facets of the human psyche at its least attractive.

The show consists of 13 half-hour stories all interconnected by common elements: a protagonist edging toward a mental breakdown, a physical attack at the climax of the breakdown by the mysterious "Lil' Slugger", and a discovery of inner peace afterwards. Yet it never falls into formula, and the show explores the effects of violence on the community as well as on the individuals.

The series is rather abstract and doesn't neatly tie things up in a traditional manner. Instead, it addresses the larger issue that we are creatures of habit, victimizing ourselves and bound to commit to the same path when we are unable to rise above our inadequacies. While the show may not be for everyone, there is an undeniable excellence to the accomplishments of Paranoia Agent.

Be here tomorrow for #15-11 of the Top 25 Animated Television Series Countdown.

(Thanks Toon Zone)

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