Monday, December 28, 2009

News - 12/28/09...

Avatar is No. 1 for second weekend in a row

James Cameron (left) directs Sigourney Weaver in Avatar

James Cameron's Avatar topped the box office for the second weekend in a row, overtaking Sherlock Holmes, which threatened to knock the sci-fi epic off its perch when it premiered on Christmas Day.

Avatar took in an estimated $75 million domestically during the three days beginning Dec. 25. That's only a 3 percent drop from the domestic gross in its opening weekend. The film's 10-day total rose to $212.3 million across the United States and Canada, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Sherlock Holmes, meanwhile, grossed about $65.4 million over the weekend after setting a Christmas Day opening record of $24.8 million.

In third place: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, with $50.2 million for the three days, far exceeding the studio's forecasts. Since opening on Wednesday, the follow-up to the worldwide 2007 hit has earned $77.1 million.

The Best Animation Books of 2009

Here are my picks for the best animation books of 2009.

The Colors of Mary Blair —A catalog for an exhibition that happened earlier this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. I don’t have a copy myself and don’t even know how you can obtain one, but this book does it right with page after packed page of animation concepts, personal watercolors, advertising art, and illustration work. It works well as a companion to John Canemaker’s 2003 bio The Art and Flair of Mary Blair.

Iwao Takamoto: My Life with a Thousand Characters by Iwao Takamoto with Michael Mallory — An entertaining, fast-paced and personal look into the life and career of now-deceased artist Iwao Takamoto that shows he deserves to be remembered for more than just designing Scooby-Doo.

South of the Border with Disney: Walt Disney and the Good Neighbor Program 1941-1948 by J.B. Kaufman — A masterful piece of research that proves not every stone has been unturned in the field of Disney history.

Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes, Volume 1 and Volume 2, by Walt Stanchfield, edited by Don Hahn — A lifetime’s worth of knowledge and wisdom is contained within these two paperbacks. The material is taken from Stanchfield’s handouts used in his classes for Disney animators. These books belong on any animator’s bookshelf, whether beginner or expert.

Starting Point: 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki, translated by Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt — I have yet to read a single page of this book, but if you ask Mark Mayerson and Richard O’Connor, it’s nothing short of amazing. It sounds like an eclectic and thought-provoking collection of opinions from one of today’s master animation directors, and it’s the animation book that I’m currently most looking forward to reading.

The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox — This elegantly compact volume, designed by Angus Hyland of Pentagram, injects fresh blood into the tired ‘art of’ book format. I’ve personally resisted writing any more feature film ‘art of’ books, but something as original and distinctive as this one might force me to reconsider.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Happy Birthday, Howard Beckerman

Howard Beckerman is the king of New York animation; a teacher, a mentor and a living legend. It was his birthday Friday, on Christmas, and to celebrate the occasion we present The Trip (1967) which Beckerman wrote, animated and co-designed — another hidden gem produced during the Shamus Culhane era at Paramount. Happy Birthday, Howard!

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Warner Home Video Releases New Images from "Justice League" and "Halo" DTVs

Warner Home Video has released several new screenshots from two upcoming direct-to-video animated movies: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Halo Legends. Click on any image to enlarge:



Pogo’s Remix From Pixar’s Up – Upular

Australian musician Nick Bertke (aka Pogo) produces music entirely from film audio, creating entirely new works. You may remember his take on Alice in Wonderland – simply hypnotic. Upular is his latest, which borrows samples from Disney/Pixar’s Up.

Seventy Years Plus Four Days

Back on December 22, 1939, the first mo-cap feature made its debut:

Gulliver's Travels is a 1939 American cel-animated Technicolor feature film, directed by Dave Fleischer and produced by Max Fleischer for Fleischer Studios. The film was released on Friday December 22, 1939 by Paramount Pictures.... The sequences for the film were directed by Seymour Kneitel, Willard Bowsky, Tom Palmer, Grim Natwick, William Henning, Roland Crandall, Thomas Johnson, Robert Leffingwell, Frank Kelling, Winfield Hoskins, and Orestes Calpini ...

Of course, the name for "mo cap" in 1939 was "rotoscope." The Fleischers had developed the system in the 1920s, and Disney used it sparingly in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Max and Dave employed roto extensively for their feature's title character ...

... and it paid off, as Gulliver rushed through production at the spanking new Miami studio, but was released in time for the Christmas holidays, and ended up an unalloyed hit for their mother studio Paramount. (Disney's second feature rolled down the gangway a month and a half later, to do half the business of Snow White.)

The Fleischers' second feature, Hoppity/Mr. Bug Goes to Town had the bad luck to get released two days after Pearl Harbor and tanked. A year later, Paramount dissolved the Miami studio and got out of the feature cartoon business, leaving the field to Disney. And so today we have the mega-corporation Disney Co. instead of Fleischer International. But maybe somewhere out in the cosmos, in a parallel universe, the tale is different ....

Fleischer Studios artist Bill Turner penned the cartoon above -- and less faintly than shows up here -- for a company newsletter after the completion of Gulliver's Travels. Of course, we all know this kind of thing doesn't happen any more. (Courtesy Harvey Deneroff. Click on the image to enlarge it, and make the darn thing more visible.).

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Animation Recently ... Animation Soon

Nine months ago Uncle Steve wrote:

[There will be] nineteen features over [the next] thirty-three months .. and if you include the features in release between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011, the total bumps up to ... a grand total of twenty-one ...

We're about a quarter of the way through the cycle, so how, exactly, are animated features doing? Not badly, as a matter of fact. A number of titles listed on the far side of the above link can be considered solid winners in the movie pantheon. Let's look at the group that's recently been in release, shall we? ...

Bolt -- Generally considered something of a disappointment (it got stunted by the brilliant Disney marketing campaign opening it on the same day as Twilight.) Worldwide gross: $308.3 million -- production budget: $150 million.

Coraline -- A stop-motion sleeper hit out of Laika Animation in Portland, Oregon. Worldwide gross: $121.9 million -- Prdctn bdgt. -- $60 million.

Monsters Vs. Aliens -- A hit in the U.S., but an under-performer elsewhere. Worldwide gross: -- $381.5 million -- prod. bdgt (est.) $150 million.

Battle For Terra -- Indy made in L.A. that failed to hit the sweet spot. Worldwide gross: $2.9 million. Prdctn budget: $24 million.

Up -- Pixar's latest, and another homerun. Worldwide gross: $683 million -- Prdction bdgt: $175 million.

Ice Age 3 -- a hit domestically and gargantuan hit overseas, the Ice Age franchise is one of the pillars of Fox-News Corp. -- Worldwide gross: $883.7 million -- prctn budgt: $90 million.

Astro Boy -- A big budget and a lot of talent onboard, but the retro title failed to connect. Worldwide gross: $21 million -- Prdctn bdgt: $65 million.

Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs -- A (mild) hit for Sony, its domestic gross got stunted when theatre chains pulled the picture after Sony's early DVD release announcement. Worldwide gross: $194.8 million -- Prdctn bdgt: $100 million.

The Princess and the Frog -- In release, doing okay but not great. -- Domestic gross: $63.4 million (and counting) -- Prdctn cost: $105 million.

Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Squeakquel -- This animation hybrid is another sharp arrow in Fox's consierable animation quiver. 1st 5 days domestic gross: $77 million. prdctn bdgt: $70 million (est.)

So that's what's been happening with animation the past year. Some misses, several hits, and a couple of productions that were in the so-so category.

But what of the soon-to-be future? DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon will be another hit for Jeffrey's company, and Shrek #4 will be a huge hit. (I'd say you could take that to the bank, but given the state of banks these days ...)

Toy Story III, out this summer, will be a sizable money-maker around the world.

The jury is out on the American-prepped but French-made Despicable Me. I wouldn't count it out, since the visual gags and pratfalls (judging from the trailers) are numerous, and you can seldom go wrong with visual humor, so long as there's the semblance of a story.

Hybrid animation is with us for the long haul. Studios have had good results with chipmunks and house cats (the first Garfield especially) and will continue to mine that rich vein. And there will be lots of animation in the big, live-action blockbusters, whether they're set on faraway planets or in Victorian London. Stereo viewed pictures (3D to you and me) will continue to expand, with animation leading the way.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh will probably track a little lower than The Princess and the Frog, which looks iffy to crack a $100 million domestically. (Pooh gets a Spring release in 2011.) I'm thinking that Walt's company will keep doing hand-drawn animation, but only at a production cost of $40 million-$70 million. The audiences, as of now, don't seem to be there for hand drawn product in the way they were in the early nineties. (Wish it were otherwise, but the grosses tell the tale.) Maybe the right hand-crafted property will really and truly click, or maybe the eyeballs have made a permanent move to CGI and stereo viewing.

The one thing that's evident is that theatrical animation is definitely a major commercial force in Tinsel Town, and is likely to stay that way. Nobody ignores it anymore, nobody cedes animation to one or two companies, everybody is in the game. And that's not going to change anytime soon.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

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