Monday, March 29, 2010

News - 03/29/10...

'Dragon' stokes up box office with $43.3M debut

"How to Train Your Dragon" has breathed a bit of box-office fire with a $43.3 million opening weekend and a No. 1 debut.

Yet the DreamWorks Animation adventure came in well behind the studio's last cartoon comedy, "Monsters vs. Aliens," which opened with $59.3 million over the same weekend last year.

Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," which had been No. 1 the previous three weekends, slipped to second place with $17.3 million. It raised its domestic total to $293.1 million.

John Cusack's raunchy comedy "Hot Tub Time Machine" had a lukewarm No. 3 debut of $13.7 million.

See Studio Ghibli's Nisshin Seifun Commercial Here!

One thing that Japan's Studio Ghibli does do: create brilliant pieces of animation.

One thing that Studio Ghibli does not do: television.

Though there are exceptions, Ghibli's forays into the world of television are exceedingly rare, the company preferring to spend all their energy on feature films. In fact their television work is so rare that when a group of Ghibli employees cooked up the idea for children's sci-fi TV series Dennou Coil a while back they had to move over to Madhouse to actually make the thing.

But rarely appearing on the small screen is not the same as never appearing on the small screen and Ghibli is there now, having been commissioned to create a new TV spot for the Nisshin Seifun Group to celebrate their 110th anniversary. Using a cat sketched by veteran Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki as its basis, Goro Miyazaki storyboarded the piece which veteran character designer Katsuya Kondo directed. It's totally charming and you'll find the longer of the two existing versions below.

(Thanks Twitch)

ED Note:

Via, the staff was
Character design: Toshio Suzuki
Storyboards: Goro Miyazaki
Animation: Katsuya Kondo
Narration: Fuki Kondo (Katsuya Kondo's 5 year-old daughter)
Song: "Tadaima no Uta"
Singer: Yamori (Akiko Yano and Ryoko Moriyama's new group)
The name of the cat is Konyara
The straw hat of the cat is an idea from Hayao Miyazaki
Katsuya Kondo drew all animation cels (230 pieces) alone using a brush-pencil

Trailer for 3D animation feature SPACE DOGS, dubbed in English

Space Dogs (Belka and Strelka) is probably the first Russian major entrance into the sphere of stereoscopic 3D animation, as the first Russian Digital 3D feature Rolli 3D got only limited distribution, because it was originally made and shown in 2D, but 2 years later was remade in 3D and re-released.

The movie is based on the true story of Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka that were the first living creatures that had been in the space and returned back to Earth. They were homeless mongrels, living in Moscow, and they were chosen intentionally, not only because pedigree dogs are weaker for survival, but also to show that "capitalistic" elitist ideas are crap according to theory of Communism.

It was released in Russia on 18th March, 2010. And the bad thing is that American 3D feature How to Train Your Dragon was released in Russia on the same day, a week before premiere in States and other countries, so Russia and CIS was the only territory where American distributors released the movie earlier. I doubt that it was made unintentionally.

Space Dogs will be released internationally (in English-speaking countries) in the summer of 2010. As you can judge from the trailer, it is completely dubbed in English.

(Thanks Twitch)

Foley Reveals No Naked Online

No Naked! was Caroline Foley’s traditionally-animated 2007 project at CalArts, but she’s just now releasing it online. She illustrates that you don’t need much to tell a great animated story. With simple designs, no color, and just 3 characters, she created a highly enjoyable 5 minute film. It’s got naked butts of some youths in it, but it’s reasonably safe for work. I love the bit at the end – make sure you stay thru to the last few seconds.

New and Upcoming in Japan

Gothicmade - the new anime from Five Star Stories' Mamoru Nagano
Insect Story Honeybee Hutch ~Melody of Courage~
Welcome to the Space Show
Legend of the Legendary Hero
Onigamiden Studio Pierrot's adaptation of Takafumi Takada’s novel

Live action Gantz

Anime translated the status of the Ghibli's The Borrower Arrietty

Layout: 984/997 cuts - 98.7%
Key animation: 834 cuts - 83.7%
Chief animator check: 664 cuts - 66.6%
Animation: 615 cuts - 61.7%
Painting: 525 cuts - 52.7%
Background painting: 668 cuts - 67.0%
Completed cuts: 490 cuts - 49.2%
According to Nishioka, Yonebayashi (the director) is working until 3:00am every day. After some consideration by Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli now prohibits all-nighters in principle. Animators must return to their home at least once a day.

“The Borrower Arrietty” Picture Book at Studio Ghibli’s booth in TAF2010

The Blu-ray release Nausicaa has been confirmed, scheduled for July 14, 2010 at ¥7140

A translation of Toshio Suzuki's introduction can be read here


Toei is developing CG movies based on Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Daikuu Maryuu Gaiking. An international release is targeted for 2012.

A pilot based Leiji Matsumoto's Harlock character has been completed.
Mobile Suit Gundam UC author Harutoshi Fukui, Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki, Appleseed mechanical designer Atsushi Takeuchi, and Ninja Scroll character designer Yutaka Minowa worked on the new Space Pirate Captain Harlock pilot with Sega Sammy Visual Entertainment.

Light Stage, used for Avatar, was used for a Gaiking pilot. The mecha anime was aired in the US as part of the Force Five block.


Blogger Danny Choo has announced his anime project Chinka

Since a few years ago, there have been many cases of arson.

In the rural town of Kiyotaki, situated in a beautiful mountain valley, the town folks are talking about the legendary arsonist, Akaneko.

The police have completely given up on Akaneko, who has slipped through their fingers every time.

The town's only hope is its one and only firefighting team - the Mizuneko Fire Brigade. But because of their destructive fire fighting ways, they too are feared by the town folk. Almost every night, Akaneko and the Mizuneko Fire Brigade fight fiercely, taking down many of the town's buildings in the process. The Mizuneko Fire Brigade have depleted most of the town's financial resources so the town ends up on the verge of bankruptcy. The town was in a critical state when Chinka, a girl with a superhuman ability to smell out fires appears. With her powers, the Mizuneko Fire Brigade close in on the true identity of Akaneko...


Anime Innovation Tokyo (AIT) is producting new mecha anime Kihei Senki Legacies featuring the work of Story creator Shin Kibayashi (Bloody Monday, Kindaichi Case Files), mechanic designer Kunio Okawara (Mobile Suit Gundam, Armored Trooper Votoms, Yatterman), character designer Daisuke Nakayama (Tweeny Witches), and musical composer ReTurnTable (Transonic, Tanzmuzik)


via News Parade.
Sakae Esuno's Mirai Nikki aka Future Diary will be adapted into a 20 minute OVA, packed in with volume 11 of the manga, on sale September 9th. Staff includes
- Director: Naoto Hosoda (Shuffle!)
- Writer: Takayama Katsuhiko (Full Metal Alchemist, Natsu no Arashi)
- Chara-designeur: Hirayama Heiji (Shuffle!) & Ruriko Watanabe
- Studio: Aslead (Shuffle!)


Manga creator Suzuhito Yasuda revealed that supernatural action Yozakura Quartet is setting a reset, second anime adaptation, packaged starting with volume nine of the manga.

Ryoochimo Sawa is directing, designing the characters and overseeing the animation production. Tatsunoko Pro and KMMJ Studios are producing, and the studio Kusanagi is handling the backgrounds.

Samurai Champloo Composer Passes Away

Jun Seba, also known as Nujabes passed away on February 26 as a result of an automobile accident. Nujabes was known to anime fans as the composer for music on Samurai Champloo, including its opening "Battlecry."

Worth Checking Out in Anime...


Naotoshi Shida animation MAD

Halo Legends development

FLCL with annotator annotations

Birdy the Mighty animatics

indie animation

A survey of Mamoru Hosoda's work


The 1/1 Gundam is back, with a beam saber

anime ads - Tokyo Anime Center exhibits on Lupin III

Angelina Jolie As Maleficent? I Could See That.

LA Times has inserted a quarter into the Rumor Arcade Machine and pressed play for what is right now, an interesting casting rumor.

According to them, Angeleina Jolie has her eye on playing Maleficent in Tim Burton's reimagining of the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty:

With "Maleficent," the postmodern take on "Sleeping Beauty," gaining momentum at Disney, there's also a star who could be surging with it: Angelina Jolie.

Earlier this week, the news
broke that Disney had hired its longtime collaborator Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King") to work on the screenplay for the live-action take on the 50-year-old hit. (Maleficent is the evil fairy godmother in the Disney film; this story would be told, "Wicked"-like, from her perspective.)

Both Tim Burton and Angelina Jolie had last spring been rumored to join the project, which Disney has been kicking around for a while as a way to mine its library, among other things. Burton's involvement remains unclear as he contemplates several projects. But sources say that, as of the last few weeks, Jolie is keen on the film and would like to sign on to play the titular villain.

There's no deal (or, for that matter, script) yet. And it's unclear if Jolie's involvement would be conditional on Burton moving forward with it too. But it's nonetheless notable that Jolie -- who has no new movie after shooting the international thriller
"The Tourist" -- is actively engaging with the material and could, according to sources, very well star in the film when all is said and done.

A Disney spokesman this week said the company would not comment on anything
"Maleficent"-related. Jolie manager Geyer Kosinski could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A quick primer on Maleficent: The wicked fairy godmother is the character who casts the original spell on Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Princess Aurora, quoth Wikipedia) that the young girl will prick herself on a splinter and die; Maleficent is an archrival of sorts to the good fairy godmother, who casts a counter-spell that says the girl will sleep for a century and then be awakened by the kiss of a prince. The original versions of the fairy tale don't name Maleficent; the character was named and shaped by Disney for its 1959 film, and would of course be deepened and amplified for this one.

Click HERE to read the rest.

I can see Angelina in the role. She could play a good evil witch and besides, her 500 kids need to see her in something more family friendly than what she's been in lately. What do you guys think?

(Thanks Latino Review)

Theater Chains Raising 3-D Ticket Prices Today

Beginning today, the Wall Street Journal reports that many major movie chains, including Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark Holdings Inc. and AMC Entertainment Inc., are raising prices for 3-D movie tickets. It reflects the steepest price increase in a decade. 3-D ticket prices are rising by as much as 26% in some areas, though the average increase will be closer to 8%. The average increase for IMAX screens is 10%. Some theaters in metropolitan areas will be charging nearly $20 for IMAX admissions.

The WSJ article, which is behind a subscription-wall, acknowledges that movie studios are wary the price increases could spark a consumer backlash:

Some movie-studio executives expressed concern that the price increases might be too much too soon. “The risk we run is that we will no longer be the value proposition that we as an industry have prided ourselves on,” said a distribution executive at one major studio, who added that he was worried movies would become “a luxury item.”

But studios also like the increases because they split box office proceeds with theater operators. Dan Fellman, who is president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., a studio that can’t even be bothered to make true 3-D films, approved of the price increases. “The exhibitors are trying to push the needle on ticket prices and see where it ends up,” he said. “Sure, it’s a risky move, but so far charging a $3 or $4 premium has had no effect on consumers whatsoever, so I’m in favor of this experiment to raise prices even more. There may be additional revenue to earn here.” Warners will open Clash of the Titans, a regular film that has been retrofitted for 3-D screens, next week.

Related reading in today’s Wall Street Journal: a piece called Will This 3-D Fad Fizzle Too? In the piece, Peter Decherney, a professor at UPenn, drew a smart parallel to the first 3-D bust. He said that in the 1950s, “3-D died out when the studios realized that television was a boon for Hollywood, not competition.” He predicts the same will happen again. “As studios find ways to profit from Internet and mobile distribution, they will be less interested in competing with new technologies.”

(Thanks cartoon brew)

New Shrek Forever After character posters

Two new posters for DreamWorks' Shrek Forever After have just been revealed at Yahoo! Movies, and they offer small hints about the movie's plot. The first features the title character behind bars and apparently jailed. The second has new villain Rumplestilskin standing in front of an army of witches, sporting a strange red hair style that makes him resemble a Troll doll. More character posters can probably be expected in the near future. Shrek Forever After opens in theaters on May 21st.

New Cat in the Hat Series Debuts Sept. 6 on PBS Kids!

PBS Kids! and Random House’s new animated TV and web series The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! will have its premiere on the network Sept. 6.

Based on the classic children’s book by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and the Cat in the Hat Learning Library, the series stars Martin Short as the Cat, who leads Sally and Nick on natural-science adventures, with a little help from the Fish, Thing 1 and Thing 2.

“In the same way the original The Cat in the Hat book has introduced generations of children to the joys of reading, The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! will encourage children to explore the wonders of science and nature,” says Kate Klimo, Dr. Seuss’s Random House publisher and executive director of development for Random House Children’s Entertainment.

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! was created to encourage young children to learn about science by introducing inquiry skills and teaching core concepts and vocabulary.

The show is produced by Random House Children’s Entertainment in association with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, and developed for television by Portfolio Entertainment Inc. and Collingwood O’Hare Productions.

A supplemental, activity-driven website will support the series by encourage children to explore of science concepts on

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

TV Tokyo, Crunchyroll Solidify Partnership

Japanese anime broadcaster TV Tokyo has made a strategic investment of $750,000 in the Asian media and lifestyle website Crunchyroll.

The deal expands the companies’ previous partnership and ensures that TV Tokyo will continue to license such anime content as Naruto Shippuden and Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee to the site. Crunchyroll will continue to offer premium access to TV Tokyo content under its subscription plan.

“This investment fits with our three ‘challenge goals’ of cultivating new hits, developing our rights business, and discovering new revenue areas,” says Masayuki Shimada, president and co-CEO of TV Tokyo. “Through Crunchyroll now more than ever before, we will be able to cultivate new programs to a worldwide audience, strategically plan a global rights business, and leverage Crunchyroll's innovation to discover new ways to generate revenue.”

“With this partnership, we formalize our already strong relationship with TV TOKYO and look forward to building a long-term business together,” says Kun Gao, co-founder and CEO of Crunchyroll. “This is an historic moment for Crunchyroll, and this solidifies our commitment to bringing the best in Japanese anime to our millions of fans around the globe.”

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

VIZ Sets English Voice Cast for Vampire Knight

VIZ Media is bringing the gothic romance anime series Vampire Knight to North America, and has set the cast for its English-language dub.

The cast includes Mela Lee as Yuki Cross, whose adoptive father runs the Cross Academy; Vic Mignogna as Zero Kiryu, an older student from a family of vampire hunters; and Ethan Murray as Kaname Kuran, head of the vampire Kuran Clan and president of the school’s vampire-filled night class.

Vampire Knight is an important series that demanded skilled actors who could portray these complex characters without sacrificing any of the intensity and emotional drama each one exudes,” says William Germain, director of programming and music sales for VIZ Media. “We also know there are a lot of fans of the manga that have been waiting for this series so we wanted to bring in some very talented people who we know will take Vampire Knight to a whole new level.”

Vampire Knight is based on the best-selling manga by Matsui Hino.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

D'oh! voted Simpsons' biggest addition to English

"D'oh!," Homer Simpson's famously inarticulate annoyed grunt, has been voted by a survey of international linguists as The Simpsons' greatest contribution to the English language.

The survey was conducted by London-based Today Translations, a company with a network of 2,600 translators and interpreters in over 60 countries.

With 320 responses, "D'oh!" came up with 37%. Then came "introubulate" and "craptacular," with Bart's famed "Eat my shorts" in fourth place. The characterization of the French as "cheeseeating surrender monkeys" earned ninth spot.

"Homer Simpson must be the most influential wordsmith since Shakespeare," said Jurga Zilinskiene, chief executive of Today Translations. "And thanks to The Simpsons, combined with the power of the Internet, ours must be the greatest golden age for new words since Shakespeare's own."

The survey was spurred by a column by Times journalist Ben Macintyre, reprinted in his book The Last Word, in which he described how the series has come up with "an entire raft of words and phrases that have been absorbed into popular parlance."

The British have long taken a shing to "D'oh!". In 2001, the catchphrse entered the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary. It was defined as "expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish."

Simpsons creator Matt Groening traced "D'oh!" to Scottish actor Jimmy Finlayson, who used a longer "Dow" as a foil in Laurel and Hardy comedies. It was shortened to "D'oh!" because Groening felt that Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, should say it more quickly to fit animation timing.

David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, says that most catchphrases gradually disappear after the show that made them famous goes off the air. Sometimes, though, such phrases as "Me Tarzan, you Jane" live on.

"That never turned up in the films, but everyone knows it and everybody uses it still," observed Crystal, author of A Little Book of Language.

"How to Train Your Dragon" News Article Roundup

Several articles on DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon are around the web in advance of its premiered Friday:

* - Comic Book Resources covers a press conference on the film attended by co-director Dean DeBlois, author of the original novel Cressida Cowell, and producer Bonnie Arnold. Among the topics discussed are the differences between book and film and the rationales behind them, the explanation for the Scottish accents among the adults, and the possibility of sequels.
*- The Denton Record Chronicle speaks with co-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, last teamed on Disney's Lilo & Stitch, on how the pair were hired to take over the project about a year from its scheduled release date with nothing filmed and a story "that needed a major overhaul," and how they dealt with the demands imposed by the schedule and their first work in 3-D. Canada's National Post speaks with the pair about many of the same topics.
* - British Columbia's The Province speaks with Dragon animator Katrina Conwright, trained at Kwantlen College and the Vancouver Film School and a DreamWorks animator for about four years. Conwright discusses acting out with her colleagues at work, her favorite scene in the movie, and how she landed her job at DreamWorks.
* - (ADDED March 26, 2010) Comic Book Resources covers a press conference with actors Craig Ferguson, Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara and Gerard Butler, where they discuss finding their characters, the differences between on-camera and voice acting work, and Scottish accents.

Soundtrack CD Release For "Wonder Woman" Animated Feature Arriving In April 2010

The long-awaited Wonder Woman – Soundtrack From the DC Universe Animated Original Movie score CD release from La-La Land Records is slated for release next month.

The World’s Finest has confirmed with La-La Land Records that the long-awaited Wonder Woman – Soundtrack From the DC Universe Animated Original Movie score soundtrack CD release is slated to be made available to own beginning Tuesday, April 6th, 2010. Initially announced for a March 9th, 2010 release, this special limited edition compact disc release from La-La Land Records experienced production delays, pushing its release initially to late March 2010 before settling on its current April 2010 release. Copies of this limited edition CD release will be available beginning April 6th, 2010 through the La-La Land Records website and other online supporting soundtrack specialty stores. Only 1200 copies will be available. WaterTower Music currently has the Wonder Woman – Soundtrack From the DC Universe Animated Original Movie score available to own as a digital download through iTunes and other digital music outlets.

Click here to view the cover art and complete track list for this upcoming soundtrack CD release.

TIME's DWA/WB Analogy

... which some won't like:

"Each year I do one DreamWorks project," actor Jack Black told the crowd at the 2009 [Academy Awards] ceremony, "then I take all the money to the Oscars and bet it on Pixar."

That was also the case 60, 70 years ago, when Disney shorts had a monopoly on the Oscars, while the funnier, livelier cartoons from Warner Bros. — which today are treasured — were ignored. In that sense, Pixar's features are closer to the old, elevated Disney style, while DreamWorks' films are flat-out cartoons, proud to carry on the fast, cavorting Warner tradition.

I don't know if I would draw exactly the same parallels, though I could see how others would. To tell you the truth, chunks of the Ice Age franchise are as Looney Tunesque as anything out there in CG land.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Topics of The Week

I was in the usual bundle of studios Monday to Friday. Among the bullet points from various visits:

#1 Topic today at Film Roman: How does the recently passed health care bills impact the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan?

I said the same things that are mentioned here, emphasizing that the excise tax on
"Cadillac Plans" won't kick in until 2018. (General relief all around.)

Simpsons artists are wrapping up Season #21, embarking on Season #22.

Held meeting at another (unnamed) studio about overtime rules.

Artists asked if I could enforce o.t. infractions and keep individual employees' names anonymous. I said that was hard to do. If employees are working uncompensated overtime, management needs to know who they are so people can be paid the o.t.

Another question:
"Why can't the union referee the length of production schedules, tell the company if its schedule needs to be six weeks instead of five weeks?" My answer: "That's what keeping track of hours is supposed to do. If employees falsify time cards to 'hit the schedule deadline,' the company has no clear idea of how long the work really takes." Everyone needs to follow the contract's work rules.

At the IM Digital facility in Marina Del Rey, employees have moved past the shock of closure and are getting on with Mars Needs Moms, the last film IMD will produce.

Disney manager told me that employees will be laid off in four waves as IMD's last movie rolls to completion: Spring, Summer, Fall, December. Different departments will complete their assignments at different times as each department finishes its work.*

* Kindly note: IA reps visit IMD studios, not me. But I did talk to a Disney manager re the above.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

The March of Links

More linkage for a Spring day.

Green Froggy, per Home Media Magazine, came in #2 against Twilight: New Moon:

... Walt Disney Studios’ The Princess and the Frog, rode its $104.3 million box office gross to a No. 2 debut on both sales charts. Nielsen research shows that 17% of the weekend sales tally for New Moon came from the Blu-ray Disc, while Princess generated 22% of its first-week sales from Blu-ray. ...

Forbes magazine tells which voice actors are hot in feature animation (like we didn't know?):

... When a studio can combine a popular lead vocal actor with a rich box office, a sequel can't be far behind. ... Jack Black is preparing to bring the thunder once again with a sequel to DreamWorks Animation's 2008 film Kung Fu Panda. Black also starred in the less successful 2004 film Shark Tale, which also featured Will Smith. Black's films have earned an average $500 million at the worldwide box office and he was featured in an average 2,000 press clippings around his movies....

Market Watch expounds on DreamWorks Animation's marketing partnership:

... The dragon's share, or 95% of [How to Train Your Dragon's] merchandise, will be exclusive to Wal-Mart, not just the crimson cookies. And Katzenberg considers this type of pact essential as DreamWorks faces an increasingly competitive future in animated features.

"Having these kinds of retail partnerships is part of our future," the movie studio chief (DWA 44.00, +1.59, +3.75%) told MarketWatch. "You have to be innovative today. You have to find new ways to do business. To us this is a unique opportunity."...

Dean DeBlois (co-director of How to Train Your Dragon) is one of those "work from home" kind of animation employees.

"The Pacific Northwest is definitely my preferred place to work from," said DeBlois ... "We share the same time zone. I can hop on a plane and be there in two hours. It actually works out really well."

Cinema Blend compares DreamWorks Animation's output to Pixar's ... and comes down in favor of DWA:

... When you enter Pixar world, you enter a world of smoothness, of class, of originality that's been polished to a sheen. DreamWorks is a much shaggier operation, which explains why many of their films have been outright disasters, but also how they create some of the weirdest, and funniest, films out there. ...

The Daily Telegraph informs us that The Simpsons influence on the Mother Tongue has been profound:

Homer Simpson's catchphrase "D'oh!" has been voted the greatest contribution made by the famous yellow cartoon family to the English language.

It came top in a survey of international linguists marking 20 years of
The Simpsons, the world’s longest-running sitcom.

"D'oh!" beat other much loved words and phrases from the programme including "eat my shorts", "don't have a cow" and “craptacular”.

The exclamation has already been officially recognised and was added to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary ...

Newsweek questions the depth of humor of Adult Television cartoons:

The ‘South Park’ Death Knell? ...Why topical, weekly humor shows must adapt, or face the wrath of the channel-change button.

To deflate pomposity is the raison d'être of the modern nighttime cartoon. All the heavyweights—
The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, not to mention the Adult Swim universe—revel in zealously ridiculing athletes, politicians, and pop icons, or anyone who can be treated like a piñata without inviting a lawsuit.

But there's often a disconnect between the large game and the satirical cartoon's ability to accurately target it ....

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Disney assistant animator Lillian Chapman dies

Assistant animator Lillian Chapman, who worked for Disney and Filmation from 1980 to 1999, died November 17, The Animation Guild announced. Her age was not available.

Chapman often worked in feature films for both studios.

Sometimes billed as Lillian Amanda Chapman, she was an inbetween artist for the character "Gaston" in Disney's 1991 movie Beauty and the Beast. She was a breakdown artist for the character "Jafar" in Aladdin, released the following year.

Chapman was an assistant animator for the characters "Adult Nala" in The Lion King (1994), "John Smith" in Pocahontas (1995), and "Captain" and "Thugs" in Tarzan (1999).

She was a clean-up assistant in Disney's Burbank studio for A Goofy Movie (1995), an additional assistant clean-up animator for 1998's Mulan, and an additional clean-up artist for The Tigger Movie (2000).

As well, she was a breakdown and inbetween artist for the 1990 featurette Disney's the Prince and the Pauper. Chapman was an assistant clean-up animator for the "Djali" character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).

For Filmation, she was a breakdown artist for Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987) and an assistant animator for BraveStarr: The Legend (1988).

Disney character designer Dana Landsberg dies

Dana Landsberg, a character designer for Disney, Hyperion and Universal since 1991, died December 30.

His age was not immediately available.

Landsberg designed characters for many direct-to-video Disney productions. He was the lead character designer for An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000), as well as a character designer for The Return of Jafar (1994), Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1995), Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins (2000), Mickey's House of Villains and Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse (both 2001), Atlantis: Milo's Return (2003), Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas (2004), The Emperor's New Groove 2: Kronk's New Groove (2005) and The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (2008).

His series included Darkwing Duck (1991-92), Aladdin (1994), Quack Pack (1996), House of Mouse (2001-02), Lilo & Stitch: The Series (2005), American Dragon: Jake Long" (2006) and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (2008)

As well, he worked on the 2006 TV special Leroy & Stitch.

Dana Landsberg was a member of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, California. He is survived by wife Cheryl and children Jordan and Jonah.

Ann Hamilton was Hanna-Barbera assistant animator

Assistant animator Ann Hamilton, who worked for Hanna-Barbera, Bakshi, Filmfair, Filmation and Graz from 1977 to 1992, died January 16.

Her age was not immediately available.

Sometimes credited as Anne Hamilton, she was an assistant animator on the 1982 H-B feature film Heidi's Song. She provided ink and paint special effects on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1978), directed by Ralph Bakshi.

She was also a timing director on the 1994 Universal Cartoon Studios series Beethoven, which ran on CBS.

Yellow sponge triumphs over yellow people at KCAs

As if anybody had advance doubt, Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" was named favorite cartoon Saturday night at the 23rd annual Kids' Choice Awards.

It's the seventh time that SBSP has won in the category. The series came out on top every year from 2003 to 2007, as well as in 2009.

Coincidentally, the Kids' Choice Awards are presented by -- and broadcast on -- Nickelodeon.

The Simpsons was again shut out like All My Children star Susan Lucci was for years at the Daytime Emmys. This year marked the 10th time that the FOX series was nominated for a KCA for favorite cartoon; it has yet to win.

Also competing in the category were DreamWorks' The Penguins of Madagascar and Disney's Phineas and Ferb.

Disney-Pixar's Up was named favorite animated movie, defeating challengers A Christmas Carol, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Monsters vs. Aliens.

For his work as Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney's motion-capture A Christmas Carol, Jim Carrey won the orange blimp-shaped trophy for favorite voice from an animated movie. Also competing were Monsters vs. Aliens voice actors Seth Rogen (B.O.B.) and Reese Witherspoon (Susan Murphy/Ginormica), along with Ray Romano, who portrayed Manfred "Manny" the Mammoth in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

The partly animated Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel won for favorite movie. All the challengers in the category were sequels or series entries as well: the live-action Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Twilight Saga: New Moon and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The Kids' Choice Awards were presented inside UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. The show's host, actor-comedian Kevin James, is famed for his starring role in Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Elimination of Lines

Per the co-director of How to Train Your Dragon, the barriers between different types of movies are coming down.

The modern Hollywood animator is accursed with a burden that never bedeviled Walt Disney, Chuck Jones or even the '80s Imagineers who framed each shot of Roger Rabbit. In the era of "Avatar," ... [n]othing is impossible.

"There's nothing you can't do in terms of creating a performance," says Dean DeBlois, ... "It's only a matter of time, money and imagination." ... " 'Avatar' has bridged the gap so much between what live-action did and what animation traditionally did. ... "It exists in the middle. Those lines of animation and photo realism are so blurred." ...

Matter of fact, the lines are eliminated, aren't they? When an audience looks at characters that gestated from an animation artist's head, to her drawing tablet and finally her computer, yet accepts the resulting images as live-action, there ain't no differences anymore.

We've reached the era of full-on fusion. Bre'r Rabbit and Jessica Rabbits were cartoon figures invading a live-action world. The life-forms of Pandora are animated characters passing themselves off as live-action beings from start to finish.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Investing 101 -- Financial Advisors

Because the monthly deadline for enrolling in the TAG 401(k) Plan is fast approaching (it's April 1st), I put up another post about tucking money away for later.

This one concerns the wonderful world of financial advisers. William J. Bernstein, one of the sages of investment strategies, writes this:

[In investing] I emphasize three main principles: first, to not be too greedy; second, to diversify as widely as possible; and third, to always be wary of the investment industry. People do not seek employment in investment banks, brokerage houses, and mutual fund companies with the same motivations as those who choose to work in fire departments or elementary schools. Whether investors know it or not, they are engaged in an ongoing zero sum, life and death struggle with pirhanas, and if rigorous precautions are not taken, the financial services industry will strip investors of their wealth faster than they can say “Bernie Madoff. ” ...

William J. Bernstein,
"The Investors' Manifesto: Preparing for Prosperity, Armageddon, and Everything in Between."

Or, as Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has a financial advisor say:

"I recommend allocating 2% of [your money] to me, and 98% to things that sound good if you don't look at them too closely ..."

You know, things like funds with big commissions for the advisor, so he'll make even more money off you.

When I look at that Dilbert strip, I look at a quarter century of my life. Because I had, for over twenty-five years, a folksy, friendly stock broker who took me to lunch and invested my money and took 2% off the top, season after season.

And when I finally wised up and told him I was taking my money elsewhere, the friendliness faded a bit and he showed me with colorful bar graphs how much money he'd made me. (This was in the middle nineties, fifteen years into a bull market). And I asked him:

"Okay, this seems impressive. But after all the stock trading and strategizing, how much did you beat the benchmark by? You know, the S & P 500?"

We sat there and did the math. It turned out after all that time, after all the wheeling and dealing and jolly lunches, I had made 1% less than having the money in a freaking index fund. And I had paid him, for decades, 2% of my stash.

Neat. (And I haven't used a "financial advisor" since.)

This is what I say in 401(k) meetings, over and over:

* It's important to asset allocate between small company stocks, large company stocks, international stocks and bonds.
* It's important to keep doing this from your twenties to your sixties.
* If you're freaked out by the thought of losing money, then go
conservative (more bonds than stocks), but invest.

The theory is simple. The execution is hard. Because people often jump into hot sectors around the time that sector is cooling off, and jump out of a sector just as it's bottoming.

The trick is to set up a good allocation plan and stick with it. And tune out all the noise from the Smart Money: ("American stocks are dooomed! The U.S. dollar will be worthless in two years! China's the place to put your money!" etc.)

The reality is, nobody can say with accuracy where various world markets will be in two years ... or ten ... or twenty. The dollar might be trading at five cents on the Swiss franc, but with the rest of the world in much the same shape as the U.S. of A., I would shrink from making that prediction. (When I was in my twenties, China was an economic basket case.)

So. Cover your ears. Put a chunk of every pay check into savings and retirement accounts, get it out of your head that you can time any market, and press forward. (It will seem like a bore now, but you'll be happy you did it when your hair is gray and you're swigging down Metamucil.)

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Stop Motion: The Handmade 3D Animation

Prior to the holidays, I was at the movie theater to see an animated feature, of course, and one of the trailers before it started was for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” an animated feature based on a Roald Dahl book.

And as I sat watching the trailer, this momentary thought crossed my brain. “Hey, that’s pretty stiff CG. Nice texture work, though.”

Of course, I eventually realized that “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is in fact not a very stiff CG film with nice texture work, but instead a stop-motion animated film, a film animated by painstakingly posing puppets and moving them for each frame. But I’m willing to forgive myself a little because, although stop motion films such as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Coraline” still get made, this is the age of the CG animated film.

Stop motion films were never as common as traditional two-dimensional animated films, but before they were the only outlet for a filmmaker who wanted to create a more solid dimensional animation. Now that filmmakers with that desire can make dimensional-looking cartoons purely with the computer without painstakingly posing clay or puppet figures, well, most of them do. Laika hired someone to knit tiny sweaters for the puppet characters in “Coraline.” You don’t have to knit tiny sweaters for CGI characters.

But, fortunately, there are still moviemakers keeping this unique animated artform alive, and there’s also a rich history of films from the past. What follows is a list, humbly offered with no pretensions of special expertise other than being an animation fan, for those that want to experience something with a little more literal “substance” to it than your average CG film. I’ve tried to give an overview of some of the more influential creators and companies involved in stop-motion film over the years, as well as recommending one particular film from each creator.

George Pal’s Puppetoons

Ray Harryhausen is well-known for his work on fantasy films that feature stop-motion special effects sequences. I still remember being impressed with his “Jason and the Argonauts” as a kid; the skeleton battle and the creatures were more fantastic than any man in a suit could ever be. He’s incredibly important to film history, but since he focused his efforts on live-action movies with stop-motion special effects sequences, he really doesn’t fit on our list.

The man who gave Harryhausen one of his earliest jobs, however, does. George Pal, born in Hungary in 1908, is famous as the director of the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine” and for his work on numerous other fantasy and science fiction films, including a personal favorite “7 Faces of Dr. Lao.”

Pal’s films feature lots of well-done stop-motion special effects, something he was an expert at because before he became a live-action director and producer, he made dozens of animated stop-motion shorts under names like Madcap Models and Puppetoons. Harryhausen worked as an animator on some of these shorts.

Pal’s films appear more fluid than a lot of the later stop-motion work you might see, because Pal’s animation process was more than simply posing marionettes. Pal would instead switch out dozens upon dozens of hand-carved wooden puppets or puppet parts to animate a scene, each pose might be a separate puppet and a single film could use thousands of puppets. The effect is gorgeous and lush in some of his better films like the last Puppetoon, 1947's “Tubby the Tuba,” his puppets display complex facial expressions and can even squash and stretch. The story of Tubby, a little Tuba who wants to play melodies in his orchestra, is much more touching for the emotion Tubby is able to show.

Pal’s stop-motion work isn’t as well known or widely remembered as the two-dimensional animation from the period. The best way to check it out might be to obtain The Puppetoon Movie, a 1987 collection including some of the best Puppetoons like “Tubby the Tuba” and “John Henry and The Inky Poo” that’s now available on DVD. Take note that these shorts are a product of their time and some do include some racial stereotyping. “The Puppetoon Movie” is actually hosted by Art Clokey’s Gumby and Pokey, who we’re moving on to now, actually.

Art Clokey and Gumby

Clokey’s clay-animation creations have been cultural icons since the 1950s, so well-recognized that Eddie Murphy could play Gumby as a bitter old Hollywood pro and people would get it. Clokey also created “Davey and Goliath,” a show that featured religious lessons that was recently parodied in Adult Swim’s “Moral Orel.”

Clokey got his start using clay and stop-motion making commercials for clients like Budweiser. After working with clay he decided to use the medium to create a stop-motion animated short featuring surreal shapes using it, which he set to jazz and called “Gumbasia” as a reference to Disney’s “Fantasia.”

Gumbasia got noticed by Sam Engel of 20th Century Fox, who asked Clokey to develop a television show featuring clay figures and Gumby, a sweet little green guy with a funny looking head, was born.

Gumby isn’t the most exciting or complex thing out there, but there’s a definite charm to the shorts and shows. Being made out of Clay means anything can happen, and the Gumby characters keep that ability to change form and shape that was present in the original “Gumbasia” short.

Numerous Gumby DVDs are available. There’s also a “Gumby: The Movie,” from 1995, based on a 1980s version of the show.

The Films of Rankin/Bass

Building on the work of Pal and others, Rankin/Bass produced several television specials using its Animagic stop-motion process. The process involves poseable puppets, not creating thousands of separate puppets as Pal did, and looks a little stiffer than the Puppetoon process. The animation itself was done by animators in Japan. I can’t help but think of the Animagic process as the puppet version of the two-dimensional “limited animation” that became popular in the 1960s for television as compared to Pal’s puppet version of the “full animation” that was used during the golden era of Disney and Warner Bros. shorts.

It’s not hard to find examples of Rankin/Bass work, especially around Christmas time, since their “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been a holiday staple since it was created in 1964. It’s still one of my childhood favorites; I remember not getting along with the other kids in school and being really touched by the “Misfit” song as Hermey the elf and Rudolph sang about not fitting in. “Rudolph” is a cultural touchstone, often referenced and parodied, and it's probably what most people over a certain age think of when someone mentions stop-motion animation.

The success of Rudolph opened the floodgates, and you can probably find a Rankin/Bass stop-motion special for any holiday you’d like. If you’re looking for a full-length feature, consider “Mad Monster Party,” a 1967 Halloween-themed film featuring the voice and likeness of famed horror actor Boris Karloff, easily available on DVD. Or you could just rewatch Rudolph. After more than 40 years, people still haven’t gotten tired of it.

Will Vinton and Claymation

Art Clokey may have been an early pioneer in bringing clay animation into American living rooms through television, but thanks to Will Vinton and his Claymation process, for a while in the 1980s it seemed like you couldn’t get away from it. Vinton’s studio created a number of popular and widely aired commercials for major clients, his California Raisins commercials for the California Raisin Advisory Board and the Avoid the Noid Commercials for Domino’s Pizza. In contrast to the simpler shapes of Gumby or Davey and Goliath, Vinton’s detailed caricatured style was able to make even something as boring as raisins appealing to the American consumer.

But there’s a lot more to Vinton than commercials. He had been honing and developing his style since the early 1970s when he and fellow animator Bob Gardiner began the work that would eventually lead to “Closed Mondays,” a clay-animated short that won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short film in 1975. The drunk that stumbles through a living art museum in this film may not be as cute or as smoothly animated as the dancing raisins. But the film definitely exhibits the wild flexibility and anything-can-happen imagination possible in the clay medium, with a memorable sequence in which a computer transforms into the Earth with a face, Albert Einstein, a TV complete with a little newscaster inside and many other shapes.

Vinton would continue to create works that stretched the stop-motion medium through numerous shorts, commercials and sequences for television shows. In 1985 he tried his hand at a feature length movie, “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. This is one I vividly remember watching in my youth and, honestly, it was weird. Especially a sequence based on Mark Twain’s “Mysterious Stranger” story that features Satan, although the idea of Mark Twain chasing Haley’s Comet in an airship isn’t itself run-of-the-mill either. Vinton also moved beyond the clay medium, creating mostly foam stop motion characters for the television series “The PJs” and was an early CG advertising pioneer with his M&M’s commercials. Vinton left the company after it was bought out by Nike founder Phil Knight in 2002 and the name was later changed to Laika, which continued the commercial work and produced its first feature film, “Coraline,” in 2009. Vinton formed another studio and continued to work on animation projects.

If I had to chose one Vinton DVD to check out to get a good taste of his work, I’d still recommend “The Adventures of Mark Twain” even if it did weird me out as a kid. You could also try the “Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas” DVD, which also includes Halloween and Easter specials.

Nick Park and Aardman Animations

Aardman was founded as an animation studio in 1972 in the UK, but most of the works that have received wide-spread recognition have involved Nick Park, who joined the studio in 1985. Park’s loveable cheese-aficionado English inventor and his super-smart dog, Wallace and Gromit, actually predated his involvement with the studio; he had begun working on their first film, 1989's “A Grand Day Out,” in 1982 as a student project. A “Grand Day Out” was nominated for an academy award for best animated short, but lost to another Park project, “Creature Comforts,” which featured stop-motion animated zoo animals speaking about their lives in the zoo. The actual dialogue was provided by man-on-the-street interviews with residents of a British housing project.

Park continued to explore the world of Wallace and Gromit, sending the characters up against a dastardly penguin and some out of control trousers in 1993's “The Wrong Trousers” and involving them in a tale that includes love for Wallace, sheep rustling and a jailbreak in 1995s “A Close Shave.” I remember catching “The Wrong Trousers” on PBS sometime in the late 1990s and marveling at the quirky affability of its cast.

He also co-directed his first feature film with Peter Lord, 2000s “Chicken Run.” A tale about a group of chickens who have to escape a cruel farm before they are turned into pies, it’s darker than the usual kids movie but was well-received. Park returned to Wallace and Gromit with 2005's “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” a critically-acclaimed “vegetarian horror”romp that won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Even though Aardman’s studios burned in 2005 and most of their models were lost in the fire, they soldiered on and have continued making Wallace and Gromit and other films. Aardman has also developed “Creature Comforts” as a franchise including an American version, although I personally have to say the newer efforts aren’t as charming to me as the original. He also moved into CG with 2006's “Flushed Away.”

As for the DVD recommendation, I’d have to say you can’t really go wrong with “Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

The Films of Henry Selick

A lot of the general public might think that Tim Burton sat down and posed the puppets for “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” considering how closely his name is associated with it. But that’s because the media would rather focus on Burton than Henry Selick, the director whose unusual vision animated the story.

Selick became interested in stop-motion animation as a young boy watching the films Harry Hausen directed. He worked in all different types of animation, working on traditional 2D animation for Disney and doing commercials and stop-motion bumpers for MTV. My first exposure to Selick’s work was probably “Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions,” a short that mixes stop-motion, live action and other techniques for an effect that makes “The Nightmare Before Christmas” look a bit conventional.

But, of course, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is the work that kicked off Selick’s career making animated feature films. It’s a beautifully animated movie, filled with bizarre settings and strange characters. It’s refreshingly not afraid to be scary, instead of toning itself down to soften things for its intended audience.

Selick followed with “James and the Giant Peach,” and adaptation of the Roald Dahl story. Another beautifully weird and adventurous movie, it still didn’t catch on with audiences. He then made “Monkeybone,” a live-action/stop motion disaster that was critically panned.

But he seems to be coming back to form with 2009's well-received “Coraline.” It’s such a smoothly animated and technically competent movie that one could be forgiven for mistaking it all for really good CG at first, but maybe they’ll notice something a little extra realistic about Coraline’s sweaters. Coraline even uses Pal’s Puppetoon’s technique of crafting hundreds of individual heads for puppets so the characters can have more expressive faces, although Selick has access to rapid prototyping technology that presumably makes things a bit quicker than carving each head by hand from wood.

To see more some of Selick’s work, I would recommend “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or "Coraline" if you haven’t seen them, but if you have give “James and the Giant Peach” a try.

In an interview with The Onion’s AV Club, Selick explained the survival of stop-motion in the CG age as part of the public’s fascination with the handmade, the way it feels more real than even the most competent CG movie--because it is.

Hopefully studios will never abandon this technique completely, and we'll get to keep that handmade feel and moments of surprise at those especially realistic looking textures.

(Thanks Toon Zone)

China making anime push as Japan hits slump

Giant figures of Anpanman, left, and Top Detective Conan, right in the air, popular Japanese anime cartoon series characters, greet visitors during the business day of the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010 in Tokyo, Japan, Thursday, March 25, 2010. More than 200 anime-related companies and organizations gathered in this annual event that opens to public on March 27 and 28.

Yoko Komazawa had been at the Tokyo International Anime Fair for nearly six hours when she fell in love with a brown-and-white stuffed panda — a character in one of the fair's featured cartoons.

"It's so adorable and interesting," she said, staring into its gleaming pink eyes. "I want it."

Unfortunately, the panda wasn't for sale and Komazawa had to settle for a photo. But she walked away from the small booth impressed by the panda's creators — from China.

"Japan is certainly an amazing anime country," said the 30-something anime fan and collector of all things cute and cuddly. "China has some intriguing characters though. They're different, and that definitely catches my attention."

Komazawa's enthusiasm for something new is a small victory for China's fledgling animation industry, and could well represent a widening crack in Japan's global anime dominance. Japan may be the birthplace of anime, but China is gunning for its future as it mounts an aggressive effort to expand the country's creative prowess and reputation.

In November, the government's cultural arm established the China Animation Comic Group Co. to foster a "great leap forward" in animation production, technology and marketing. Part of the plan includes building a "China Animation Game City" in Beijing that would be a national hub.

With government subsidies, Chinese animation companies tripled their presence at this year's Tokyo anime fair even as the overall number of exhibitors declined. The four-day event through Sunday, one of the world's biggest anime-related trade shows and festivals, featured a "China-Japan Anime Summit" along with multiple China-themed lectures.

"China is a big market, and everybody is trying to get in," said Jimmy Tse, chief executive of Top Art Investment Ltd., which makes the panda Komazawa craved. "And the Chinese people, they are starting to think, 'How come I'm manufacturing for someone else?' Why are we not creating anything ourselves?'"

China's growing ambitions coincide with an ominous industrywide slump in Japan.

After peaking in 2006, the number of anime minutes made for television fell 20 percent to 108,342 in 2009, according to the Association of Japanese Animations. A survey of the group's members shows that overseas anime revenue fell 21 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Matt Alt, a Tokyo-based author, blogger and longtime observer of Japanese pop culture, blames the industry itself for losing its edge. The world's hunger for anime accelerated around 2000, with Hollywood incorporating anime scenes into films and children clamoring for Pokemon.

Since 2006, however, a trend toward adult-oriented (and often sexually explicit) niche titles have turned off the general audience. Moreover, the industry is losing young talent due to persistently low pay and poor working conditions, forcing Japanese animation companies to outsource much of their work.

"The Japanese anime industry basically gave China, Korea and all these countries the keys to the candyshop," Alt said. "By outsourcing so much work to them, they trained this work force of people who are now far more ambitious and far more hungry than a lot of Japanese animators are."

The man behind the Tokyo anime fair acknowledges the global anime boom has waned. But chief producer Hitoshi Suzuki brushes off suggestions that foreign competition poses a threat, expressing confidence that a new boom will emerge in time.

Japanese animation is rooted in a rich 60-year history that cannot be replicated elsewhere, he said, citing the work of Astro Boy creator and "godfather of anime" Osamu Tezuka.

"Everyone tries to copy the surface of Japanese animation," he said. "But real Japanese animation is different."

Different or not, the Japanese anime industry is beginning to realize that it cannot ignore China — as an emerging rival or a potentially lucrative new market. For both countries, cooperating appears to be the best option for now.

One of the most successful joint projects so far is the "Romance of Three Kingdoms," a historical animated series currently airing across China. The program, produced by Japan's Takara Tomy and a subsidiary of China Central Television, will begin airing soon in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

Chinese startups are also actively courting Japanese content makers for their business. A representative from the online video site, China's version of Hulu, traveled to the Tokyo anime fair to convince Japanese companies that the Internet offered an alternative to mass media — subject to tight government restrictions — and that their copyrights would be protected in the process.

"It's a time of great change right now," said Yuji Nunokawa, chairman of the Association of Japanese Animations and a veteran anime producer. "We need to determine how we can work together to foster the contents business. We've come to a point in time where both sides need to think about how we can do this."

New Iron Man 2 Commercial

Here's a new commercial for Iron Man 2 which aired during Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards -

'Thor' Star Describes His Costume, Ponders Correct Pronunciation Of 'Mjolnir'

We're still waiting for our first look at "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth in costume as Marvel's god of thunder, so when we snagged the actor on the red carpet for "The Last Song" (featuring his brother, Liam Hemsworth), we managed to coax a few details out of him about the look he'll be sporting for the role.

Along with growing his beard out and donning a blond wig, the actor said a big part of his prep for the role involved lessons on the correct pronunciation of Thor's mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

"It's a pretty impressive costume, and I think anyone who put it on would look pretty cool," Hemsworth told MTV News.

"It's a pretty impressive costume, and I think anyone who put it on would look pretty cool," Hemsworth told MTV News.

The actor noted that he's adopted "semi-blond eyebrows and beard" for the film, and said they're currently 3/4 through filming at the moment.

"I have nice long, blond wig which they throw on every day," he said.

Hemsworth also talked a bit about wielding Thor's mighty hammer, Mjolnir — specifically, the importance placed upon pronouncing its name correctly.

"There's many different versions of pronouncing that thing," he laughed. "The rehearsal process was mainly about how do we pronounce that word."

Matthew Vaughn Says 'Superman' Movie Discussions Were 'Very Brief'

With director Matthew Vaughn's "Kick-Ass" set to bow in theaters in less than a month, it's easy to forget that the filmmaker once had his name connected to a very different comic book property — the "Superman" franchise.

Mark Millar recently denied rumors that his "Superman" pitch with Vaughn never received much traction at Warner Bros.. When MTV News asked Vaughn for his take on the Man of Steel, however, he was quick to indicate that rumors of his Superman film with Millar getting off the ground might have been a bit exaggerated over time.

"That sort of all got blown out of proportion. I had a very brief chat with them and that's all it was. From a 30-second chat, it's become this huge thing," Vaughn told MTV. "It hadn't gone [as far as casting], we just had an idea for a story for Superman — that was it."

Currently, the "Superman" franchise is in the hands of "The Dark Knight" collaborators Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. Vaughn said that both filmmakers could create a compelling vision of the Man of Steel, but he hopes that they won't fall back on the darker toner of the "Batman" films.

"I think they're both talented, so it's in good hands — I just hope they don't make it too serious," he said. "I think that's the one thing not to do with Superman, trying to do the serious 'The Dark Knight' version. Superman is about color and fun, or it should be, for me."

At the very least, Vaughn said that a Nolan and Goyer-helmed "Superman" should be better than "Superman Returns," a film that he described as "a mess."

"It had no idea what it was," said Vaughn. "Was it a remake, a prequel or a sequel? What was it? I actually think Bryan Singer has done some fabulous movies, but I felt that that was just a mess. There's no other way to describe it."

Clock runs out on Jack Bauer: Fox cancels 24!

As rumored a couple of weeks ago, Fox has pulled the plug on 24, its sci-fi-ish action spy drama, after eight seasons.

The current day will run out in real time in May, The Hollywood Reporter said.

There remains a possibility that the next time we see Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and company, it could be on the big screen in a movie that takes Bauer to Europe. There's also the possibility that NBC could pick the series up for next season.

Here's what the Reporter said:

... Showrunner and executive producer Howard Gordon says other possibilities are being explored as well.

"There are other possible iterations of Jack Bauer and his world," Gordon said.

As for why the show was ending its current run, the trade paper attributed that to lagging ratings, rising costs and stalled storylines.

Do you know Jack, and will you miss him?

24 currently airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT; the two-hour season finale will air May 24 at 8 p.m.

Bryan Singer Will Produce 'X-Men: First Class,' Won't Direct Film

Attention X-Fans: It looks like Bryan Singer won't be making a triumphant return to the director's chair for "X-Men: First Class" after all.

According to, the director of "X-Men" and "X2: X-Men United" will move from director to producer on the upcoming 20th Century Fox film, which takes the X-Men universe back to the early days of Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. The report indicates that the move was made in order to put the film on the fast track, since Singer is currently committed to direct Warner Bros.' "Jack the Giant Killer" in the near future.

That's not the only silver lining for fans of the X-Men movie universe Singer helped create, as the report also mentions that the film is being envisioned as the first part of a trilogy, with a potential 2011 release.

Despite recent interviews in which Singer seemed to be fully on board "X-Men: First Class," his potential exit from the project was rumored earlier this week and now appears to be confirmed — though it won't be anything near a complete departure from the film.

The filmmaker will allegedly join producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Simon Kinberg in shepherding a script by Jamie Moss that focuses on the early years of the telepathic mutant Charles Xavier and the magnetism-manipulating Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto). There is no director for the project at this point, though various reports have indicated that the studio has met with several comics-savvy filmmakers.

Ryan Phillippe and Keira Knightley in "Captain America"?

Marvel has decided that they want Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) to play the lead in "The First Avenger: Captain America," but now it seems that Evans will not only be joined by Hugo Weaving (as Red Skull), but also Ryan Phillippe and Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean).

Phillippe recently confirmed that he had auditioned for "Captain America," but he never actually said that it was for the lead role. Knightley has been in talks with Alice Eve (She's Out of My League) and Emily Blunt (The Wolfman) for the female role.

This news comes from a BleedingCool writer, who was on a bus in London and overheard a woman telling someone on the phone that she is moving on from "The Green Zone" to "Captain America," and that "Captain America" includes both Phillippe and Knightley as part of the cast.

Obviously the source seems a bit ridiculous, but the film is actually getting ready to start filming in London and it's not out of the realm of possibility that a crew member may have inadvertently revealed something early.

Battlefield Earth writer APOLOGIZES for the movie

When people debate the worst movies ever, John Travolta's 2000 sci-fi epic Battlefield Earth is usually high on the list. This month, the Razzie awards called it the Worst Movie of the Decade, which is something we'd have to agree with.

Whatever you may think of it, there's one person who agrees it's a "train wreck": The guy who wrote it. J.D. Shapiro, who also wrote Robin Hood: Men in Tights, is now apologizing for his cinematic crime against humanity in a very funny and self-deprecating piece in the New York Post. Kudos for having a sense of humor.

The movie, as we all know, is based on a book by L. Ron Hubbard, who was a science fiction writer before he went on to found Scientology, of which Travolta is a devoted adherent.

Below are some excerpts from Shapiro's apology. Click over to read the entire hilarious essay.

Let me start by apologizing to anyone who went to see "Battlefield Earth."

It wasn't as I intended—promise. No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn't really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those. ...

I researched Scientology before signing on to the movie, to make sure I wasn't making anything that would indoctrinate people. ...

At dinner, John said again how much he loved the script and called it "The 'Schindler's List' of sci-fi."

My script was very, VERY different than what ended up on the screen. My screenplay was darker, grittier and had a very compelling story with rich characters. What my screenplay didn't have was slow motion at every turn, Dutch tilts, campy dialogue, aliens in KISS boots, and everyone wearing Bob Marley wigs. ...

I refused to incorporate the notes into the script and was fired.

I HAVE no idea why they wanted to go in this new direction, but here's what I heard from someone in John's camp: Out of all the books L. Ron wrote, this was the one the church founder wanted most to become a movie. He wrote extensive notes on how the movie should be made. ...

The only time I saw the movie was at the premiere, which was one too many times.

Once it was decided that I would share a writing credit, I wanted to use my pseudonym, Sir Nick Knack. I was told I couldn't do that, because if a writer gets paid over a certain amount of money, they can't. I could have taken my name completely off the movie, but my agent and attorney talked me out of it. There was a lot of money at stake.

Now, looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can't help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest.

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