Tuesday, February 28, 2017


DreamWorks Animation is definitely part of a conglomerate:

Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls is getting a sequel, and stars Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake will be back for it. Universal today set an April 10, 2020, release for Trolls 2, a date they had set aside earlier as an untitled Universal event film. ...

It's about box office, of course, but it's way more than that.

There is character merchandising to consider. And hit songs. And the amusement park tie-ins. (Those Troll costumes have be be accurate down to each tuft of fur).

Because the corporate imperative is to maximize every revenue stream, and spinning turnstiles are only part of the equation. Obviously Trolls has other things going for it besides a worldwide box office $339,528,172.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And the Winner Is ...

The 2017 Academy Award ceremonies are taking place now, providing one more chance for a Chosen Few to take home a shiny gold trophy.

Best Animated Short: Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro. Producer: Marc Sondheimer. From Pixar.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia, co-directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Producer Clark Spencer shared in the win. From the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

What do we learn from the above? That the juggernaut known as The Walt Disney Company rolls triumphantly on. Congratulations are also in order to John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, running not one but two successful studios.

(And the "live-action" (like hell it is) Jungle Book wins for "Best Visual Effects". The hell?)

Lastly, Wilma Baker (below) made it into the "In Memoriam" piece, as did Tyrus Wong. So there is a few shreds of justice in the world.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Strike Time?

This sounds a wee bit like 2007-2008:

... According to the WGA West’s annual reports, screenwriters earned less in 2015 ($362.1 million) than they did in 1996 ($364.4 million) – and that’s in real dollars. Adjusted for inflation, they collectively earned about a third less in 2015 than they did in 1996. ...

“The general feeling is that everybody would prefer to work,” said [a] writer, “but given the companies’ profits and our declining wages, it’s now or never. This meeting was not a strike vote, but we have certain needs that have to be met. Nobody wants to strike, but we are willing to if we have to.”...

Guild records show that “overall median earnings increased 17.4% between 2008 and 2014,” but guild leaders say that “the average income of members in both features and series TV have actually decreased over the (last) decade.” ...

Toward the end of 2007, the WGA went on strike over the issue of New Media. The job action lasted months, and a chunk of the animation industry (not to mention much of live-action) was shut down. The nerves of many were rubbed raw before a settlement was ultimately reached.

This time around, if a lengthy Writers Guild strike happens, less of the cartoon business will be affected, because a smaller percentage of animation work is directly impacted by the WGA. Still in all, job actions are always tricky things. Hopefully the mere threat of a strike will be enough to propel the Writers Guild to a fair and equitable contract.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Middle Kingdom Chases the Mouse

China has seen Disney Shanghai ... and concluded that there's gold in them there cartoon characters.

China Animation Characters Co, the mainland's leading animation firm, plans to introduce a clutch of globally renowned cartoon characters including Sonic the Hedgehog by Japanese entertainment giant Sega to the Chinese market as it strives to strike a chord with youngsters.

The Shenzhen-based animation company will also quicken the expansion pace of its indoor amusement parks across the mainland. ...

Zhuang Xiangsong, founder and chairman of China Animation, said the Shenzhen-headquartered company could compete against global rivals such as Walt Disney by introducing quality virtual reality products to Chinese people.

"Sega has blockbuster products that already attract millions of fans in Japan, and we believe the fun-filled attractions based on the characters could also make a success at our amusement parks," Zhuang said. "Banking on their reputation and popularity, we are not just a follower of the world's leading entertainment companies. Instead, we are on an equal footing in the Chinese market." ...

Translation: "Okay, we're using Japanese cartoon characters* to jump-start our market share in China, but we are NOT following anybody, okay? We're big boys here in China."

I donno. Sounds like they're aping Disney. But maybe it' an optical illusion.

* China Animation bought an 85.1% stake in Sega Live Creation to help them with amusement parks.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bojack Win

So BoJack Horseman was the winner for animation at the WGA Awards tonight.

This is all well and good, but to the best of my knowledge, no labor organization represents writers, board artists or anybody else on Horseman, so my thought is

The fck?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Cloudy", The TV Version

Sony presents the half-hour version of its theatrical hit:

And like DWA TV and Disney Television Animation, Sony opts for a two-dimensional small screen version of its theatrical hit. (Like other producers, Sony has taken note of the fact that CG is wonderful for the big screen, but it doesn't add eyeballs on the small).

... The series takes place before giant food rains down on Swallow Falls. Sardines are still the driving force behind the town’s booming economy. Fave character Flint Lockwood returns as a teenager trying to change the world one invention at a time. ...

The series premiers on Cartoon Network the first week of March.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rooney Rule

Per Dave Robb in Deadline:

The NFL’s so-called “Rooney Rule” requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coach and other senior jobs. Named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee, it’s an affirmative action policy. ...

The DGA quietly has been prodding the film and TV industry to adopt a version of the Rooney Rule to expand opportunities for female and minority directors. ...

Jay Roth, the DGA’s national executive director, kept at it in the year leading up to the guild’s most recent contract talks. A knowledgeable industry source said the companies “were much more interested this time” but that when the guild sat down with management’s AMPTP in December to hammer out a new three-year contract, “The companies declined to discuss it for legal reasons.

The federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been investigating Hollywood’s alleged discriminatory hiring practices since October 2015. The DGA declined comment and a spokesman for the AMPTP could not be reached for comment. ...

Why do I have this idea the EEOC investigation will soon be rolled up, packed into the back of a pickup truck, and driven back to D.C.? Why do I think the DGA won't be getting much of anywhere with this "Rooney Rule" thingie?

Movieland is largely a boy's club, and will largely remain a boy's club for the foreseeable* future. (On the other hand, the animation biz has a steadily rising percentage of women working in all segments of the industry. A good thing).

* "Foreseeable" herein defined as "the next four to eight years."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Animation At Top of Box Office Heap


... Early industry estimates here are showing all the pre-Valentine’s Day weekend titles kicking their projections to the side. Based off matinees, rival estimates show Warner Bros’ The Lego Batman Movie hooking $65 million for the weekend with an expected $17M today.

Lego Batman is looking at $100M in global weekend ticket sales. ...

And to think there are internet haters who claim that Warner Animation Group is floundering and doesn't know what it's doing. This ought to put the lie to that.

Add On: And the Big Weekend List ...


1. The LEGO Batman Movie(WB) 4,088 theaters /$14.6M Fri. (includes $2.2M previews)/$23.4M Sat/$17.6M Sun/3-day: $55.6M/Wk


2. Fifty Shades Darker(Uni) 3,710 theaters /$21.5M Fri. (includes $5.72M previews)/$15.8M Sat/$9.5M Sun/ 3-day: $46.8M/Wk 1

3. John Wick: Chapter 2 (LG) 3,113 theaters /$10.9M Fri. (includes $2.2M previews)/$11.4M Sat/$7.7M Sun/3-day: $30M/Wk 1

4. Split (UNI/Blumhouse) 2,961 theaters (-412) /$2.6M Fri /$4.4M Sat/$2.3M Sun/3-day: $9.3M (-35%)/Total: $112.2M/Wk 4

5. Hidden Figures (Fox) 2,667 theaters (-734)/$2.1M Fri /$3.7M Sat/ $2.2M Sun/3-day: $8M (-21%)/Total: $131.4M/Wk 8

6. A Dog’s Purpose(UNI/Amblin/Walden) 3,025 theaters (-153)/$1.7M Fri /$3.4M Sat/ $2.2M Sun/3-day: $7.3M (-30%)/Total: $42.5M/Wk 3

7. Rings(Par) 2,931 theaters /$1.7M Fri. /$2.6M Sat/$1.5M Sun/3-day: $5.8M (-59%)/Total: $21.4M/Wk 2

8. La La Land (Lionsgate) 2,065 (-1,171) /$1.3M Fri (-43%)/$2.3M Sat/ $1.4M Sun/3-day:$5M (-32%)/Total:$126M/ Wk 10

9. Lion (TWC) 1,337 theaters (-68) /$1M Fri/$1.8M Sat/$1.1M Sun /3-day: $4.1M (+9%)/Total: $30.3M/Wk 12

10. The Space Between Us (STX) 2,758 theaters (-54) /$470K Fri/$810K Sat/$490K Sun/$3-day: $1.76M (-53%)/Total: $6.59M/Wk 2

So LEGO Batman didn't hit early estimates. Still in all, $55 million is a nice round number, and I'm certain the execs at WAG and the WB are toasting themselves with champagne this weekend.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Mouse Sags

... just a wee bit.

Walt Disney Co. revenue dropped 3 percent during the fiscal first quarter, a period in which the entertainment giant saw declines in its studio and cable television businesses.

Disney on Tuesday reported earnings of $1.55 per share on revenue of $14.8 billion. While profits dropped by 14 percent during the quarter, the entertainment giant still beat Wall Street's expected $1.50 per share. Analysts, meanwhile, were expecting revenue of $15 billion. ...

The company is basically into the swing-for-the-fences style of movie-making. And the company has been remarkably adept at hitting them. Trouble is, when your first Star Wars blockbuster does business of $2 billion, seeing your second Star Wars blockbuster only make a billion is ... a let down?

Mr. Iger, now of retirement age, has no successor when his contract runs out in 2018. (Tom Staggs, the man slated to assume the Chief's job, began having deficiencies after years of strong service, and was let go. This is sometimes known as "Top Dog wants to stay on; Secondary Dog gotta go missing. And stockholders have no problem with that.") As there will likely be no obvious replacement CEO in 2018, hints are now being dropped that Mr. Iger might stay on past the end of the current contract.

The extension is as likely as the sun coming up tomorrow morning, since Robert Iger is in robust health and clearly in no hurry to exit. And as long as the company continues to hum along, everyone will be just ducky with that.

Visual Effect, Smishual Effects

The Visual Effects Society has nominated The Jungle Book (CG version) for a visual effects award.

Okay, I can understand that. There's a live-action kid running around in the middle of the action, all of which is flora and fauna and reptiles and furry mammals that are cooked up inside high-powered computers.

To put it another way, with the exception of Mowgli, the latest iteration of Rudyard Kipling's story is a full-bore animated feature in the same way that Finding Dory, Moana and Zootopia are animated features. So my question is, why aren't Finding Dory, Moana and Zootpia up for awards? Because if those features aren't visual effects extravaganzas in exactly the same way Jungle Book is, all eat my Apple Mac Pro work station.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Spreading the Wealth

So how did the Annie Awards go? Disney's Zootopia won for best feature, Red Turtle won for best indie feature, Kubo and the Two Strings collected three awards, Pixar won for its animated short Piper, and on and on.

In other words, a whole lot of studios got themselves a shiny trophy for the features, TV shows or shorts that were in contention, so plenty of corporate entities walked away with bragging rights for one thing or another. (Oh. And the artists who created the work got to take bows too).

Which is as it should be. Because award presentations are celebrations to be televised and distributed on the internet so that entertainments presented in a variety of formats can gain a higher profile and make our fine conglomerates more money. And, of course, individual creators get to bask in the glory as well. But face it. When it comes to awards in Movieland, we're talking 27.3% art, and 72.7% commerce.

A veteran animation artist recently told me how he dislikes the Annie's and doesn't believe they have a point. I understand his feelings, but disagree. The point is, a small, friendly nod to the artists who make television, theatrical, and internet animation, and a big one to the corporations who own the copyrights.

It might not have started out that way, but it's the way reality is now.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hal Geer, RIP

Hal Geer, longtime animation veteran and decorated World War II veteran, passed away on January 26th, age 100.

Mr. Geer came to Los Angeles after years of combat in the Pacific theater that included 86 bombing missions as a cinematographer and waist gunner. (One mission had him hiking close to 1,000 miles collecting intelligence for an invasion of the South China Coast.)

In the late forties and early fifties, Hal Geer worked for Warner Bros. Cartoons and then Walt Disney Production, doing special effects for Peter Pan and numerous other features and short subjects. In 1963, he became vice president and executive producer of Warner Bros. Cartoons, supervising the development of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters. He retired from animation in 1987 and turned his attention to

Mr. Geer leaves a wife, two children, one stepdaughter, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His autobiography, The Life and Times of Hal Geer, was published last year.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


And boy, did our fine conglomerates ever believe there were wages needing to be fixed:

... "Workers contend that the roots of the anti-poaching agreements go back to the mid-1980s, when George Lucas and Ed Catmull, the president of Steve Jobs’ newly formed company Pixar, agreed to not raid each other’s employees." ...

Okay, it might have started in the eighties among the tech companies (tech geniuses are nothing if not controlling), but wage suppression in animation got kicked into high gear in the early oughts, when Dr. Catmull and friends allegedly conspired to suppress the hiring of animation employees from other studios. (The motivation, I think, was to avoid the bidding wars and high salaries of the go-go nineties).

I received numerous complaints from artists about companies wanting to hire them ... and then (whattayaknow!) suddenly NOT wanting to hire them, just as soon as they found out said artists were employed by a rival company. (Kindly note that these artists were not under Personal Service Contracts, and therefore free to offer their services to all comers).

In 2014, employees at DreamWorks filed a lawsuit over the anti-poaching and wage suppression shenanigans of the major studios. Sometime after, the Animation Guild held a meeting with one of the lawsuit's attorneys. Afterwards, the lawyer told me about being in the room for Ed Catmull's and George Lucas's depositions regarding an earlier wage suppression case:

"They both acknowledged collusion was going on. George Lucas was matter-of-fact about it. Ed Catmull was hostile and defensive. He thought he was doing the right thing for the industry." ...

In the weeks and months following the visit from the attorney, the Guild collected names of possible litigants and forwarded them to the legal eagles on the case. Sometime after, this led to the Guild getting slapped with subpoenas for documents and e-mails. I got depositioned by the companies and questioned about what I knew about the wage suppression thingie, and when did I know it. The consensus of the lawyers was that Disney and the rest of the studios were trying to establish that people had known about the conspiracy for years, and the suit was untimely. (Apparently the untimeliness defense didn't fly with the judge).

So now, judging by the reports, Diz Co. is the last defendant ready to settle, bringing total dollars paid by the studios to just under $169 million. It's not near what damaged employees should have received, but likely what they'll end up with.