Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Box Office of Animation

Warners has a new cartoon feature out, and it's landed at #2 on the Big List:


1) Night School -- 3,010 -- $26.3M -- $26.3M (1st weekend)

2) Smallfoot -- 4,131 -- $23.6M -- $23.6M (1st weekend)

3) The House -- 3,592 -- $12.1M (-55%) -- $44.4M

4) A Simple Favor -- 3,073 (-29) -- $6.7M (-34%) -- $43.1M

5) The Nun -- 3,331 (-376) -- $5.4M (-46%) -- $108.9M

6) Hell Fest -- 2,298 -- $4.8M -- $4.8M (1st weekend)

7) Crazy Rich Asians -- 2,347 (-455) -- $4.1M (-36%) -- $165.6M

8) The Predator -- 2,926 (-1,114) -- $3.5M (-62%) -- $47.4M

9) White Boy Rick -- 2,017 (-487) -- $2.4M (-51%) -- $21.6M

10) Peppermint -- 2,002 (-678) -- $1.8M (-51%) -- $33.5M

Smallfoot, a Warner Animation Group production but animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks out of Vancouver, British Columbia (Free money! Free Money!) is, as of now, running neck-and-neck with Night School. It will either place first or second on the Big List for the weekend, depending on how it performs tomorrow.

Meantime, Increcibles 2 remains in a few hundred theaters and has now grossed $606,555,582 in the U.S. and Canada. It's well north of a billion on a worldwide basis.

Friday, September 21, 2018

When Animation Salaries Went Through The Roof

It was the mid nineties. Warner Bros. had launched a second animation studio to make feature films. Fox had opened a fully-equipped animation facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the driving force at Disney Feature Animation from 1985 to 1994, was charging full speed ahead with big-budget animated features at a new company named DreamWorks.

And the dear old House of Mouse? It had multiple projects in development.

Demand for experienced artists and designer far outstripped supply, and salaries (unsurprisingly) went up.*

At the same time, animation on cable networks and in syndicated packages on over-the-air TV was steadily expanding. And salaries for television animation jobs were also going up. So it was unsurprising when one of the Hollywood trade papers noted those facts:

Animation talent continued to enjoy a seller’s market in the past year, with rates for union staffers generally rising to record levels, according to an annual survey by the industry’s cartoonists guild.

The survey, conducted in April, showed especially strong increases in the median average salaries for story sketch artists, visual development designers and lead key assistant animators.

The median average for lead key assistants, for example, jumped from $1,370 a week in 1996 to $1,900 a week this year. The minimum in that category was $1,435; the maximum, $3,815. ...

If you didn't live through the L.A. animation boom in the middle 1990s, you can't fully understand the buoyant feelings that permeated the business. Jeffrey Katenberg and Michael Eisner, hating each other, opened a bidding war for feature animation talent. Katzenberg, recently of Disney Feature Animation, had the phone numbers for Disney talent and lured a lot of artists away to upstart DreamWorks with higher salaries. Michael Eisner ordered DFA management to keep animation employees in place "whatever it took." This resulted in elevated paychecks and signing bonuses. Long-term contracts with generous terms were offered to Disney assistants. Disney layout artists and (of course) Disney animators.

Warner Bros. Animation (tv branch) kept its entire staff on weekly salaries for months with nothing to do because it was worried that it wouldn't get laid-off employees back after production resumed. Everyone would have gone to other busy studios. The owner/operator of a smaller union studio told me:

"I had a deal with a board artist for twenty-two hundred a week. The guy comes back to me yesterday and says, 'Twenty-two hundred isn't good enough. I need twenty-four hundred.' What can I do? I told him I'll pay twenty-four hundred. I NEED him. But I'll REMEMBER this. ..."

Artists knew that times were good. Some of them even told me that union minimums had become irrelevant: "I'm making double union scale! I don't know what we even need minimums for."

High pay (along with lots of jobs) went on into the late '90s. But no boom time lasts forever. Syndicated animation became less lucrative, hand-drawn features got eclipsed by CGI features, Art schools and universities turned out hundreds (then thousands) of young artists eager to plunge into the cartoon industry and the suppply of talent caught up with demand.

And weekly checks steadily shrank.

Adam Smith wasn't wrong. Markets do go up and down. Fat times are followed by lean times (and the reverse). Today animation is a bigger business than it's ever been, with CG and hand-drawn product, with animated visual effects, with video games and television graphics and animation on the internet. But there is also a huge pool of talent that spans the globe. (Thouse art schools and colleges have been busy.) Plus, our fine, entertainment conglomerates are tight-fisted. For these reasons (and Ed Catmull's earlier handiwork?), the high wages of the 1990s has not been replicated.

* Dr. Catmull, happily, was not yet in a position to collude in the suppression of wages. That would come later.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Animated Repurposing, the Horror!

Every few years, an article crops up on the intertubes that goes like this:

So many plots have similarities, why can't scenes have them too? From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, many movies are on this list here which have the same scenes. Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of Disney. But when I noticed these differences, I was quite amazed. Not only they cheated and copied some scenes, but they got away with it! Such a cost-efficient and convenient way. ...


Thirty-seven years ago, a Disney veteran told me: "Woolie [Reitherman} has repurposed animation for YEARS. We've used stuff from Bambi, Snow White, Pinocchio and a bunch of others. Whatever we could make work."

YouTube is replete with examles of this, and it went on straight into the Katzenberg era. Why create something from scratch when you can pull animation out of the Animation Research Library?

The era of do-over animation has come to an end in the age of CGI. Now computers can aid and abet creators, so who needs drawings from half-a-century ago? But the insatiable keeps bringing up the self-plagiarism committe by the Walt Disney Company over the course of decades.

Monday, September 17, 2018

New Animation Guild Contract Deal

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE came to a tentative agreement with the AMPTP a week back, and it is now hitting the trades...

The Animation Guild and management’s AMPTP have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year film and TV contract, although an actors’ strike against the TV animation industry is still a possibility. Members of SAG-AFTRA voted overwhelmingly in July to authorize a strike if their negotiators failed to reach a satisfactory agreement, although contract talks resumed last week. The key sticking point in those talks has been SAG-AFTRA’s demand for scale wages and residuals for shows aired on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

The Animation Guild will detail how the talks went and what was achieved at the General Membership Meeting (held at Burbank's Pickwick Gardens) the last Tuesday of September. My information is that significant improvements were made.

The guild spent over a year preparing for talks that came after the end of protracted IA-AMPTP negotiations for a new Basic Agreement. Negotiations ultimately took five long days (four were originally scheduled). From reports, there were no significant concessions on labor's side and TAG got improvements in rates and schedules in different job classifications.

When TAG releases details of the contract deal, I will put them up here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

CG News Graphics

We've come a long way from Pac-Man style news graphics.

Green screen, now of the wrap-around variety, and accompanying CG animation has improved by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. Three-color bar charts will soon be a quaint visual of the past.

... The visualization literally just shows what three, six, and nine feet of water looks like. But it’s showing that in a context most people have never experienced. ...

18 months ago, the broadcast industry at large started getting serious about the quality of graphics it could offer, thanks in part to the rising popularity of esports. Seeing potential for weather coverage, TWC invested in the use of Unreal Engine, the same suite of tools that powers countless video games....

The Weather Channel [which deployed the visual above] had previously worked with The Future Group to prep a water animation that they could place at different heights as needed. Having those elements ready to go ahead of time made the actual execution surprisingly seamless. ...

Reporters won't have to go out into the wet and wild anymore to get the story. They'll just step in front of the green screen and be at the center of the action.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Into The Specialty Theaters

This new European animated feature appears destined for an art house run.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired North America and Latin American rights to Milorad Krstic-directed Ruben Brandt, Collector. The English language animated film from Hungary played at the Locarno and Sarajevo Film Festivals. ...

Krstic wrote the script and pic was produced by P├ęter Miskolczi, Radmila Roczkov. Hermina Roczkov and Janos Kurdy-Feher.

Sony likely saw an opportunity to position RBC as a limited-release item that could pick up some money if marketed in a smart way.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Holy Box Office -- June 7-9

Warner Bros. has the #1 picture, a horror movie with a habit, and it bests the wealthy Asians partying in Singapore. (Warners currently has three of the top four movies at the American-Canadian box office, and an animated feature rolling into theaters the end of the month.)


1) The Nun -- 3,876 -- $50M -- $50M (1st weekend

2) Crazy Rich Asians -- 3,865 == $12.9M (-41%) -- $135.5M

3) Peppermint -- 2,980 -- $12M -- $12M (1st weekend)

4) The Meg -- 3,511 (-250) -- $5.2M (-51%) -- $130.7M

5) Searching -- 2,009 (+802) -- $4.5M (-25%) -- $14.3M

6) M:I – Fallout -- 2,334 (-305) -- $3.7M (-46%) -- $212M

7) Christopher Robin -- 2,518 (-407) -- $3.1M (-41%) -- $91.6M

8) Operation Finale -- 1,818 -- $3M (-50%) -- $14.1M

9) BlacKkKlansman -- 1,547 (-219) -- $2.6M (-26%) -- $43.4M

10) Alpha S8/Sony 2,521 (-360) -- $2.4M (-47%) -- $32.3M

Once again, the closest thing to animated characters in the Box Office Ten is Christopher Robin, slowly ascending toward $100 million domestic.

Both The Incredibles 2 and Hotel Transylvania 3 remain in more than a thousand theaters. TI2 has now racked up $604,397,505 domestic ($1,176,597,505 globally) while HT3 has collected $164,196,613 out of a worldwide total of $496,596,613.

The next three major animated releases are Smallfoot from the Warner Animation Group (September 28), followed by The Grinch out of the Illumination Entertainment/Universal shop (November 9) and Ralph Breaks the Internet from Walt Disney Animation Studios on November 21st.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Animation Guild (Local 839, IATSE) Reaches Tentative Contract Agreement With the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers

Early today word reached (out here in the far reaches of the high desert) that a long, arduous process between my old employer and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had come to a conclusion:

"We reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP last night on a new Animation Guild Master Agreement. ..."

The Negotiation Committee members I talked to over the course of contract talks said the negotiations were intense. Talks concluded at 11 P.M. last night, after five days at the table.

Labor negotiations, under the best of circumstances, are not easy. The entertainment industry is one of the last in the United States that is heavily unionized by non-public unions and guilds, a resilient vestige of the unionization that went on in mining, manufacturing and other industries during the '30s and '40s. The International Alliance of Motion Picture and Theatrical Employees is the umbrella labor organization under which the Animation Guild operates; over the past several contract cycles, IA representatives have been participants in the talk. This time around, IA Vice-President Mike Miller joined TAG Business Representative Jason MacLeod and the Guild's negotiation committee in the talks.

What I said about the talks on FaceBook:

Negotiations are NEVER easy, under the best of conditions. I know that the Guild did a LOT of preparation, and had a lot of dedicated, focused committee members. And that it achieved some goals but not all goals. (It is always thus.)

To Jason MacLeod, Mike Miller and TAG members who worked so hard on the contract: THANKS for getting down in the arena. THANKS for fighting for every animator, checker, board artist, designer, animation writer, technical and timing director, supervising director, story editor (and everyone else) who works on cartoons.

Just ... THANK YOU. Because of your efforts, lives will be better.

The agreement will run (retroactively) from August 1, 2018 to July 31, 2021. The Animation Guild put a lot of focus on preparing for negotiations, and (reportedly) the preparations paid off. As the Guild announces the specifics, I will post details of the new agreement here. They'll have an impact over the next three years on every active Animation Guild member.

"Rick and Morty's Emmy

First chance at bat, and ka-pow! Out of the park!

First-time Outstanding Animated Program Emmy nominee Rick and Morty won their first trophy at the Creative Arts Emmys Saturday.

Presented by Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon and Silicon Valley & Crazy Rich Asians star Jimmy O. Yang, co-creator Justin Roiland spoke for the group thanking everyone for “believing in this weird concept.” ...

So congratulations to the creators and the production team (still located, I assume, at their Olive Avenue headquarters in Burbank).

(A parenthetical note: Rick and Morty was a resolutely non-union show until ace organizer Steven Kaplan persuaded a disgrunted board and design crew to hit the bricks for a union contract. As soon as Cartoon Network/Adult Swim discovered that it's very popular hit series might have a problem delivering new shows, production topkicks hurriedly negotiated a contract with union wages and union health benefits that started without any wait time.

This is a prime example of a determined animation crew exerting the leverage it has to achieve its desired result.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Labor Day Final Box Office

Apparently a film about Adolf Eichmann does not align with the current national mood, because "Operation Finale" landed in fourth place during its debut weekend.

The closest thing to an animated feature in the Top Ten would be the hybrid Christopher Robin. Everything else is playing off overseas and in the "lo cost" theaters domestically.


1) Crazy Rich Asians -- 3,865 (+339) -- $28.3M -- $117M

2) The Meg WB -- 3,761 (-270) -- $13.4M --$123.4M

3) M:I – Fallout -- 2,639 (-413) -- $9M -- $206.3M

4) Operation Finale -- 1,818 -- $7.8M -- $9.5M (1st weekend)

5) Searching -- 1,207 (+1,198) -- $7.6M -- $8.1M

6) Christopher Robin -- 2,925 (-469) -- $6.7M -- $87.1M

7) Alpha -- 2,881 (+162) -- $6M -- $28.5M

8) Happytime Murders -- 3,256 -- $5.3M -- $18M

9) BlacKkKLansman -- 1,766 (-148) -- $5.3M -- $39.4M

10) Mile 22 -- 2,950 (-570) -- $4.8M -- $33M

Incredibles 2 now sits at #12, and has collected $602,840,972 domestically (worldwide: $1,166,859,123).

Hotel Transylvania 3 has now collected $162,979,411 in the U.S. and Canada; this is 1/3 of HT3's $486,961,546 worldwide take.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Record High

Sony Animation has a new sky-high pic:

The Drac Pack has reached a new milestone as Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation becomes Sony’s biggest animated film of all time globally. At $476.3M worldwide, it sailed past Hotel Transylvania 2 ($474.8M) on Friday. Combined, the three HT movies have now grossed in excess of $1.3B global.

... [I]t opened No. 1 in North America, and passed $100M domestically on its 12th day of release, faster than the previous two installments. The movie has a better RT score than those (at 59%) and a A- from CinemaScore.

Genndy Tartakovsky had a much freer hand with #3 than he did with earlier installments. There had been tussles over creative choices with voice-star Sandler on the first two iterations of Hotel Transylvania. We're told that wasn't the case this time around.

The mice! The mice! Tales of Disney Animation in two exciting volumes ... Mouse in Transition and Mouse in Orbit. Available now! ... and into the future (we think)!