Monday, December 31, 2018

Hand-Drawn Animation -- #2

Hand-drawn animation makes a comeback! If only as a fragment of a live-action musical ...


1) Aquaman -- 4,125 -- $51.6M (-24%) -- $188.8M

2) Mary Poppins 2 -- 4,090 -- $28M (+19%) -- $98.9M

3) Bumblebee Par -- 3,550 -- $20.5M (-5%) -- $66.8M

4) …Spider-Verse -- 3,813 -- $18.3M (+11%) -- $103.6M

5) The Mule -- 2,787 (+131) -- $11.8M (+24%) -- $60.7M

6) Vice -- 2,442 -- $7.8M -- $17.7M

7) Holmes & Watson -- 2,776 -- $7.3M -- $19.7M

8) Second Act -- 2,607 -- $7.2M (+11%) -- $21.7M

9) Ralph 2 -- 2,343 (-152) -- $6.5M (+39%) -- $175.7M

10) The Grinch Uni/Ill 2,555 -- $4.2M (-50%) -- $265.5M

Spider-man, Into the Spider-verse has cracked $100 million in foreign and domestic earnings and now stands at $213,748,730.

Ralph Breaks The Internet has now grossed $350,084,580 globally.

Finally, The Grinch has earned $469,399,485 on a worldwide basis.

Apparently, the "crowding out" phenomenon continues not to happen.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Last Golden Age Animator Moves On

Don Lusk's handiwork on "Fantasia"

Don Lusk, the last Disney animator from the 1930s, passed on today. He was one hundred and five and enjoyed a sixty-year long career before retiring at age eighty in 1993.

It was in 1933 that Don applied for work at a cartoon studio on Hyperion Avenue. He spent the next twenty-seven years at Walt Disney Productions, animating on "Ferdinand the Bull", "Pinocchio", "Bambi", Fantasia" and numerous others.

Don left Disney after completing his assignment on "101 Dalmatians" in 1960. Interviewed by the Animation Guild on his 100th birthday, he related how the studio had put him on a gray list of artists participating in the '41 Disney strike -- all earmarked for layoff:

[Walt said to my wife] "Everybody who goes into this file will eventually not work here ever again. ..."

I lasted [at Disney] until 1960. Hal Ambro, myself, four other guys, we were all let go. We were the last of the Mohicans. ...

After they laid me off, I went home Monday afternoon and the neighborhood was in turmoil because I think they all set their clocks by my getting home at quarter after five. And my wife came out the back door as I was getting out of the car and she said, "You got let go, huh?" And I said, "How did you know?"

And she said, "You had a smile on your face."

Don worked for another thirty-four years as a director and animator at every studio that wasn't named Disney. He was in his eighth decade when he finally laid his pencil aside, and then went on to another quarter century of contented retirement. (He related how he stopped driving at age 97, and hated to give it up. But his kids were relieved.)

You can hear Don's interview with the Animation Guild here, here and here.

You can see his acceptance of the Winsor McKay animation award directly below.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Topping "Poppins" (Or Trying To)

The Gray Lady explains how the filmmakers for the sequel to Walt's last big live-action epic approached the new animated sequences:

... [I]t felt right to begin planning the [animated] sequence using actual drawings rather than computer images. “We pulled together a storyboard — pinning sheets of paper onto corkboards, the old Disney way,” Capobianco said. “We met in the bungalow and pitched the boards using an umbrella as a pointer. Rob would say, ‘I love that idea, but we need a little more time.’ Marc would get on the piano and rewrite the music; we’d redraw stuff and re-pin it." ...

[T]he animators knew that the [original "Poppins'"] cartoon sequences had largely been drawn by Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, three of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” whose work remains the gold standard of animation, even in the age of CGI.

“I’ve spent my entire career being intimidated by their work, so that’s nothing new,” Baxter said with a laugh. “It was great to have that high bar: It’s the motivator to do the best you possibly can, even though you know you’ll never get over that bar. If it’s not there, there’s not as much motivation to reach for the stars.”

"Redraw stuff and re-pin it...". What a concept. Woolie Reitherman used to do this endlessly with story crews he directed on multiple animated features in the 1960s an 1970s. Today, of course it's all digital storyboards and lots more posing. As a wise old board artist told me some time ago ...

"Bill Peet's storyboards wouldn't work today. Directors and producers want more drawings, less held drawings on the screen. Animatics have changed the way we work."

Animatics (digital storyboards) have changed the way production unspools. Drawings are made on computer screens, not paper. Few sit in story meetings surrounded by cork boards covered with drawings (although it occasionally happens). Does the "new, faster" story technologies improve the quality of the work? Look at the older pictures made in the old-fashioned way (Pinocchio, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmations, Mary Poppins) and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Arthur's Sword

Fifty-five years ago this date, Walt Disney Productions released Sword in the Stone, an adaptation of T. H. White's novel of the same name.

The (relatively) well-known wizards' duel between Merlin an Mad Madame Mim

Bill Peet was the Disney story man after the success of 101 Dalmations an animated feature on which he had been a driving force. Sword in the Stone was the next property he adapted, writing a script that, after revisions, Walt Disney approved and on which Bill did much of the storyboarding.

The film did not win unanimous raves when it was initially released, but went on to make more than ten times what it cost. Though highly successful, it came between two films more vividly remembered, Dalmations and the later Jungle Book and is less well-remembered than the two features that bookend it.

For Bill Peet, an old Disney pro who had been at the studio since the 1930s, it was the last film on which he worked from beginning to end. Peet's darker vision of Jungle Book, the property in work after Stone's completion, clashed with the way Disney thought the new film should go, and Bill left the studio a month after Sword in the stone's release.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Three Out of Ten

This weekend, animated titles make up 30% of the Top Ten box office list ...


1) …Spider-Verse -- 3,813 -- $35.4M -- $35.4M (1st weekend)

2) The Mule -- $17.2M -- $17.2M (1st weekend)

3) The Grinch -- 3,759 (-82) -- $11.5M (-23%) -- $239.2M

4) Ralph Breaks The Internet -- 3,575 (-220) -- $9.5M (-41%) -- $154.4M

5) Mortal Engines -- 3,103 -- $7.5M -- $7.5M (1st weekend)

6) Creed II -- 3,107 (-645) -- $5.3M (-46%) -- $104.8M

7) Bohemian Rhapsody Fox/NR/GK -- 2,213 (-740) -- $4.1M (-32%) -- $180.4M

8) Instant Family -- 2,860 (-566) -- $3.7M (-35%) -- $60.2M

9) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 2,606 (-845) -- $3.6M (-48%) -- $151.6M

10) Green Book -- 1,215 -- $2.7M (-29%) -- $24.6M

The Grinch has had more staying power than Ralph Breaks the Internet, and now has collected $239.2 million domestically to Ralph's $154.4 million.

Globally, The Grinch stands at $374,563,375, while Ralph has pulled in $285,087,668.

And what's up next? The Lego Movie 2 rolls out February 8; the third installment of How To Train Your Dragon arrives on February 22, and Paramount's Wonder Park (in work when I was gainfully employed 2-plus years ago, arrives on March 15th.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Hand Drawn Techniques

Is this a wee bit confusing?

... The animators began with a CG rendering of each character and then started drawing on top of that. "We did this line work on the jawline and other anchor points by hand, and then we 'taught' the computer to anticipate where we would put that line in every frame — like an algorithm," Persichetti says. "Then each animator literally had 3D line work that they could draw with. We had a CG base performance, and then we would enhance it." The team also created the impression that the action is taking place at 12 drawings per second — typical of hand-drawn cartoons — rather than the smoother 24 frames per second that's associated with computer animation. ...

If the idea here is to make an animated feature that looks hand-drawn, why not ... I donno ... make a straight ahead hand-drawn cartoon? Wouldn't that be better than doing a weird-ass imitation?

Or is that too scary a proposition for executives these days? Since hand-drawn cartoons are considered poisonous in today's Hollywood?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Still At The Top

There will, of course, be yet another superhero movie out on December 21st ...

For a second week, Disney and Illumination Entertainment entries remain at the pinnacle of The Box Office Ten. (But the Grinch is gaining on Ralphie boy) ...


1) Ralph Breaks Internet -- 3,795 (-222) -- $16.1M (-37%) -- $140.8M

2) The Grinch -- 3,841 (-93) -- $15.1M (-15%) -- $223.4M

3) Creed II -- 3,572 (+176) -- $10.3M (-38%) -- $96.4M

4) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 3,541 (-400) -- $6.8M (-40%) -- $145.2M

5) Bohemian Rhapsody Fox/NR/GK -- 2,953 (-54) -- $6M (-25%) -- $173.5M

6) Instant Family -- 3,426 (+50) -- $5.6M (-22%) -- $54.1M

7) Green Book -- 1,181 (+116) -- $3.9M (0%) -- $19.9M

8) Robin Hood -- 2,573 (-254) -- $3.5M (-25%) -- $27.2M

9) …Hannah Grace -- 2,298 (+233) -- $3.18M (-50%) -- $11.5M

10) Widows -- 2,161 (-232) -- $3.1M (-30%) -- $38.1M

The Grinch now has a worldwide box office total of $322,363,175, while Ralph weighs in with $258,158,885.

And in a few days the well-reviewed Spider-Man/Spider-verse swings into theaters with opening weekend projections of $30-$40 million. (Some, including moi, think it will be higher. Is $50,000,000 too optimistic?)


Monday, December 3, 2018

Kimball On Kimball

Mr. Kimball and Mr. Tom Snyder converse at Grizzly Flats railway.

A new biography entitled "The Life and Times of Ward Kimball", authored by Todd James Pierce, rolls out in the next several weeks. Mr. Kimball, of course, was a Disney story artist, director and animator for forty years, also a musician who fronted "The Firehouse Five Plus 2" a best-selling jazz band in the late forties and early fifties. The tome covers his early years, his career at Disney, his hobbies and personal life. Also his mischief-making at the Hyperion studio:

When Walt set up a volleyball court next to the bullpen, Kimball played every day. ... One animator remembers that Kimball loved to play with senior storyman Jack Kinney. Sometimes at the height of the volley, Kimball would perform very well, then suddenly take the ball ... hold it lazily in his hands, drop it to the ground, and walk off with a mischievous grin as Jack Kinney and other devotees danced with rage. ...

And like that.

Mr. Pierce uses a wide variety of sources to bring Kimball's life and multi-faceted career into focus.

"Multi-faceted" is probably one of the more accurate labels attached to Mr. Kimball. He had a wide range of interests (see above), and he was focused and efficient in pursuing all of them. He was also opinionated, as in this forty-year-old interview:

"Gerry Geronomi [an early WDP director] was one of the prime (expletive)s at Disney's. Walt had a way or retaining someone like that, because he figured if there was conflict it brought the best out of all of us.

But Gerry was a crude man. I had a woman assistant named (blank) who was very well constructed. She drove Jerry crazy and finally he couldn't stand it. And one day he came up behind her and he went "Rhhhrr!"... I heard this scream and the chair flew back and the desk got knocked over. And I went running in there and said "What the hell?" I knew Gerry had just left my room... Vince said that Gerry had grabbed Mary... I mean, that's terrible. That's not a class act.

Finally we boycotted Geronomi, said we weren't going to work for him. We told Ken Peterson, who was head of the animation department, and nothing was done about it until Geronomi said: "How come I can't get this guy Kimball?" Peterson told him that Kimball "doesn't want to work for you."

"What the hell is Kimball talking about?" Geronomi says. "Who does he think he is? Son of a b*tch."

And Milt Kahl told him about everybody, and finally the straw that helped break the back was John Lounsbery, the nicest guy you would ever want to meet, who was patient, and didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, who finally went to Walt and said: "I don't want to work with this man anymore."

And Walt thinks, if Lounsbery goes, there must be something wrong. And of course the end came when Walt decided to take Geronomi out of the animation room for a number of reasons, one of which was TV, and he wanted him to go to Germany and kind of produce some live action ... Like all the kids from the lower eastside who had been beaten up every day of their lives for being small or something, Gerry thought he was in some alien surroundings, there with the "Krauts." In other words he was in Germany and here were these "Krauts." See, he wanted to be picked up in a big limousine, he wanted to play director, just like Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Capra.

Gerry wasn't in sympathy with the whole project; he mistrusted everybody and made an ass out of himself. Finally Walt had to go over there and see what the matter was. And at a meeting he gave Gerry his choice. Gerry said "I want to go back to work on animation! I don't like this sh*t." Well, that's when they let him go.

Yeah, he was a prime (expletive). Outside the studio there were stories you can't repeat because most people say it's just gossip. Of course, they happen, and they didn't help him one bit.

If Mr. Pierce captures the full essence of Ward Kimball, the new biography should be well worth buying.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Number One & Number Two

The animated features on the Box Office Top Ten list finish in the Win and Place positions... and another high profile animated feature hits on December 14th. ...


1) Ralph Breaks Internet -- 4,017 -- $25.8M (-54%) -- $119.2

2) The Grinch -- 3,934 (-26) -- $17.7M (-42%) -- $203.5M

3) Creed II -- 3,576 (+135) -- $16.8M (-53%) -- $81.1M

4) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 3,851 (-312) -- $11.2M (-62%) -- $134.3M

5) Bohemian Rhapsody -- 3,007 (+80) -- $8.1M (-42%) -- $164.4M

6) Instant Family -- 3,376 (+90) -- $7.1M (-42%) -- $45.9M

7) …Hannah Grace -- 2,065 -- $6.5M -- $6.5M (1st weekend)

8) Robin Hood -- 2,827 -- $4.7M (-49%) -- $21.7M

9) Widows -- 2,393 (-410) -- $4.4M (-47%) -- $33M

10) Green Book -- 1,065 (+2) --$3.9M (-29%) -- $14M

As of Sunday, Ralph Breaks the Internet has pulled down $206,994,233 on a worldwide basis, and The Grinch has earned $268,307,195. Both features have made more domestically than overseas. That will likely change.

The highly anticipated Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse rolls out wide on December 14th. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the guiding forces behind the new iteration of Spidey. Look for it to do rather well (the number of views for the trailers on YouTube are ... up there.)