Friday, August 30, 2019

Gordon Bressack, RIP

Some of Mr. Bressack's "Pinky and the Brain" handiwork.

Animation writer Gordon Bressack passed on today. Born in New York, for thirty-plus years he worked as a writer, director and producer in Los Angeles. On the west coast he also wrote plays and live-action, and performed on various Los Angeles stages as an actor.

But it's in animation that Gordon Bressack left the biggest footprint. With his longtime writing partner, Charles Howell IV, he was part of the young and dynamic Warner Bros. Animation crew that shaped Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain when Warners' animation division was partnering with Stephen Speilburg and re-establishing itself as a viable cartoon production unit. He won three Emmys for his work.

Mr. Bressack was passionate about writers and their place in the animation universe, and wasn't afraid to communicate it. Even when he was slowed by illness, he continued to write and create. He leaves three children and one grandchild.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Free ... Free ... FREE!

Apparently a sports star wants you to work for his greater glory .... gratis.

Are you an animator or artist? Visit to download one of my stories and use it as the inspiration for an original cartoon that YOU draw to life. If selected, you’ll be awarded $500 and your animation will be shown on my new show, Shaq Life. Good luck!

Of course, it's not exactly Shaq asking for this. It's Time-Warner-Turner-AT&T asking for this. (You know, a poor little hand-to-mouth entertainment conglomerate.)

It's the usual scam from the usual low-lifes, except these low-lifes are in tailored suits drawing large, large salaries: Hey suckers! Just bust your backsides turning outsomething for a large company, and if the large company likes it, said company will throw you some crumbs (and a teensy bit of publicity!) Oh, but don't think about using anything you do, because if you send it to us, it's OURS, whether we use it or not.

And it seems this whole deal hasn't gone down too well with the people who do animation for a living. (Can't fathom why.)

... That’s like... more than several grand’s worth of work you’re just expecting animators to do in their spare time for only one of em to get paid a fraction of the cost for it.... Nah ...

And so on. The problem is, there will be SOMEBODY who will rise to the paltry bait, because there are a lot of hungry artists out in internet land.

Add On:No, definitely not going down well:

The creative community has called foul on his “Shaqtoons” idea, with hundreds of animators and other artists in creative fields lambasting the concept.

And kindly note that this kind of thing isn't new, nor is it rare. It's just not usually done by a jillion dollar conglomerate.

Add On Too: And as you can see, the snark has gotten the big company to (grudgingly?) up the ante:

To all my animators out there, I heard you. I love your work and want you to feel the love. If your cartoon is selected, you’ll be awarded $10,000 and your animation will be shown on my new show, Shaq Life. Can’t wait to see what you got!

Ah, how bad blowback can change money totals (which are still ridiculously, pathetically low.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Man Who Filmed "Fantasia"

On this day in 1899, Wong Tung Jim is born in Guangzhou, China. At five, his family immigrates to the United States. His parents own a General Store in Washington state, and young Jim comes into possession of a Brownie camera. Which triggers his interest in photography. Which prompts, ten years later, a move to Los Angeles to find work in a portrait studio and then ... as a camera assistant in silent movies.

Along the way, he becomes known as Jimmie Howe. After awhile, that morphs into JAMES WONG HOWE. James W. H. rapidly becomes a topflight cinematographer. He develops a system for making the light blue eyes of actress Mary Miles Minter look darker by photographing them while they gaze at black velvet. Ms. Minter quickly decides that Mr. Howe is the cinematographer for HER.

"Jimmie Howe" goes on to do deep-focus photography in "Transatlantic", in 1931. His cinematography continues to be groundbreaking, from the Technicolor of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (where he has to fight color supervisor Natalie Kalmus to make "Injun Joe's cave" DARK and ... ahm ... cave-like), to the moody black-and-white in the noir Western "Pursued" (1947) ... to the drained-of-color look of "The Molly MacGuires" in 1970.

And in 1939-40, Howe shoots -- without credit -- the striking live-action segments of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia orchestra for Walt Disney's "Fantasia". (Walt liked to employ the best; he used Gregg Toland for the live-action in "Song of the South".)

Howe wins two Academy Awards ("The Rose Tattoo" and "Hud") and is nominated for eight more. His professional life, not without setbacks, is smoother than his personal one. From the time of his childhood, he has to navigate around the warm and welcoming embrace the United States often gives minority immigrants. (Howe only becomes a citizen after the Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed in 1943.) His interracial marriage is finally recognized by California after the state's ban on interracial marriage is abolished in 1949.

James Wong Howe's last professional work is "Funny Lady" in 1975. He dies in 1976, six weeks shy of 77.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Eternal ReBoot

We're getting toward the top shelf in the Disney library. The one that's three-quarters empty.

Happily, when Diz Co. is finished remaking Snow White and Fantasia and Bongo in "live action" (which is actually animation in the digital realm), the company can start remaking all the cheesy sequels that Disney Toon Studios belched out in the 1990s in "live action" versions.

I'm serious. Wouldn't Will Smith sign on for Return of Jafar? It sold a boatload of VHS cassettes before people caught on that it was a cheapo knock-off sequel of Aladdin. I'm confident that Disney would be delighted to run that play again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Unending Disney CEO Succession Game

The entertainment press speculates (yet again) on who will succeed Robert Iger when he retires at the end of 2021:

Some observers now believe the inside track [for Disney CEO's successor] may belong to Kevin Mayer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international who is expected to appear at the convention to showcase Disney+. That Iger has called the upcoming streamer the "most important product" to launch since he became CEO in 2005 speaks volumes about the stakes for Mayer, 57, and how the performance of Disney+ could influence who takes over when Iger retires at the end of 2021. ...

Iger [might] extend his run again, [and] the succession bake-off also could change dramatically, as it did when former CFO-COO Thomas Staggs — once positioned as the primary contender — left the company in 2016. ...

It's difficult for Top Dogs to give up all the trappings of Top Dogdom when announced retirement dates draw near. I mean, wave goodbye to all that money and power? All those corporate aircraft? And the smiling faces that tell you agreeable, ego-boosting things every time you walk into a room?

Hard to let all those pleasant, day-to-day realities go.

There has been no Disney chieftain, outside of '70s corporate head Card Walker, who's left voluntarily. Walt and Roy Disney died. Ron Miller was pushed out by Disney's board of directors. And Michael Eisner got a strong "no confidence" vote from Roy E. Disney and a large number of other Disney shareholders.

But even after the vote, Mr. Eisner stalled around for as long as he could.

And so we come to Robert Iger, who has already made a minor career of delaying retirement. (To date, his exit has been pushed back twice. And he will be close to 71 when his current contract expires at the end of 2021.)

My guess is there's a 50/50 chance Mr. Iger will leave when the trumpet blows a third time. Kevin Mayer, the current top candidate for Robert Iger's job, could suddenly be found wanting and (surprise!) Mr. Iger's contract would be extended yet again.

And Robert Iger would no doubt stay on "reluctantly" with much sighing and head shaking. Because, after all. Why give up money, prestige and company planes before you absolutely have to?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chinese High-Flyer

To remind animation fans it isn't all Pixar and Disney and (every once in a while) Blue Sky Animation, there is this:

Chinese animation “Ne Zha” continued its run as China’s biggest hit of the summer, maintaining its top spot at the box office even 25 days into its run with a weekend gross of $41.2 million. The tally made it this weekend’s fourth highest grossing film worldwide. ...

As the saying (sort of) goes: "When they want to see your movie, you can't stop them." First time director Yang Yu might have struggled to get funding for his long gestating epic, but financing for pictures he wants to make won't be a problem going forward. Even in the Middle Kingdom, he's what is known as "bankable".

Monday, August 19, 2019

Global Box Office

The worldwide totals for current animated features (including the one masquerading as a "live action" feature):


Angry Birds Movie 2 -- $45,399,338

Lion King (2019) -- $1,437,423,549

Secret Life of Pets 2 -- $401,091,985

Toy Story 4 -- $1,017,026,843

Lion King (2019), of course, is the animated remake of an animated feature, no matter what the director of the newer iteration says.

Animated features will continue to be made because they, like super hero features, make too much money. It's a shame that some filmmakers think that animation is a lesser art. Because it's not.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cartoon Mice

Twenty-seven years ago this week, a live-action comedy/satire titled Stay Tuned is released by Warner Bros. It features John Ritter, Pam Dawber, and Eugene Levy.

It also contains an animated short directed by Chuck Jones. The animation is praised by critics who (at the same time) pan the film. Stay Tuned opens at #6, and ends up losing buckets of money for WB.

Sadly, ST becomes a precursor for Warner Bros. ineptitude selling theatrical cartoons. With the exception of the hybrid feature Space Jam, Warners fails to successfully launch an animated feature until the 21st century. (Quest for Camelot, Osmosis Jones, and Iron Giant all do little at the box office.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Richard Williams, RIP

Richard Williams, artist, animator, director, story-teller, died on Friday of cancer. He was 86. USC professor Tom Sito, one of his former employees/students, remembers:

... It is hard to sum up how much Richard Williams meant to me, and many animators of my generation. He gave me my career, my approach. Oh, I probably would have etched out some kind of living in animation anyway. But certainly not as much. Over 40 years, at key moments, connecting with him supercharged my development, like a spark plug. He taught me to strive to be better than I thought i could be. To never stop learning. He introduced me to Chuck Jones, Art Babbitt, Emery Hawkins, Vincent Price, Osamu Tezuka, and many many more. You who worked for him, consider what your lives would have been like had he never existed.

Most people I know who worked for Dick can spontaneously do a credible impersonation of him. High voice. Glasses on forehead. Arms waving about frantically. All manic energy and enthusiasm. Hard to think that energy could ever be stilled. We say in animation you have your biological fathers and your animation fathers. Dick was an animation father to me. ...

Richard Williams was not just one of the best animators ever. He was one of the greatest animation students ever. He just didn't admire a great animator. He studied them. He analyzed their technique. He would clean up a Ken Harris or Grim Natwick scene. " Because when you assist someone," he'd say," You get into their minds and watch them solve problems."

Once in LA, I was working on a milk shake commercial for him. A mutual friend in the Disney training program had xeroxed a Milt Kahl Shere Khan scene for Dick. I walked over to Dick's office to confirm a field size. And when I walked in, the xeroxes were spread our all over the floor, Dick on his hands and knees studying them like Napoleon going over battle maps. "Look! Look at what Milt is doing. He labored over this pose.... and this pose...and the other keys are breakdowns...."

He also gave some of the best portfolio critique ever. He could go right to the center of your problem. He once went over my samples in 1978. He went on to London, and I went to New York and Toronto. Four years later I was back in town and showed him my stuff. " I see you took my advice.." He smiled.

There was an animator on ['Raggedy Ann and Andy"] named George Bakes, who used to work with Bill Tytla when Tytla had a commercial studio in New York City in the 50s.

One day for lunch, Bakes offered to show us where Tytla liked to eat lunch. Dick joyfully led us all to the spot, a dingy greasy spoon luncheonette on w. 46th St that had seen better days. That didn't matter to Dick. As soon as he heard it was Tytla's favorite, Dick stood in the doorway, then dropped to his knees and began to bow, chanting "TYTLAAAA...TYTLAAA...!"

One of my favorite maxims of Richard Williams: "In the end, the best way to do something is the Hard Way. Too many people waste too much valuable time thinking of cheats and short cuts. Just F**king DO IT. DRAW! You'll find much fewer retakes too."

Richard Williams was working at his chosen profession to the end of his long life. (Lucky man!). He'll be remembered, of course, for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and so deserves credit for super-charging classical, hand-drawn animation at a time it was floundering.

But he'll also be remembered for commercials and title sequences of live-action films (his work on The Charge of the Light Brigade -- 1968 version -- remains especially vivid), and for his his uncompleted masterwork, The Thief and the Cobbler. (Also for all the animators, story artists, and designers he inspired and gave careers to over the decades.)

So rest In peace, Mr. Williams. You have earned it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Not Animation"

I mean, really?

John Favreau, director of Lion King 2019, on the question "Is your movie animated?"

“It depends what standard you’re using. Because there’s no real animals, and there’s no real cameras, and there’s not even any performance that’s being captured that’s underlying data that’s real. Everything is coming through the hands of artists. But to say it’s animated, I think, is misleading as far as what the expectations might be.”

I'm just now seeing this astounding quote, but come on.

When you're doing a sequence by sequence redo with photo-realistic animals created by artists replacing hand-drawn animals created by artists, and there's no live-action animals in the redo, how in God's nightgown can you call the piece a "live-action" movie?

Kind of like Walt Disney labeling Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a live-action film because, you know, there were multiplane shots and the Prince and Snow White were rotoscoped (underlying "live action"?) and some of the water effects are pretty gosh darn realistic.

And you know, Snow White kind of upends expectations, circa 1937, about what a cartoon is.

Therefore, we'll call it "live-action".

The hell? By John Favreau's odd reasoning, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs couldn't be animation because it wasn't what audiences expected, plus, unlike Lion King 2019, there's some "live action" (i.e., rotoscope) in it.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kyoto Animation

Add on:Kyoto Animation releases trailer for "Violet Evergarden-Eternity and Auto Memory Dolls," a side-story theatrical feature companion piece to the "Violet Evergarden TV series." The work goes on.

Kyoto Animation, still recovering from a devastating attack that killed three dozen employees at its Tokyo studio, announces (an inevitable?) cancellation ...

"Following the arson attack on Kyoto Animation that occurred on July 18, we have received words of encouragement from many people .... We have been receiving submissions from many entrants [for Kyoto Animation Awards] every day, and our judges were excited about the prospect of finding a novel that can be part of a new age of creative output. However, our entire staff is currently engaged in recovery efforts following the arson attack. And so we have decided to suspend the 11th Kyoto Animation Awards.” ...

It's about prioritizing. Award ceremonies pale into insignificance when you're working to heal a devastated community and comfort the survivors.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Of Super-Heroes, Arabian Nights, and Super-Stardom

Professor Tom Sito SPEAKS:

"... In 1919, Johnson McCulley, a Los Angeles man who made a living writing adventure stories for pulp magazines, took the bio of Murietta, and wrote a story of a rebellious ranchero, borrowing also from The Scarlet Pimpernel.

"He named him Don Diego De La Vega, who rode at night as El Zorro, the fox.

"This day, 'The Curse of Capistrano', the first story of Zorro appeared in All Story Weekly magazine." ...

Douglas Fairbanks (Sr.), who had specialized in portraying breezy, athletic, all-American go-getters in short comedy features for the previous five years, purchased "The Curse of Capistrano" and turned it into a low-budget action feature -- with comic overtones -- titled "The Mark of Zorro".

For Fairbanks, the picture was just a nice change of pace in a thriving film career. One action-swashbuckler, then it's back to Keatonesque, modern-dress comedies. (Through the back half of the teens, he'd made 5-10 of those per YEAR.)

But "TMOZ" made SO much money, it changed Doug's professional trajectory. Out went low-budget comedies, speedily made. In went big-budget action films. The following year he made an elaborate adaptation of "The Three Musketeers"; the year after that it was "Douglas Fairbanks In Robin Hood" (actual title, I kid you not). He stopped making a half dozen movies per year and commenced making just one.

But a BIG one.

And then, he produced one of the most sweeping, breath-takingly expensive and artistically ambitious films of the silent era: "The Thief of Baghdad." (You want to suss out where Disney's "Aladdin" comes from, "Thief" is one good place to start looking.)

"Thief" was a high-ticket attraction across the nation and played in first-run theaters for months. It took in a considerable amount of money. But its costs were so high it did not make much in the way of profits.

So Fairbanks retrenched. He went back to his swashbuckling beginnings and produced a sequel to "The Mark of Zorro". The new one was called "Don Q., Son of Zorro" and was a bit less expensive than "The Thief of Baghdad". It was directed by Donald Crisp, a man remembered today (when he's remembered at all) as the kindly father or grand-father in scads of sound films (and the winner of an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in "How Green Way My Valley). "Don Q." turned out to be Douglas Fairbanks's second most profitable film.

As for "Curse of Capistrano", it had a life far beyond the Fairbanks pictures. There were sound reboots, there were television series, there were multi-part movie serials.

Most important of all, here in the 21st century, there are super heroes, lots and lots of super heroes. And all the caped crusaders, from Superman and Batman to the hundreds that have come after, have a direct linkage to the original caped righter of wrongs, Senor Zorro.

If you want to know what a 99-year-old action film SHOULD look like, watch a few minutes of the offering up top. Or below, what an Arabian nights fantasy (with a gargantuan budget) could be a mere four years later. ...

Friday, August 9, 2019

Millstein! Spencer! New Disney Positions!!

The House of Mouse has announced some new assignments for upper-level personnel:

... Animation Studios president Andrew Millstein and “Zootopia” producer and creative executive Clark Spencer are stepping into new leadership roles. Millstein will become co-president of Blue Sky, the studio behind “Ice Age” and “Rio,” alongside current co-president Robert Baird.

Baird will continue to drive the creative direction of the studio reporting to Walt Disney Studios’ chief creative officer and co-chairman Alan Horn and co-chairman Alan Bergman. Millstein will oversee day-to-day operations, focusing more on the business side. Millstein will report to Jim Morris, who will take on a supervisory role at Blue Sky. He will continue in his capacity as president of Pixar Animation Studios. Spencer has been named president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, reporting to Bergman. ...

The most interesting news here is that Blue Sky, the animation studio acquired in the Fox purchase that creates theatrical animated features on the east coast, will live on for the foreseeable future. Possibly (probably?) doing other stuff besides theatricals, since Diz Co. has plenty of facilities doing that kind of work already. But Blue Sky will at least be around awhile.

Andrew Millstein has been with the company for two decades. He was earlier an executive with visual effects companies, and headed up "The Secret Lab", Disney's in-house visual effectss shop, in the early oughts. When TSL closed, he was reassigned to Disney Animation, Florida. And when that studio closed, he came back to the Burbank lot, where he spent a decade running the day-to-day operations of the Walt Disney Animation Studios under Ed Catmull and John Lasseter.

Now, of course, Lasseter and Catmull are gone, and Millstein has ascended to a higher executive position. (His days of closing Disney divisions and studios are, apparently, O.Ver.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


The smaller, non-Disney Murdochian Fox buys an indy animation studio ...

The Lachlan Murdoch-led Fox has snapped up Bento Box Entertainment, an animation company that produces Bob's Burgers (on Fox) as well as series like Glove & Boots (on YouTube) and Paradise PD (for Netflix). ...

"You can’t walk around the Fox lot without noticing a decades-long passion for animation. It is in the Fox DNA and has served legions of fans, partners and investors,” Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said Tuesday in a statement. "As we grow Fox for the next generation, it only makes sense we would expand our animation capabilities by bringing on board the best in the business: Bento Box."

As demand for TV content grows, Fox becomes the latest studio to bring an animation studio in-house. Netflix launched its own animation studio last year to ramp up its production, as did CBS with its Eye Animation division. ...

The acquisition arrives only days after Fox shelled out $265 million to buy a majority stake in digital consumer finance marketplace Credible Labs. Fox Corp., formed amid the sale of 20th Century Fox, National Geographic, FX and other assets to Disney, is comprised of Fox Entertainment as well as Fox News Channel and Fox Sports.

Collier, who joined Fox from AMC in October, added, "The Bento-Fox combination brings Fox front-door access to the next wave of the genre’s creative leaders, while still maintaining Bento Box’s focus on all that makes them a terrific partner for outside producers."

The founders of Bento Box came from Film Roman, back when FR was making The Simpsons and Spider-Man (in one of its earlier iterations.)

Bento, like Rough Draft, Wild Canary and Titmouse studios, has been independent since its beginning but a major supplier of animated product. The market demand for animation continues strong and Subscription Videon On Demand has accelerated the push for more cartoon series.

The number of people in Southern California working on animated content has never, ever been higher. No doubt Bento Box fetched the owner-operators a good price.

August Box Office

Lion King 2019 falls from the top of the box office while Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson ascends. (And I'm getting this up a wee bit late).


1) Hobbs & Shaw -- 4,253 -- $60.8M -- $60.8M (1st weekend)

2) The Lion King -- 4,802 (+77) -- $38.2M (-50%) -- $430.9M

3) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood -- 3,659 -- $20M (-51%) -- $78.8M

4) Spideram: Far From Home -- 3,446 (-405) -- $7.7M (-38%) -- $360.3M

5) Toy Story 4 -- 3,225 (-385) -- $7.1M (-32%) -- $410M

6) Yesterday -- 1,837 (-713) -- $2.44M (-21%) -- $67.9M

7) The Farewell -- 409 (+274) -- $2.43M (+60%) $6.8M

8) Crawl -- 2,085 (-635) -- $2.1Md (-47%) -- $36M

9) Aladdin -- 1,370 (-428) -- $2M (-34%) -- $350.3M

10) Annabelle 3 -- $875K (-44%) -- $71.6M

And how is animation ... also live-action with generous gobs of animation ... doing on a worldwide basis? Some random samples:


Lion King -- $1.2 billion

The Secret Life of Pets 2 -- 345 million

Toy Story 4 -- $949 billion

Spiderman: Far From Home -- $1.08 billion

Aladdin 2019 -- $1.03 billion

Avengers: Endgame -- $2.8 billion

Put all the above together and it's clear that the House of Mouse is doing very, very well.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Strike Memories

The last major entertainment industry strike was the Writers Guild of America's job action in 2007-2008. It went on for over three months, but at the end of all the picketing, meetings and late-night negotiation sessions, the Guild had a contract that covered New Media (entertainment received over the internet: Streaming Video On Demand). ...

It was early 2006 when Damon Lindelof headed down to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica to see advertisements for his television series Lost, then in its second season on ABC, blanketing the Apple Store. In that moment, he was tickled by the cachet of having his sci-fi creation be among the first series to roll out on Apple products. A few hours later, however, he got what his 11-year-old refers to as the "uh-oh" feeling. "It's when your body is telling you that something is wrong," he explains. "People were downloading Lost and paying $1.99 an episode. … I didn't quite make the leap to, 'I don't get compensated for this at all.'"

A year and a half later, he would. As would 12,000 other screenwriters who joined Lindelof on picket lines in Los Angeles and New York, as the Writers Guild of America waged war on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers largely over pay for work that's distributed via the internet, iPods, cellphones and other new media. The work stoppage — the industry's first in nearly two decades — ultimately lasted 100 days and, according to the Milken Institute, took a $2.1 billion toll on the L.A. economy. ...

One of the major reasons WGA members were willing to strike? Many writers believed they'd gotten hosed by the entertainment conglomerates over residual payments for videocasettes and DVDs. Decades before, the companies said "Well, we don't know how this VHS thing will play out, so take a smaller percentage of the revenue now, and we'll take care of you later." But it turned out, there was no "later", which made the trust factor between the bargaining parties pretty much non-existent.

So ultimately (inevitably?) the writers hit the bricks. And the strike of 2007-2008 impacted most other entertainment unions in Hollywood. Grips, cinematographers, costumers, set decorators and make-up artists were all out of work as production shut down on soundstages and sets in Southern California and elsewhere. The animation Guild, however, was mostly unaffected.


Early on, the WGA set out strike guidelines that prohibited WGA members who were also Animation Guild members from writing on TAG shows. This was a legal no-no, and prompted the Animation Guild and the IATSE to threaten lawsuits. After an exchange of letters, the WGA revised its guidelines.

As the strike rolled on, various tempers grew short. (I picketed with the WGA in front of Universal multiple times and heard some of the angst.) WGA members fretted that the Directors Guild would swoop in and cut its own New Media deal while the writers were still out; ultimately that's precisely what happened. The DGA negotiated a new contract that set the parameters for other deals during '08-'09 negotiation cycle. For the IA and the Animation Guild, negotiations were particularly dicey, since the biggest recession in eighty years came down like an avalanche in the middle of them.

Ten years further on, it's clear how important it was for entertainment union and guilds gaining recognition over New Media turned out to be. Huge numbers and writers (also board artists and animators) are employed under the New Media clauses within industry contracts. Those clauses are from perfect, but individuals are far better off than if there were no coverage for New Media at all.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Animation Creators

Animation directors/creators Chris Miller and Phil Lord have struck a new deal.

Universal Pictures has set in a first-look film production deal with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the franchise-launching duo who shared the Best Animated Film Oscar for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and who hatched the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie franchises. Their films have collectively grossed $3.3 billion. ...

Miller and Lord started in television, but their careers took off when they resuscitated previously-moribund development of the animated feature Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Since then, Miller-Lord have jump-started live-action and animated franchises, have launched TV series, and been all-around successful*.

So it's hardly surprising that Universal-Comcast wants to partner with Miller-Lord in creating content.

* One small hiccup: their directing gig on "Solo". With 85% of the "Star Wars" feature shot, Miller and Lord were replaced by Ron Howard. But they must have a had at least a small bit of schadenfreude, no?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Of Work Crunches and Terminations

Apparently the video game industry -- a part of the animation biz unrepresented by labor unions -- has heavy work loads.

“In 2013 ... "I got a job at one of the three largest third-party game publishers as a PR employee. It was my first real job in the games industry—a dream job to me. I was immediately blinded by how ‘honoured' I should be to work for said brand. So much so that I didn’t notice obvious problems from the outset. About five months in I was already burnt out. The hours and the pressure to perform got to me and my manager could not deal with the emotions involved with that level of stress." ...

In the early nineties, Disney Feature Animation's staff worked long hours and long weeks. Theatrical animation had gotten hot (and highly profitable) and the company wanted more features "faster, better, cheaper". Which meant artists didn't have a lot of time for family life.

The game industry has been a business with deadlines and crunches from its beginnings. Two decades back, a group of L.A.-based Electronic Arts employees met with the Animation Guild complaining about the insane work schedules. Nothing much has changed from that time to this. As a games employee related:

"They want employees who are right out of college and gung ho. They use people who are in their early twenties, who don't have husbands or wives or kids to distract them. By the time somebody is twenty-seven and wants to have a family, they're laid of for another 22-year-old who's okay with working ten and fourteen hour days."

And the layoffs are often abrupt and brutal, as games employee Larz Smith relates:

"... “You’ll get an impromptu meeting invite to one of two possible meetings: one for the people being fired and one for everybody else. I’ve never been in the meeting where people were let go, I can only imagine the anger and panic they feel. In the meeting for people who remain it's just shock and sadness. ..."

Emotions are always raw when layoffs happen. (Like the game industry, anger, sorrow, and resignation are dominant reactions to layoffs in traditional animation studios as well.) It would help if the game industry dhad union representation, with notices of layoff and dismissal pay. It would eliminate the pain of separation and unemployment, but it would ushion the blow.