Monday, March 30, 2020

What?! "Tangled" Was Expensive?!

The animated feature "Tangled" is often touted as the most expensive animated feature ever. ($260 million or thereabouts). People have asked, "Why is this particular Disney fairy tale so costly?" Here's the answer:

The reason that Tangled ended up being so costly (260 million smackeroos, more or less) is not because of CGI startup costs (those had already been done via the CGI features Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, etc.), but because development for Tangled went on … and on … and then on some more.

Early work on the picture that started out known as Rapunzel, then Rapunzel Unbraided, and finally Tangled, began in the mid ‘90s, and the story got redone multiple times. What started as a hand-drawn feature soon morphed into a CGI feature. The Tangled Wikipedia entry gives a lot of details and dates, but one tidbit that I heard from Disney staffers is: ’Twas Michael Eisner who wanted a Shrekish approach to the story, especially after DreamWorks’ Shrek came out in early 2001 and made a boatload of money. Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood.

Then the picture was briefly shelved, then Ed Catmull and John Lasseter rolled in, then directors changed. And whattayaknow. More than a decade had gone by.

When development plods on for what seems like forever, with directors, writers, board artists, designers, music composers, musicians, animators, and various technicians charging all of parts of their salaries to Tangled’s studio production number, costs escalate. (Studio trivia: when a feature is greenlit, a production number is opened, and all of a sudden various departments begin charging to it. (“Hot damn! There’s a new production on the list! We can charge five hours to it! Nobody’ll even notice!”)

Then, of course, there is well-loved “studio overhead”.

The practice of charging everything under the sun to a big-budget motion picture is not new, by the way. It’s been going on for more than a century. In 1912, a director named Sidney Olcott was making a silent epic on the life of Christ. An exec at the now-defunct Kalem film Company wrote Mr. Olcott the following:

“As the ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ production will be put out as a special it will be necessary to have from you at an early date an estimate of its cost. This should be just as high as you can possibly make it and every item that you can possibly think of which can reasonably be charged to this negative should be added, as under the new system governing such releases by the General Film Company, we are paid our negative expenses, whatever they may be, and we supply the prints at cost. The profit, if any, comes out of a division of the percentage earned by the General Film Company. …”

Budget-padding never goes out of style. But I digress.

Tangled was in work from 1996 to 2010. So do the math. There were fourteen years where employee and studio costs could be charged to the picture. Where “studio overhead” could be tacked on. When you total up all those jams and jellies, the question becomes not “Why was ‘Tangled’ so costly?” but …

“Why was Tangled such a Bar. Gain?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Song of Myself

... Wherein I talk about life at Walt Disney Productions in the 1970s, Woolie Reitherman, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Joe Ranft, Ron Clements and John Musker, Don Bluth, and a whole raft of other people.

Also too, Disney veteran Ken Anderson burning most of Walt Disney's moustache cleaaan off ...

And I do it all through an old hand-cranked phone that sounds like it's 1912 all over again. But the pictures are nice, and if you want new info on the artistic staff that worked at Disney's animation studio from the 1930s to the 19701 and 1980s, you will find some here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Slow-Going, But Still Rolling Cartoon Biz

The Los Angeles animation industry, unlike its live-action counterpart, is still on its feet and employing people:

As Hollywood production has ground to a halt over the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, there is one area that been able to keep the lights on for the most part — animation.

As new episodes of The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers and more just this past weekend made it to air, many animated series are still in production, with their creative teams working in sync from home. And voiceover jobs are among the very few opportunities for actors right now, as many in that field have recording facilities in their own homes.

“Disney Television Animation is fully functioning with the team successfully working on a remote basis,” the company said in a statement to Deadline. “It took a few days to smooth some wrinkles but with strong studio leadership, the team of animation pros and support from IT and HR, the animation and editing is on schedule.” ...

For decades, television animation has had crews "working remotely". Once upon a time, all L.S. animation, start to finish, was reated under one roof. Hanna-Barbera employed writers, board artists, animators, layout artists, painters, editors, sound technicians. As far back as the late 1950s, some of them worked from home, but the bulk of the staf went to the studio each day.

Those things slowly changed. In the 70s, ink-and-paint departed to overseas studios; animation eventually followed.

As for the artists who remained in L.A.-based jobs, working situations varied widely. Some drew storyboards or character designs or wrote scripts from home when they free-lanced, others worked from home (sometimes) when they held staff jobs. (One rule of the biz: when you work in-house and when you work out of your house varies widely job to job and studio to studio.)

Now, of course, the draw-at-home regimen is coming in handy, as it side-steps layoffs, an option that on-set crews on back lots and sound stages don't have. As former Animation Guild President Tom Sito quips: "A job that forces you to stay indoors and do nothing but work at your desk. For animators, it's a cinch!"

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Viral Push-Forward

COVID19 makes the Mouse change its plans (yikes) ...

... Onward will be added to Disney Plus on April 3, after Disney already released the Pixar movie for online purchase just two weeks after its premiere in theaters. ... Frozen 2 is already available to stream in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. That's three months earlier than its original streaming date planned for June 26, and it comes just a few weeks after the movie became available for purchase as download, DVD or Blu-ray in February. ...

[Disney] has temporarily shut down its theme parks like Disneyland, delayed releasings big films like Mulan and Black Widow, and paused production on films and movies including Disney Plus' first Marvel original series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that was supposed to be released in August.

Disney Plus was forced to cancel a London launch event in early March because of coronavirus concerns. ...

As stated elsewhere, the virus has brought live-action production to a halt globally, and caused L.A. animatin studios to have employees work from home.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Work Around Town 2020 -- #3

Non-Disney Disney Animation

The Walt Disney Company continues to spread its large umbrella over different animation facilities not named Disney, yet owned by Disney. In alphabetical order, we have ...

Blue Sky Animation Studios *

Nimona -- in production; scheduled for a 2022 release. Based on the web comic by Noelle Stevenson (later published as a graphic novel by HarperCollins). Nimona is a frisky young shape shifter who works for (with) bad guy Lord Ballister Blackheart.

No other Blue Sky projects announced.

* Not an L.A.-based studio, but oh well. Blue Sky is located in Greenwich, Connecticut. In the earlier oughts, the studio was headquartered in White Plains, New York. It belonged to 20th Century Fox until Fox was absorbed by the Walt Disney Company. The House of Mouse isn't revealing how long the studio will continue to turn out features.

Fox Television Animation

Fox Television Animation -- now owned by Disney -- has two facilities: one in Burbank, California; one in Los Angeles, California.

The Simpsons -- thirty-second season (Burbank studio)

Family Guy -- eighteenth season currently airing -- season 19 to be announced (Los Angeles Studio)

American Dad -- renewed for 18th and 19th seasons (Los Angeles Studio)

Marvel Animation

The present iteration of Marvel Animation Studios is in Glendale on Flower Street, across the street from Disney's tech campus. (Different versions of "Marvel Animation" have existed since the 1990s; before that, Marvel licensed characters to various animation studios.) The reorganization of Marvel Television and Marvel Animation under the purview of Chief Creative Officer Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios has been ongoing during the last couple of months, with longtime Marvel Animation executive Cort Lane exiting his position as Marvel's Vice President of Animation and Family Entertainment last January. Middle management at the Glendale studio remains (mostly) the same.

Spidey and his Amazing Friends -- 3-D show for Disney Jr., in work with a small crew

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Grim (Updated)

People who work for a living are currently eating it.

... IATSE reported Tuesday that the COVID-19-related production suspensions snd event cancellations have resulted in the loss of 120,000 jobs held by its 150,000 members. A large number of those affected work in Hollywood production but IATSE also covers live events, conventions and all people-facing businesses that have been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. ...

“As social distancing measures are enacted and events and projects across all sectors of the entertainment industry are cancelled, it’s become clear that the COVID-19 crisis requires decisive action from our federal government to support displaced entertainment workers,” [I.A.President Matt Loeb] said in a statement.

Huge swaths of the country are shutting down. Animation employees are (relatively) fortunate in that many of them can work at home *. When you're a crew member on-set and your movie halts production, you are Shit Out Of Luck.

* Anecdotally I'm hearing that several studios have already sent animation employees home to work. Word also reaches me that the Animation Guild is raising the "work from your bedroom/home office/basement" strategy with other studios.

** Cartoon Brew has pulled together a partial list of studios who are allowing artists to work from home. There are other studios who still have employees working in; that will likely change, and soon.

*** Update -- Indiewire gives a newer rundown of what L.A. animation studios are doing right here. In a nutshell:

Disney animation Studios staff that can work at home, do work at home; Pixar and other Disney bay area units are complying with state decree to "shelter in place" and have employees work at home.

DWA open -- as many employees as possible work at home.

Paramount Animation having employees work at home.

Sony Picture Animation having as much staff as possible work at home.

Warner Animation -- ditto.

And the number of virus victims continues to rise.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Cartoon Weekend

Pixar's new feature comes in at the lower end of a sluggish weekend projection (oh my!) ...

Three Days of Grosses

1) Onward --4,310 -- $40M -- $40M (1st weekend)

2) Invisible Man -- 3,610 theaters -- $15.1M (-46%) -- $52.7M

3) The Way Back -- 2,718 -- $8.5M -- $8.5M (1st weekend)

4) Sonic -- 3,717 (-460) -- $8M (-51%) -- $140.8M

5) Call Of The Wild -- 3,914 (+49) -- $7M (-48%) -- $57.4M

6) Emma -- 1,565 (+1,468) -- $5M (+331%) $6.9M 3

7) Bad Boys For Life -- 2,159 (-549) -- $3.05M (-30%) -- $202M

8) Birds Of Prey -- 2,173 (-951) -- $2.1M (-47%) -- $82.5M 5

9) Impractical Jokers -- 1,730 (-87) -- $1.845M (-49%) -- $8.5M

10) My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising -- 1,195 (-65) -- $1.5M (-74%) -- $12M

The new Pixar offering performed okay in overseas markets, but it didn't open everywhere. (China is currently a bust due to a spiky virus galloping around the Middle Kingdom, but other hybrid movies continue to perform.) The worldwide numbers:

Global Grosses

Sonic the Hedgehog -- $297.3M

Call of the Wild -- $99.5M

Onward -- $69M

Dolittle -- $221.6M

M-G-M/UA has moved the new Bond feature from Spring to November, the better to avoid rampaging flu-bugs. We'll see if that works.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Fount of Animation Keeps Giving

Hm. Wonder where this comes from??

Disney's feature animation unit created an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture with Beauty and the Beast. And that hand-drawn feature from 1991? It has spawned a billion dollar live-action/animated hybrid in 2017, and now ...p>

Gaston and LeFou are getting an origin story.

Streaming service Disney+ is teaming with Once Upon a Time creators Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz as well as stars Josh Gad and Luke Evans for a Beauty and the Beast prequel limited series to the 2017 feature film in which the latter pair starred.

The untitled limited series will be a six-episode musical event, with composer Alan Menken in talks to return as well. Sources say the project, which is currently in the early development stage, will take place well before the events of the film and also expand the Beauty and the Beast universe. No other stars from the film — like Emma Watson and Dan Stevens — are currently attached, though sources say there is a possibility that they could pop in for a guest spot.

Here in the 21st century, with broadcast networks, cable networks, and multiple streaming services in frantic search of material that global eyeballs will watch, the House of Mouse once again dips into the IP developed by animation story artists way back when.

Because, you know, the material has a proven track record. And the characters are known. And it beats hell out of developing unfamiliar content from scratch that a fickle public may or may not watch.

The trades, of course, reference "the live-action film", but let's be honest. The whole shebang derives from the full-length feature film that Disney feature artists, writers, animators, designers and crew created on a tight schedule and budget almost thirty years ago.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Work Around Town 2020 -- #2

Part 2 of "Work Around Town 2020". This post is a work in progress, and will change as new information comes in.

Disney Television Animation --

Located in Glendale and Burbank, California, the Disney TVA was founded in 1984 (at the dawn of the Michael Eisner-Jeffrey Katzenberg era); DTVA currently has three locations in two Southern California cities. A few years ago, decisions were made to cap the number of Disney small-screen shows done in-house, and several series are now done by sub-contractors (see below).

Elena of Avalor -- from 2016 -- ongoing

Duck Tales -- reboot from 2017 -- ongoing

Big Hero 6: the Series -- from 2017 -- ongoing

Big City Greens -- from 2018 -- ongoing

Fancy Nancy -- from 2018 -- ongoing

Muppet Babies -- reboot from 2018 -- ongoing

Amphibia -- from 2019 -- ongoing

Marvel's Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur -- from 2020 -- ongoing (Marvel/Disney, subcontracted to Titmouse Animation.

The Curse of Molly McGee -- from 2019-2020 -- ongoing for Disney Channel

Monsters at Work -- from 2020 (with Pixar) -- ongoing

The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder -- #3 -- the relaunch was announced on February 27th, with creator Bruce Smith and writer Calvin Brown Jr. returning.

Disney TVA's Los Angeles Subcontractors

Rough Draft Animation Studios

RDS, Inc. was founded in Van Nuys, California in 1991. Currently it has studios in South Korea where it functions as a major overseas production facility, and a second studio on the Glendale-Burbank city line. (For many years its L.A.-area studio was located on Brand Boulevard in Glendale.)

Big City Greens -- from 2018 -- ongoing with Disney TV Animation

The Owl House -- from 2020 -- ongoing with Disney TV Animation

Wild Canary Animation --

Started in 2008, Wild Canary Animation is located on Riverside Drive on the Burbank side of Toluca Lake. It's a long-time subcontractor for Disney Television Animation, previously producing Sheriff Callie's Wild West, Miles From Tomorrowland, and Puppy Dog Pals for the Mouse House.

Mira, Royal Detective -- from 2020 -- ongoing with Disney Jr.

The Chicken Squad -- from 2020 -- ongoing with Disney Jr.

The Rocketeer -- from 2019 -- ongoing with Disney Jr.)

Addendum: Animation production in Southern California continues to roar along, much of it driven by streaming companies who have elbowed their way into the business. This has caused older studios to sign key talent to exclusive, long-term contracts, something that hasn't occured since the 1990s.

As of last summer, Disney has signed a multitude of artists and writers to contracts. They include Bruce Smith (The Proud Family), Jeff Howard (Planes), Kate Kondell (The Pirate Fairy), Stevie Wermers (Prep & Landing), Kevin Deters (Prep & Landing), Howy Parkins (The Lion Guard), Amy Higgins (Star vs. The Forces of Evil), Devin Bunje and Nick Stanton (Prince of Peoria), Noah Z. Jones (Pickle & Peanut), Mike Roth (Regular Show), John Infantino (Star vs. The Forces of Evil), Jeremy Shipp (Kung Fu Panda), Ryan Gillis (Pickle & Peanut), Steve Marmel (The Fairly OddParents), Natasha Kline (Big City Greens) and Sabrina Cotugno (The Owl House).

Monday, March 2, 2020

Highly Visible

Universal's $8 million reboot of 1933's H.G. Wells' classic The Invisible Man takes flight at the top of the Big List ...

Three Days of Grosses

1) Invisible Man -- 3,610 theaters -- $29M -- $29M (1st weekend)

2) Sonic -- 4,177 (-21) -- $16M (-39%) -- $128.3M

3) Call Of The Wild -- 3,865 (+113) -- $13.2M (-47%) -- $45.8M

4) My Hero Academia… Fun -- 1,260 -- $5.1M -- $8.5M (1st weekend)

5) Bad Boys For Life -- 2,708 (-264) -- $4.3M (-26%) -- $197.3M

6) Birds Of Prey -- 3,124 (-441) -- $4.1M (-40%) -- $78.7M

7) Impractical Jokers -- 1,817 (+1,460) -- $3.5M (+33%) -- $6.7M

8) 1917 -- 2,232 (-493) -- $2.67M (-37%) -- $155.8M

9) Brahms: Boy II -- 2,151 -- $2.63M (-55%) -- $9.77M

10) Fantasy Island -- 2,724 (-60) -- $2.33M (-45%) -- $24M

Meantime, on the international front, Invisible Man has a world wide total of $49.2 million, while the live-action movies with animated animals accumulated currency as follows:

Live-Action With Animated Animals

Sonic the Hedgehog -- $265.5M

Call of the Wild -- $79.3M

Dolittle -- $217.4M

Next week, the new Pixar epic drops, and we'll see how much new cash the House of Mouse is able to rake in.