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February 29, 2004
Will He Survive?
Newsweek starts its story on the battle for the mouse by recalling that, Once upon a time, when Michael Eisner took the throne at a Disney shareholder meeting, he held court over polite family affairs across the street from the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim, Calif. Stockholders ... would ask executives such burning questions as 'Does Space Mountain run on nuclear power?' then run over to Disneyland to catch the fireworks. 'In those days, 12,000 people would show up, they'd hear the bells and whistles, and when it got to the serious financial discussions, 10,000 would walk out and go to Disneyland with the free tickets we'd given them,' says departing Disney director Raymond Watson. Maybe Eisner the cost cutter shouldn't have done away with the free tickets. As he heads into Wednesday's annual meeting, Eisner can only wish there were other fireworks besides the ones that'll be exploding inside the Philadelphia convention center. In a brutal show of no confidence, disgruntled investors holding more than 30 percent of Disney's shares are threatening to withhold votes for Eisner and three of his allies on the board. As bad luck would have it, Disney's meeting this year is in the hometown of its unwanted suitor, Comcast Corp. So much for a warm reception in the City of Brotherly Love.
Disney Meeting May Herald a New Shareholder Climate
As The Philadelphia Inquirer points out, the current battle for the mouse may have implications well beyond control of the Walt Disney Co., as the company's annual meeting is turning out to be one of the most watched corporate events in years. Hanging in the balance are the future of the world's most recognized entertainment company, its once-celebrated chief executive officer, and perhaps the start of a new era in corporate shareholder power. ... For Michael D. Eisner, it could be the beginning of the end of his 20-year reign as Disney boss. What began as an angry resignation in November by Roy E. Disney, the 74-year-old nephew of cofounder Walt Disney, in recent days has grown into an uprising among many of the company's 2.8 million shareholders. ... All of corporate America is watching, as the vote may signal a milestone in shareholder participation in corporate affairs potentially the first moment in the post-Enron era when the little guy gets the executive suite to pay attention.
Animations Don't Come Up Short
The Toronto Star has this rundown on the nominees for Best Animated Short, along with links to each film's official site. It sees this year's contest as a studio versus indie battle, something the big boys have long waged. On the studio side, there are the heavyweight contenders of a Pixar creation (Boundin' [pictured]), a short from the box-office hit Ice Age (Gone Nutty) and a lost curio that combines the talents of Walt Disney and surrealist Salvador Dali (Destino). On the indie side, there are the upstart challengers of Canadian creation Nibbles, a story of comical gobblers by Ontario's Christopher Hinton, and the Australian entry Harvie Krumpet, about a man cursed with endless bad luck.
In Brief: Thailand & Paul McCartney
The Nation reports that Thailand's state-run Software Industry Promotion Agency (SIPA) will this month sign a Bt1-billion deal with seven local animation firms to co-produce 10 projects. SIPA director Manoo Ordeedolchest said the agency would invest Bt30 million [US$765,000] in each project in a bid to realise the Information and Communications Technology Ministry's ambition to turn Thailand into a regional focus for digital film content. ... BBC News notes, Sir Paul McCartney is to release a new animated film [Tropic Island Hum (pictured)] as a follow-up to his 1984 hit Rupert and the Frog Song. It will be part of the new Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection DVD.
February 28, 2004
Sylvain Chomet, director of the Oscar-nominated The Triplets of Belleville (pictured), has this op-ed piece in The New York Times, which notes, For many years the only successful animated movies were Disney productions aimed squarely at children dependable moneymakers, perhaps, but nothing to make other studios salivate. Then in 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit proved that adults would flock to see a movie with animation, giving a new generation of producers and movie studio executives a taste for the genre and the money it could bring in. As a result there are two kinds of animated films today: those made by corporations and those made by humans who love the art of animation. The difference between the two is vast.
February 27, 2004
Disney CEO Eisner Feeling Heat, but Re-election to Board All but Certain
The Associated Press reports, The embattled CEO of The Walt Disney Co. flew to Ohio yesterday to convince officials of five public pension funds that they should vote for his re-election to the company board. Funds in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey control nearly 30 million Disney shares already have stated they will withhold their votes the equivalent of a 'no' vote. Eisner's re-election isn't in doubt, however, because he is running unopposed and many large mutual funds and other institutional shareholders are likely to vote for him. However, a large protest vote would, as The Scotsman says, would throw into question whether Mr Eisner could remain head of the firm he has led for 20 years.
Eisner Poured His Heart Out in Termination Letter to Ovitz
This USA Today story on Disney CEO Michael Eisner's extraordinary seven-page termination letter [in late 1996] to his friend Michael Ovitz, then Disney's president, which it says is, Brimming with angst, frustration and spelling errors Eisner's ode to the failed partnership resonates like a divorcée's confessions to Dear Abby. Eisner accuses Ovitz of repeatedly demonstrating 'bad instincts' and bad judgment. 'My biggest problem,' Eisner wrote, 'was that you played the angles too much, exaggerated the truth too far, manipulated me and others too much. I told you 98% of the problem was that I did not know when you were telling the truth, about big things, about small things. And while you were telling me that those dishonest days were over, you were deceiving me.' See also this article in The Hollywood Reporter, which gives additional details on this and other documents unveiled in the course of a lawsuit by Disney shareholders. The Hollywood Reporter also has the full text of the handwritten Oct. 9, 1996, letter ... Michael Eisner wrote to Michael Ovitz ... on the eve of Ovitz's departure from the company.
Drawing the Battle Lines in Animation
The Evening Standard asserts, When Finding Nemo is proclaimed Best Animated Feature at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday it is the biggest shoo-in of all time it will be a bittersweet occasion for the embattled Walt Disney Company as the recently terminated relationship with Pixar yielded five of the 10 biggest-ever grossing animated films. ... But Pixar is not the only studio to have scented Disney's blood in the animation arena. It then goes on to survey what other studio Sony, DreamWorks and Lucasfilm Animation are doing in the CGI arena.
What Goes Around . . .
The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, well-known for his pro-globalization views, here writes about the one of the newest products to be outsourced to India: animation. Yes, a lot of your Saturday morning cartoons are drawn by Indian animators like JadooWorks ... in Bangalore. India, though, did not take these basic animation jobs from Americans. For 20 years they had been outsourced by U.S. movie companies, first to Japan and then to the Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The sophisticated, and more lucrative, preproduction, finishing and marketing of the animated films, though, always remained in America. Indian animation companies took the business away from the other Asians by proving to be more adept at both the hand-drawing of characters and the digital painting of each frame by computer at a lower price.
FICCI Takes Up for Indian Animation Industry
Along the same lines, Screen India, in reporting on howthe Indian Animation Industry has found a mentor. FICCI [Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry], Indias apex chamber of commerce, also provides a fairly decent rundown on the history of animation in India. It notes, The advent of digital animation coincided with liberalisation of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, opening up the countrys assets to animation producers and investors in the West. India offered the benefits of lower production costs, strong creative and technical skills and a large population of people fluent in English.
Hollywood Leaping Aboard Anime Wave
The Asahi Shimbun reports that, As anime sweeps the globe, Hollywood's biggest studios snatched up rights to distribute two more Japanese films in the United States and Europe this year, sources said Thursday. But the rare thing for the two Innocence, directed by Mamoru Oshii, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, directed by Ryosuke Takahash -is the deal to show them overseas was clinched while they were still being produced. ... Innocence [which will be distributed in the US and Europe by DreamWorks] was created at about 2 billion yen [US$18.4 million] by the animation studio Production I.G. in Kokubunji, Tokyo. The film is the second version of Oshii's 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell, which became a No. 1 best-seller video in the United States. ... Yu-Gi-Oh! [based on the TV series] was created at 350 million yen [US$3.2 million], funded by TV Tokyo, publishing firm Shueisha Inc. and others. Warner Bros. was handle the film overseas. The article also claims, that about 60 percent of all animation [broadcast] around the globe is created in Japan.
February 26, 2004
The Secret Life of Off-Duty Characters
The New York Times has this story about Game Over, animated by DKP Effects for Carsey-Warner-Mandabach on UPN, which is network television's first completely computer-generated prime-time series. ... [which] begins with a question: What happens when video-game characters are off duty? The answer, it turns out, is that they act much as a typical TV sitcom family does. Over the past few years, it notes, The cost of digital animation has sharply declined; this show costs less than half what it takes to produce a live-action sitcom. And a series can be put together in a hurry. Six episodes were completed in about eight months. That's a fraction of the time it takes to make a feature film like Shrek.
Jonathan Nix & Melanie Coombs
Sleepy Brain Magazine has this interview with Australian animation filmmaker and musician Jonathan Nix, who first came to the fore with his student film Hello (pictured). Asked about whether being a musician helped the way he animated, he says, Ive always felt quite divided about music and art. I rarely think of both at once. I either work purely on the visual side or on sound. I found when I made Hello that the best way to do it was actually to do the visuals first and then say, 'OK that part is over, now its time to do the sound.' ... The same issue has this short piece on Melanie Coombs, the producer of Adam Elliots Oscar-nominated Harvie Krumpet. It notes, She has what she terms 'emotional intelligence', the producers secret weapon. 'Its the capacity to put yourself in other peoples shoes,' she explains. 'A lot of people in this industry have fragile egos, including me. Because theres no money and its all about ideas, its all high drama and feelings can get terribly hurt.'
Local Artist Gets Animated
As a reminder that The Simpsons is not the only ones who can play the guest star game, The Somerville (Massachusetts) Journal has this story about kinetic sculptor, engineer, toy inventor and MIT artist-in-residence Arthur Ganson [who] appears in an all-new episode of ... Arthur as himself. Premiering this week as the show about the animated aardvark wraps up its eighth season, the episode is entitled Muffy's Art Attack. The show's executive producer, Pierre Valette, says the "Arthur" team was looking to have a visual artist on the show as a special guest after successful cameos by sports figures like Michelle Kwan and musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, and Art Garfunkel, who played himself in the form of a moose.
February 25, 2004
CalPERS to Withhold Eisner Reelection Vote
The Associated Press reports, The nations largest public pension fund said Wednesday it will withhold its votes for the reelection of Michael Eisner to the board of the Walt Disney Co., dealing another blow to the embattled chairman and chief executive. The California Public Employees' Retirement System cited what it called Disneys 'dismal performance' over the past five years. The announcement came hours after Glass Lewis & Co., a San Francisco-based research firm that advises institutional shareholders, recommended that holders of Disney stock withhold their votes for Eisner. (See also Reuters story.) ... At the same time, according to Reuters, Dissident former board members of Walt Disney Co. [Roy Disney and Stanley Gold] .... said the company has ignored their requests for details on compensation decisions that awarded Chief Executive Michael Eisner millions of dollars over the last few years.
Disney: The Lawsuits
Reuters reports, A Delaware judge ... unsealed documents in a shareholder lawsuit alleging poor oversight by Walt Disney Co.'s board, saying that the company's directors appeared to be trying to 'sanitize the public record' and maintain a 'cloak of secrecy.' Shareholders in an ongoing case filed in 1997 accuse the Disney board of negligence in hiring former president Michael Ovitz and giving him a severance package of nearly $140 million in cash and stock options after less than two years on the job. ... Another Reuters story states, Walt Disney Co.... accused the family firm suing it over Winnie the Pooh royalties of stealing and altering documents and asked a new judge to throw out the 13-year-old case. Lawyers for the family firm, Stephen Slesinger Inc., shot back that Disney was trying to deflect attention from its own misconduct and read the judge a memo they said was found in Disney's trash which referred to 'faulty accounting, at best' over Pooh. (See also Associated Press and Bloomberg News stories.)
Court Approves Cinar's Sale to Toronto Investor Group
According to Canadian Press, Quebec Superior Court has approved the takeover of Cinar Corp. by an investor group made up of Michael Hirsh, Toper Taylor and a unit of the TD Bank, the Montreal-based entertainment company said Tuesday. The action nominally ends one of the Canadian animation industry's more scandalous episodes.
February 24, 2004
Pokémon Craze Comes to India
In the it was ever thus department, Asia Times Online reports that, Pokémon, one of the world's most successful game and cartoon series and a frenzy among kids the world over, has finally hit stores in India. Its slogan, 'gotta catch 'em all', seems to sum it up. And in a span of about 10 months, Pokémon has managed to rock the country's kids as schools are scurrying to ban them, and parents are trying to find a cheaper entertainment alternative for their children. Besides discussing the pros and cons of the phenomenon, it also notes the worries of marketers' concerns over piracy.'Piracy itself has become a monster in India even before the Pokémon rage caught on,' said Fernandes of CB Media Ventures, predicting that 'piracy will be far more pronounced in India than in any other market'.
Ousting Walt Disney
Speaking of Roy Disney's battle with Michael Eisner, The Spoof has uncovered ridiculous, and unthinkable evidence to suggest that nephew Roy was planning a rivalry with Walt Disney himself! Calling him, 'old' and 'out-dated' there are proofs within several handwritten messages, all awaiting logistic terra-form carbon dating, have been put in to the mainstream press. Early anticipation of these tests concludes that they had been written, delivered and acknowledged 6 hrs before Walt Disney's demise. 'Mine, mine, mine!' was over heard as animators passed Roys desk ....
February 23, 2004
Stage Set for Conflict at Disney Meeting
USA Today reports, Already the target of a hostile takeover bid by Comcast, Walt Disney Co. and CEO Michael Eisner will face hostility from closer to home at the 2004 annual meeting on March 3 in Philadelphia. On its eve, dissident former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold plan an anti-Eisner rally to set the stage for a Disney vs. Disney confrontation at the meeting. The duo say Comcast's offer does 'not adequately reflect the true potential value of Disney's assets,' though they would look at a better offer. But what the Magic Kingdom really needs, they say, is not a new owner. It's new management. ... Disney management, smarting from Roy Disney's attacks, per this Associated Press story, is striking back. Thus, Disney board member Judith Estrinthus claims the attacks against Eisner may have created a false impression of weakness that encouraged cable giant Comcast Corp. to make a bid for the company ... 'There is a perception of weakness,' she said.
Comcast's Burke: Disney Bid Isn't Personal
The Philadelphia Inquirer has this interview with Steve Burke, the former Disney executive and current president of Comcast Corp.'s cable division. It notes, if the Comcast bid succeeds, Burke is the likely man to take control of Disney's operations, in a triumphant return. How Hollywood! But get real, Burke says. You don't base a $60 billion takeover bid on a revenge fantasy. ... To revive Disney's animation, he'd try to repair Disney's torn relationship with Pixar Animation Studios, and likely court others as well. He'd also seek operational improvements relying on a paradoxical mix of cost-cutting and boosting employee morale. 'For a variety of reasons, the Walt Disney Co. is not performing as well as it did five years ago. We think that some of that could be addressed by creating a different culture,' Burke said.
Eisner Faces Uncertain Tenure at Disney, Golden Parachute at End
According to the The Orlando Sentinel, Disney World's hometown paper, Michael Eisner's board of directors may have given him unanimous backing last week, but his longtime position as top gun at Walt Disney Co. is anything but secure. In many ways, board members had no other choice but to back Eisner when they rejected a takeover bid from Comcast Corp. .... That same responsibility to protect the interests of shareholders, however, could doom Eisner's tenure. Comcast's bid is low now, [Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who heads The Chief Executive Leadership Institute at Yale University] says, but if it sweetens the deal several dollars to the neighborhood of $30 a share, 'it will be hard for the board to walk away.' And that could mean the end of Eisner's two-decade run [as Disney CEO]. It then goes into some detail as to what Eisner, who is reportedly worth $500 million, will get if he is forced out.
Judge Studies Finding Nemo' in Copyright Case
Reuters provides this update on a lawsuit French author Franck Le Calvez and his publisher against Disney. It reports, A French judge's chamber has been turned into a screening room as Disney defends itself against accusations by author Franck Le Calvez that they have copied his ideas in its film Finding Nemo. Lawyers for his small publisher Flaven Scene have applied for an injunction to prevent Disney from distributing children's books and merchandise featuring the fish Nemo, saying it closely resembles Le Calvez's creation, Pierrot the Clown Fish. ... Counsel for Disney said on Monday the charges of trademark infringement were unfounded because Nemo's likeness could not be considered a brand in its own right. Le Calvez registered an outline of his Pierrot character with the French authors' copyright association in 1995 [and] logged an illustration of the clown fish as a trademark in February 2003. His book, initially published in November 2002, sold its first print run of 3,000. But a second edition in October 2003 sold virtually no copies as many bookshops did not want to stock it alongside Disney's Nemo books ....
Adam Elliot & Kate Cawley Interviews
Sleepy Brain Magazine has a pair of interesting interviews with Australian filmmakers Adam Elliot, director of the Oscar-nominated Harvie Krumpet, and Kate Cawley, whose online series, The Adventures of Greena (pictured) was shown at Annecy. The Elliot piece notes, he was born with a physiological tremor that affects his entire nervous system. Everyone shakes, he says, but he does more than most. The disorder is absorbed into his work: his models are bigger than normal, making it easier for him to move them. Perhaps it also accounts for the distinct look his characters have: all wobbly, misshapen body parts. Cawley, in discussing the differences between animation and live action says, To me, the absolute freedom that you have in the animated world is due to the willingness of the audience to suspend disbelief. And also it seems to encourage a really nice sort of abstraction where you can have strange behaviour that is explained by the strange world that it exists within. I think it's a particularly wonderful medium for small stories.
The Tale of Tractor Tom
The Guardian has this story on smaller British players are encroaching on an area long dominated by big US companies, including Contender, whose flagship character is Tractor Tom. ... Tractor Tom is no Bob the Builder, but the animated farm vehicle's debut on CiTV last year helped sell 11,000 videos in the first week the biggest first week sales figure for a CiTV show in the past two years and Hasbro has bought a licence to sell Tractor Tom toys in the US later this year even without a US broadcast deal in place.
February 22, 2004
The New York Times Sunday Magazine has this extended profile of Roy E. Disney. It begins by pointing out that, Disney, who has long been derided as 'Walt's idiot nephew,' as he puts it, is actually an eloquent, thoughtful man. ... Within the company, the younger Roy has always been viewed as an oddly nonchalant heir, indifferent to the seductions of power, content to spend his days tinkering with films and keeping court with the old-time animators whom he had watched, in his privileged boyhood, sketching scenes for Pinocchio and Fantasia on their storyboards. 'When you grow up around a company in which the power is already yours,' he explained that day at his home in Toluca Lake, a suburban section of Los Angeles, 'you look at power in a different way. I believed that the work was the important thing. I wasn't political. I wasn't trying to nudge some guy out of the way.' These days, however, Roy Disney is very intent on nudging a guy out of the way. He is trying, by his own admission, to destroy Michael D. Eisner, the chairman and chief executive of the company and a man Disney himself helped hire in 1984.
Behind Steve Jobs' Plans for Pixar
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania's Knowledge@Wharton has this analysis of how the Pixar-Disney breakup will play out, noting, Wharton marketing professor Jehoshua Eliashberg believes that both companies will likely end up just fine. 'Pixar will remain successful and thrive in the short run. They have an impressive track record in the computer graphics (CG) animation space, and in the entertainment industry, track record is critical.' What's more, Pixar's brand is established, August notes. 'The Pixar brand is quite strong in the marketplace, so I think Pixar can be successful on its own. I imagine that Disney was probably more than just a distributor the enhancing and accelerating aspect of the Disney brand had to have been helpful in promoting Pixar's movies. But now, Pixar has its own brand and can stand on its own feet.' ... Eliashberg [also] believes that in the end, Disney won't be hurt. 'While from a short-term perspective, Disney's situation does not look good, in the long run, given their outstanding marketing/distribution machinery as well as the general reputation they have in making and distributing family-type movies, they will do just fine.'
Kids' TV Losing Human Touch
This story in The Toronto Star bemoans the fact that, The days when kids, particularly younger ones, watched shows starring humans Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, Shari Lewis, Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, even Pee-wee Herman are for the history books. Now it's SpongeBob SquarePants and Powerpuff Girls, with occasional breaks for human-animated hybrids like Blue's Clues and costumed characters like Big Bird and Barney. On children's TV, it seems there isn't a live human left. When Fred Rogers [pictured] died a year ago this month, pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton mourned the loss of someone who 'talked to kids at the ages of 4 to 6 about feelings.' The show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood still airs in reruns, but it has been decades since Rogers and before him, Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo (Keeshan died last month) ruled children's TV.
Errors & Omissions Department
Animator Marco Marenghi writes,
I just wanted to drop you a quick line to right a few wrongs which appear
in the article linked on your website [on February 17] (don't worry
no fault of yourself).
The Western Mail article "Drawn across the Atlantic by artistic talent" contained several inaccurate statements. Firstly, I was brought across the 'pond' by PDI not Electronic Arts as stated. I later went to work for EA on the Lord of the Rings games when PDI's CAFE (Commercial and Feature Effects) department closed. I'm currently back in films working at Sony Imageworks on The Polar Express and not Big Fish as stated.
Reporters, huh? They print whatever they like ....
Thanks and I enjoyed the website.
February 21, 2004
Disney's Studio Chief must Find Way to Succeed amid Turmoil
The Associated Press has this profile of Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios since 2002. It begins by noting that, With the Walt Disney Co. under attack from former board members, a former partner and a company that wants to buy it, one of the complaints is that Disney has lost its creative spark, especially when it comes to the animated films that are its heritage. Its a charge quickly refuted by Dick Cook ... 'I think creativity at our studio has never been more on the upswing,' Cook said. 'I think we have more great projects, both in live action and animation, than we have had in years.'
9/11 Exhibit Takes the Mickey
This is London yesterday noted that among the works being shown Royal Scottish Academy Student Exhibition in Edinburgh will be, a sculpture which features Mickey Mouse flying an aeroplane into the Twin Towers. ... The Twin Towers exhibit, entitled Mickey's Taliban Adventures, was made by Alan Bennie of the Edinburgh College of Art and shows Disney's famous mouse flying a toy plane into foam-like recreations of the World Trade Centre. The buildings all have eyes to give them a surprised expression, while one of the towers has flames made of felt shooting out of it. Surprise, surprise, as a story in today's The Scotsman noted, has provoked anger ... Tory councillor Alastair Paisley today called for the sculpture to be withdrawn from the exhibition. He said: 'I think this is in extremely poor taste from any angle you look at it and from any view. I think it should be pulled immediately. I am not happy about it.'
February 20, 2004
Disney in Brief: Bidding, Voting & the 'Destino' Factor
In the ongoing battle for the Mouse House, Reuters reports, Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Eisner, facing a looming takeover bid from Comcast Corp. and under fire from dissident shareholders, said the board was open to a 'really spectacular' offer but would not give away the company. ... The [Disney] board turned down the offer as too low and Eisner, interviewed by Larry King on cable channel CNN, declined to name a price for Disney. ... Meanwhile, Reuters also noted that Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, leaders of the dissident shareholders campaign to unseat Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner said on Thursday they were aiming for a fifth of voting shareholders to support them at next months annual meeting. ... Speaking of Roy Disney, the possibility that Destino (pictured) might get an Academy Award for best animated short has generated an inordinate amount of interest in the Oscar category. For instance, The Guardian reports, Should he win an Oscar at next week's ceremony, Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt, says he intends to use the platform to attack Disney's beleaguered chairman, Michael Eisner, for taking the company away from its founder's values. 'I honestly think it will be implicit,' he told the Los Angeles Times when asked if he would use the ceremony to attack Disney's current leadership. 'I will leave it up to my own mouth.' Mr Disney is nominated in the best short animated film category as producer of Destino, a restored collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí.
Sony's Seen Ogling Pixar
The New York Daily News reports, Merger mania continued to sweep the media world yesterday as investors bid up shares of Pixar on word that the Finding Nemo studio might be swallowed by Japanese electronics giant Sony. ... Investors are betting Comcast's hostile bid for Disney last week is just the first of more show biz deals to come. And nearly every media giant is being looked at as a match-up partner these days. ... However, as The Motley Fool asks, Why would Pixar say yes? Its balance sheet is more cash-rich and debt-free than are those of the leveraged media giants. It clearly has something to prove to Disney, having walked away from their joint production agreement. Why would Pixar be looking for a rebound when it's an eventual slam dunk? Pixar is a dynamic company. ... Fun as they are, rumors tend to be false, but the good ones offer some fathomable sense of possibility. This one doesn't.
February 19, 2004
Hired Gun Aids Disney Defenses
Bloomberg News reports, Martin Lipton, the New York lawyer known for creating takeover defenses such as the poison pill, has been hired by Walt Disney to help repel a $54 billion hostile takeover by Comcast. Lipton, who helped McGraw-Hill fend off a takeover bid by American Express in 1979, is being brought in because they want a strong, experienced M&A guru to add respectability to the board's decisions, said Ken Lefkowitz, a New York lawyer with extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions. ... Also, according to The Los Angeles Daily News, the bitter corporate feud between ... Michael D. Eisner and dissident shareholder Roy E. Disney escalated Tuesday in dueling sharply worded letters to shareholders. ... [Disney] told shareholders Comcast's unsolicited bid is evidence that the company is not being managed properly. They urged investors to vote against re-electing Eisner and three other members to the company board at the March 3 annual shareholders meeting. ... Regardless of how things play out in the boardroom, analyst [David Mantell of Loop Capital Markets] said the showdown between Roy Disney and Eisner is an unfortunate distraction at a time when the company needs to be circling its wagons.
Duo Staying Put
The Age claims,Australian animation duo Adam Elliott and Melanie Coombs have had numerous job offers in the United States since receiving an Oscar nomination [for their short film, Harvie Krumpet], but, for now, they are happy in Australia. ... [Coombs says,] 'Our next project will be another step forward but not a big feature so we hope we don't disappoint those people who want us to do that.' Elliott is also not ready to work on a feature film. However, he does have a number of projects in the pipeline but ruled out producing any sequel to Harvie Krumpet. 'As animators we are used to doing things in slow motion, so as for a feature I am not in any hurry,' he said. ... See also this Sydney Morning Herald story on the theatrical release of the 23-minute Harvie Krumpet on the same bill as the 52-minute live-action drama Roy Hollsdotter Live.
It's Open Season at Sony Pictures Animation
Comingsoon.net notes, Sony Pictures Animation ... is set to begin production on its first feature length CGI motion picture, Open Season. ... Open Season is directed by Jill Culton, with Anthony Stacchi serving as Co-director. Culton was credited with the original story for Monsters, Inc, where she served as both Head of Story Development and as Conceptual Artist; she was on the story team for Toy Story 2, where she is credited with designing the character of Jessie. Culton's other credits include A Bug's Life (Storyboard Artist), Cats Don't Dance (Directing Animator), and Toy Story (Story). Stacchi most recently was part of the development team on Curious George. Other credits include Antz (Story artist) and James and the Giant Peach (visual effects). Also check out the Sony press release.
Kids' Programs Shine as FCC Gets Strict
The Alameda (California) Times-Star has this story on the effects of the Federal Communications Commission's enforcement of the Children's Television Act of 1990. [It] didn't really start to be enforced until around 1996 when they added better definitions and regulations, says Robby London, executive vice president of DIC Entertainment ... [He] says the result of the tougher standards has meant that stations needed better shows and producers began branching out into children's programming geared for kids older than 6. Much has been accomplished through partnerships with cable networks owned by the broadcasters. ABC has Disney (Kim Possible, Lizzie McGuire) to help with their children's programming. Viacom sibling Nickelodeon (Blue's Clues) provides CBS with its shows. NBC has partnered with Discovery Kids (Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls, Crocodile Hunter). Of the big four broadcasters, only Fox is left without a corporate ally and buys syndicated shows such as Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.
Padmalaya To Spin Off Animation Division Into Separate Company
The Financial Express reports that Hyderabad-based Padmalaya Telefilms Ltd , engaged in production of TV serials, feature films, 2D animation and content development, has proposed to hive off its animation division into a separate company to tap the overseas animation market as well as induct foreign professionals, according to Padmalaya Telefilms chief financial officer D Sarasuram. Towards this initiative, the company is open to acquire a small and medium enterprise to merge its animation division and give an added impetus to the company in becoming an end-to-end animation company, Mr Sarasuram said. He said that the company has entered into long-term as well short-term agreements with some overseas companies for 2D animation projects, which call for dedicated manpower as well individual identity.
Jungle Book 'King of Animated Movies'
Reporting on the results of a poll of 3,500 Blockbuster Video story customers, The Scotsman says, When it comes to the Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book still reigns supreme as the favourite animated movie of all time. The classic tale of Mowglis adventures in the jungle beat modern-day hits like Toy Story and the underwater adventure Finding Nemo. ... After The Jungle Book, Toy Story came second on the list of the top 20 animated movies of all time, followed by Finding Nemo, The Lion King and Shrek. CBBC here lists the top 10 winners.
February 18, 2004
Comcast's Waiting Game
This Business Week Online story asks, Is Comcast setting a mouse trap for Walt Disney? Scarcely 18 hours after hearing that Disney's board had rejected the cable giant's $48 billion hostile bid, Comcast sources were putting out the word that it had no intention of increasing the bid on its own. 'We're not going to be bidding against ourselves,' one source close to the cable giant tells BusinessWeek Online. 'We think we put a pretty fair bid on the table the first time.' ... Comcast's cost-conscious Chairman Brian Roberts has made it clear that he's 'a disciplined buyer,' ready 'to walk away form the deal.' Or maybe he's just walking around the block. Analysts who cover Comcast figure it's simply waiting for the news of the Disney board's rejection of its Feb. 11 bid to sink in along with its own off-the-record comments that it isn't going to bid higher.
The Hollywood Reporter has this story on the Second Annual Visual Effects Society Awards taking place tonight at the Hollywood Paladium honoring the best work across a broad range of media, including film, television, music videos and commercials .... George Lucas is the Lifetime Achievement honoree. It goes into considerable detail as to hows and whys of the nominating process. For instance, it quotes VES vice chairman and awards committee chairman Jeff Okun to the effect that,We're all tired of the same guys winning the Oscar or Emmy, so we only have seven categories where supervisors are eligible and we've structured them so it's mandatory that the effects producer also gets honored ... We're trying to recognize the real work. The supervisor isn't qualified to win an award for compositing; it's got to be the guy who actually did it. The Hollywood Reporter also has this profile of Lifetime Achievement honoree George Lucas. Click here for a complete list of nominees. (Pictured is The Hulk, whose effects were provided by Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic.)
The Skewering of Scotland
The influence of South Park seems never-ending, as witness this piece in The Scotsman about Kebab Kingdom, a manic animated mini-series about a Fife kebab shop which will punctuate the next few weeks of the Karen Dunbar Show. The story, actually, is as much about Ink Ltd., a new studio that has been nurtured by The Springfield Incubator, established by Dundee University and Scottish Enterprise to nurture fledgling creative businesses. It adds, With one award-winning animated short [Promise Land] under its belt and Kebab Kingdom about to run riot on our screens, Ink, founded by Israeli animator Gili Dolev and film producer and former pop band manager Bob Last, has its sights set ultimately on a big-screen feature of the magnitude of Shrek or Finding Nemo. See also this Dundee University press release on the six-part mini-series, which notes, The South Park-style cartoon Kebab Kingdom was commissioned by Glasgow's Comedy Unit.
Financial Briefs: MGM Talks with Pixar.
The East Bay Business Times (in the San Francisco Bay area) reports, Hollywood heavyweight Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. told investors Wednesday that it would 'love to be in business with' Emeryville-based Pixar Animation Studios Inc., which ended talks with long-time partner Walt Disney Co. last month. ... To nobody's surprise, CBC Montreal says, Cinar Corp. shareholders have approved the sale of the company renowned for its controversy as much as its animation to a group led by Michael Hirsh, the founder of Toronto-based animation house Nelvana. The sale resolution passed by 99 per cent of the votes at a shareholders' meeting on Tuesday. The deal should take effect by the end of the month.
Disney To Revert Back To Stick Men For Next Movie
Finally, Britain's Random Perspective provides the real skinny on the consequences of the Disney-Pixar split, by noting the Mouse House has announced that for its next film will no longer be produced using CGI following its split with long time partner Pixar. Disneys next film will therefore be a back to basics hand drawn affair, featuring the artistic talents of Disneys latest recruits. The new retro look, unfortunately, is too shocking to print here.
February 17, 2004
Comcast's Hostile Takeover Fight for Disney Not Over
The Associated Press reports, Comcast refused to budge from its $49.1 billion takeover bid for Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday. The nation's largest cable operator and the mouse house are now at an impasse until Comcast raises its bid or another bidder emerges for the Disney empire. With Disney's annual meeting looming on March 3 in Comcast's hometown of Philadelphia, the cable giant won't bid against itself by raising its offer. Comcast also has no plans to lead a proxy fight against Disney's embattled CEO Michael Eisner at the meeting. Comcast is hoping the runup in Disney shares will falter, though it is likely to increase its initial bid. In the meantime, Disney fought back against Comcast's attempted takeover with a deal of its own Tuesday. The company agreed to buy the Muppets (pictured) and Bear in the Big Blue House characters from Jim Henson Co. The deal does not include Sesame Street characters.
In related news, according to Dow Jones, Viacom Inc. [owner of CBS, MTV and Nickelodeon, among others] viewed by many on Wall Street as a potential 'white knight' for takeover target Walt Disney Co., isn't interested in making a play for the venerable media company, eliminating a potential obstacle for suitor Comcast Corp., Tuesday's Wall Street Journal reported. ... Reuters reports, Dissident Walt Disney Co. shareholder Roy Disney renewed his protest campaign against Chief Executive Michael Eisner on Tuesday with a new letter urging Disney investors to vote against reelecting four board members, including CEO and Chairman Eisner. ... Finally, The Portland (Maine) Press Herald takes a look at two of the hometown boys involved in the Comcast-Disney tussle,former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, a top Disney board member, and Stephen Burke, the president of Comcast and son of Daniel Burke, owner of the Portland Sea Dogs.
The South London Press reports, A private girls' school has complained about a TV company's plans to make a cartoon about an inner-city sink school that shares its name. Hat Trick Productions Ltd wants to make an adult-orientated animated comedy called Streatham Hill. Until very recently, fee-paying Streatham and Clapham High School, in Abbotswood Road, was known as Streatham Hill School and many people locally still refer to the school by its old name. ... An earlier story in The Guardian, which compares the show to South Park, says, Streatham Hill will feature three teenage schoolgirls one of them pregnant attending an imaginary 'worst school in the world'.
Adult Animation Content at DirtyPictureShow.com
Speaking of adult animation, AVN.com says , Adult animation studio Dirty Picture Show Productions launched a new content Web site, DirtyPictureShow.com. 'DirtyPictureShow.com is a brand new Webmaster-specific site launch,' director of international distribution Andrew Graham told AVN.com. 'It is the first time the company has represented the new lineup of products. We intend to develop an adult animation resource site and member-based site as well. Our goal is to consolidate the online adult animation industry and develop a one stop shop to service this niche content market. We are also interested in establishing an affiliate program within this niche. ... We currently have six new shows available in our 2004 product line up,' said Graham, 'Dirty Ernie Show, SoHos, Reckonings, Speed Sluts, Go Battle V and 3Way.We also have a collection of 2D and 3D image galleries that make a great add-on to any Webmaster package or individual shows to complete their XXX toon offering."
Financial Briefs: Lions Gate, Crest Communications, Bertelsmann in India
The Toronto Globe and Mail says,Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. reported a deeper loss in the third quarter as merger costs and higher marketing expenses offset a 25 per cent rise in sales. It notes, the company took a $8-million charge related to merging with Artisan. It also recorded a $10-million writedown on the restructuring of its Montreal animation partner CineGroupe. For more details, check this Lions Gate press release. ... The Financial Express reports, Crest Communication Ltd will be investing the entire proceeds of its global depository receipts (GDR) issue [$5.8 million], in its US operations via a wholly owned subsidiary in Mauritius. ... the funds [will be used] for expansion of operations of its ... wholly owned subsidiary. RichCrest Animation, USA, develops original animation products and the overseas production work is outsourced to the parent company in India. Crest had acquired the US company in 2000. ... According to The Business Standard, Bertelsmann AG, the worlds third largest media conglomerate, is exploring various business opportunities in India, including investing in media companies, introducing television channels and expanding business process outsourcing (BPO) operations here. ... [Among other things,] Bertelsmann was keen on tying up with companies in the Indian animation industry, sources close to the development said.
Animators In Brief: Marco Marenghi & Mike Reiss
The Western Mail has this profile of Marco Marenghi, whose talents have taken him from Ton Pentre in the Rhondda Valley [of Wales] to San Jose in Silicon Valley, California. He has worked on some of the biggest films of the year, including Big Fish and Bafta award-winning The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. He is being profiled in a short documentary, On Show: The Marco Marenghi Story on BBC1 Wales. ... The Wisconsin State Journal has this brief story on a visit to the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus by Mike Reiss (pictured), longtime producer of The Simpsons. Reiss offered hilarious observations about comedy, Hollywood and being Jewish to about 250 people, mostly college students, at Hillel on Monday night. His speech was entitled 'The Simpsons & Other Gentiles I Have Known.'
February 16, 2004
Disney Rejects Comcast Offer, Backs Eisner
Reuters reports, Walt Disney Co.'s board said on Monday it had unanimously rejected cable operator Comcast Corp's unsolicited takeover bid as too low and endorsed Chief Executive and Chairman Michael Eisner and his strategy for the company. The Disney board said it would carefully consider any 'legitimate proposal' that created shareholder value. Comcast, which vowed it would be a disciplined bidder, almost immediately shot back that its proposal was 'compelling' and 'sound.' In other words, Disney wants Comcast to up the ante. ... Previously, USA Today also reported, Walt Disney's board faces pressure to prove it can independently evaluate Comcast's hostile $47.7 billion takeover proposal after years of derision as one of the USA's most pliant boards. Last week, lead director [and former U.S. Senator] George Mitchell ordered a 'complete and thorough analysis' of Comcast's bid and announced the board would make 'an appropriate response.' The story concludes by noting, Harvard Law School researcher Lucian Arye Bebchuk says the odds Disney will be sold were set the moment Comcast offered to buy it. In a study of hostile bids in the USA from 1996 to 2002, he found one in three targets without significant takeover defenses were sold. He says companies that are sold achieve 45% higher shareholder returns in 12 months than those that remain independent.
Besieged Disney Could Strike Back with a Takeover of its Own
The International Herald Tribune here provides some thoughts of how Disney might protect itself against Comcast. The last time Walt Disney came under attack from an unwanted suitor - a 1984 takeover attempt by the corporate raider Saul Steinberg - the company fought back with an acquisition of its own. By paying $200 million for the Florida real estate developer Arvida, Disney fattened itself and made it harder for Steinberg to swallow. Now some investors are wondering if Disney may try that defensive gambit again. Since Comcast announced its unsolicited $54 billion offer for Disney, investors have bid up the shares of several putative targets, including the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Barry Diller's online-services company InterActiveCorp, Steven Jobs's Pixar Animation Studios, the Internet company Yahoo and, most notably, Charles Ergen's satellite TV service Echostar. ... But Disney's buying its way out of Comcast's bear hug may not be so likely, analysts and industry executives said, because of questionable fits with the companies and the personalities involved.
The Fantasy Controller
For those who have not gotten enough analysis on Michael Eisner should check out this extract in The Guardian from Autumn of the Moguls, the new book by Michael Wolff. It begins by noting, Michael Eisner's accomplishment, and the insuperable bulwark his disgruntled shareholders were up against, was that he transformed himself from a mere manager into a being virtually synonymous with Disney itself. He may be the only mere manager ever to have elevated himself from hireling to fully vested mogul. What's more, with some screwball irony, Eisner was hired at Disney in 1984 precisely because he was a nonmogul, a non-voting-class owner-operator, an outsider who would do the bidding of shareholders against entrenched interests. But what happened is that he consumed the company from within. He ingested it and it became him.
Watchdogs Target Comcast
Television Week reports, Comcast Corp. has yet to convince The Walt Disney Co. to accept its takeover offer, but it already faces a significant hurdle. A coalition of consumer groups that showed considerable political muscle during the battle over broadcast deregulation last year is vowing to oppose the $66 billion deal on legal grounds, in Congress and throughout the regulatory process that will be required for approval. 'If they think they've got easy pickings, they've got another think coming,' declared Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy. One of the consumer groups' primary strategies will be to work for passage of legislation that would resurrect a Federal Communications Commission rule that until two years ago barred companies from owning cable TV systems and broadcast stations in the same markets. If passed, that would be a problem for the deal, because Disney owns ABC TV stations in key Comcast cable markets, including Philadelphia, where Comcast is headquartered.
Comcast Merger Proposal Bad News for Disney
This statement from Union Network International provides another skeptical look at the Comcast-Disney deal. It claims, The merger of Disney and Comcast should be vigorously opposed not only because of the serious effects on the media industry, but also because Comcast's anti-worker activities should not be exported to other companies said UNI (Union Network International) which represents more than 2 million telecom workers in over 100 countries. Several thousand workers in Comcast who have voted to unionise with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) a UNI affiliate, have been denied their right to a collective contract despite more than two years of negotiations with Comcast. Meanwhile workers at Comcast must pay thousands of dollars a year for family health care or go without it, while workers at competitors like Verizon and SBC have negotiated full family health care and real pensions. These labour outcomes in the US are a threat to the entire global economy as employers like Comcast lead a race to the bottom while enriching top management. UNI Head of Telecom, Neil Anderson said today, 'Workers rights need to be respected and Comcast has shown they are not interested in respecting the rights of their employees. This merger is just bad news for Disney workers and UNI will be opposing the merger.'
Steve Bids Adieu to Walt Disney ...
The Toronto Star has this post-Disney report on what the future holds for Steve Jobs and Pixar. It begins by noting, The late Walt Disney built his empire with a mouse. The same can be said about Steve Jobs. In the past month, the two icons of Americana have increasingly been mentioned in the same breath, especially with Jobs, in his role as head of Pixar Animation Studios, crossing swords with the Disney house that Mickey Mouse built. Last week, Jobs went so far as to declare that Pixar had surpassed Disney as 'the most powerful and trusted brand in animation.' It adds, Pixar ... gives Jobs a new avenue for pursuing his overarching vision: to become, like Walt Disney, a creative entrepreneur who builds a far-reaching empire, [Jobs biographer Alan] Deutschman said. 'Back when he bought Pixar from Lucas, the technology was in a much more primitive state,' Deutschman said. 'But he had this vision that this would one day be this tremendous thing. For Jobs, this break with Disney is going in that direction.'
In Brief: The Manga Man, 'Butterfly Lovers' Bombs & Cinar Saga Nears
Japan Today has this interview with Tokyopop CEO and CCO Stuart Levy. It discusses how Levy is taking the company beyond manga [with such TV] properties [as] Reign: The Conqueror and the upcoming Rave Master, airing on Cartoon Network in the summer. ... EastDay.com reports, An animated film based on China's famous tragic romance, Butterfly Lovers [pictured], has a happy ending on screen, but it looks like it's going to have a tragic finale at the box office. The Shanghai Animation Film Studio production directed by Taiwan's Tsai Ming-chin has only sold 300,000 yuan (US$36,145) worth of tickets since the movie debuted on January 14. By comparison, the Disney cartoon Finding Nemo took in 8 million yuan last year, while another domestic cartoon film, Lotus Lantern, took in 5 million yuan ... in 1999. ... The Montreal Gazette reports, The long Cinar Corp. saga is expected to finally draw to a close this week when shareholders vote at a special meeting in Montreal on whether to accept an offer [from a group headed by Michael Hirsh] to buy the scandal-ridden animation company.
February 15, 2004
The subtitle to this Newsweek background story on the Comcast-Disney saga is, How did an American icon like Mickey fall prey to a drab cable operator like Comcast? It's an intricate tale of bleeding-edge technology, big personalitiesand hunger for power. It begins with a description of how Disney CEO Michael Eisner's preparations for a summit of analysts and investors at Disney World was shattered when Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, announced that his company, although half Disney's size, intended to take over the Mouse House in a $48 billion hostile bid. Roberts had been plotting for weeks, but Disney's growing troublesincluding its nasty split from Pixargave Comcast the perfect opening. ... [Roberts' team] discussed different ways to contact Eisner, including by mail or fax. But Roberts thought he should talk to Eisner directly. 'Brian said, I want to call. I want to call now,' a person at the session recalled to Newsweek. Roberts headed outside the room to a phone booth off the lobby. The chat was brief. Eisner brushed him off, apparently without consulting the board, triggering Comcast's public hostile bid. The week had a tragic postscript: on Wednesday a Disney employee dressed as Pluto died after being run over by a 'Princess' float during the theme park's 'Share a Dream Come True' parade.
The Wonderful World of (Roy) Disney
The Comcast takeover attempt has evoked considerable speculation as to the role, if any, that will be played by Walt Disney's nephew after the current melodrama plays out. The New York Times provides this analysis, noting, Roy E. Disney has been underestimated again. When his quest to oust Michael D. Eisner as the chairman and chief executive of the Walt Disney Company began in November, few investors or analysts gave Mr. Disney much chance of succeeding. After all, despite his famous name, Mr. Disney owns less than 1 percent of the company's stock, and he has had little involvement in its day-to-day affairs for years. His opponent, Mr. Eisner, has survived decades of Hollywood infighting and is legendary for his ruthlessness. The problem, it says, is that, Even as he crusades against Mr. Eisner, his own prescription for the ailing company is notably short on detail. Instead of suggesting specific changes, Mr. Disney has cast himself as a traditionalist who wants to return the company to the values of Walt Disney, his uncle, who died in 1966.
The Man Who Dared to Take on the Mouse
More common these days are profiles of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. A good place to start one of his home town papers, The Philadelphia Inquirer. It reports, Casual observers were shocked by Roberts' play for Disney on Wednesday, stunned by its brashness and given Disney's internal troubles and its shareholder meeting in Philadelphia in two weeks by its exquisitely brutal timing. The $66 billion deal could make Comcast the world's biggest media company. Roberts, it seems to say, tends to avoid the spotlight, noting, Though Comcast may rely on Brian Roberts' lightning strikes to ignite its takeover attempts, the way he wins isn't through razzle-dazzle, but through head-down, bearlike persistence. ... Disney, as big a deal as it may be, is just another deal. ... Also check out this S an Francisco Chronicle article focuses on the father-son team which built the company, and begins with the tale of how Barry Diller was just about finished a deal sell QVC to CBS. But, On the eve of the merger, Ralph Roberts and his son Brian ... surprised Diller at a small New Jersey airport as he stepped off his private jet. Handing Diller a letter, the Robertses announced their intention to buy QVC instead, foiling Diller's plans to sell to CBS and become head of the combined entertainment company. Comcast, which already owned 15 percent of QVC, wanted the rest. Diller ... resisted. But eventually the CBS-QVC merger collapsed, and Comcast snagged the shopping network for $2.5 billion. Diller later resigned.
Disney Animators Form New Company
Speaking of Disney, The Voice of America has this piece on the formation in January of Legacy Animation Studios in the wake of the recent closure of Disney's Orlando animation studio. It points out Legacy will work exclusively with 'hand-drawn' animation techniques. Legacy Studios director Eddie Pittman (one of his character designs is pictured) points out, Disney has a rich tradition of entertainment animated films that seems to be changing right now. ... And one of the changes from my perspective is not recognizing who those creative people are, which creative people are important to their process of making these films successful. Pixar is a wonderful creative partner. And as many of the animators in the Florida studio were wonderful creative people that really made Disney what it was. The story also includes several quotes from Charles Solomon on the situation.
Philippines Seeks to Re-animate Cartoon Industry
Agencie France Press has this report on current attempts to revive animation in the Philippines. It says, The Philippines was once the rising star of the world's cartoon industry, but now studios are getting animated about the chances of reviving their flagging fortunes. Competition is tougher, money is tighter and demand has slackened but animation studios here think they can soon return to the glory days and perhaps even exceed them by producing animated features of their own. One of the ironies of the situation, it notes, is that he rise of animation in China and India was aided by Filipino talent. 'They had the technology but they didn't have creative people so they started getting animators from the Philippines,' recalls Grace Dimaranan, president of Top Peg Animation.
Big Update on Universal's Curious George
Comingsoon.net, citing a story in Daily Variety, about the traditionally animated version of the classic children's book by H.A. and Margret Rey, being produced by Imagine Entertainment for Universal Pictures. The filmmakers believe the traditional animation suits the classic children's book series about a mischievous young monkey who is adopted by the Man in the Yellow Hat. George's budget is said to hover around $40 million. That's midrange for an animated film but cheap by traditional animation standards due to a staff that is 60% outsourced animators. ... Universal and Imagine had originally contemplated adapting the books into a live-action feature with a computer-generated monkey, opting later to make it as an animated film entirely CG, with Industrial Light and Magic tackling the project as its first toon. But that plan proved too costly, with the budget double the film's current pricetag.
February 14, 2004
Microsoft May Win Big in Comcast-Disney Deal
The fact that Microsoft owns 7.4 percent of Comcast continues tantalize financial analysts, since if the cable company's takeover of Disney goes through, it would end up controlling about 4 percent of the Mouse House. Thus, Reuters here provides some background on where the software giant stands in the current situation. It notes, its stake could give Microsoft leverage over the course of the deal and afterward as it looks to push its software beyond the maturing market for personal computers and into the still-developing boom in digital entertainment, analysts said. Microsoft has long sought to forge links in the telecommunications and entertainment industries in order to sell its software, leading some observers to question whether the world's largest software maker could emerge as a rival bidder for Disney. However, one observer also noted that Microsoft tends to have 'arm's-length' cooperation with content providers, a model it prefers.
February 13, 2004
Eisner Fights Back
In the wake of the hostile takeover offer by Comcast, The New York Daily News reports, Disney chairman Michael Eisner went on the offensive yesterday, seeking to persuade top shareholders to let him continue as head of the Mouse House. Still, investors took bets yesterday on whether Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his $54 million bid for Disney will take home the prize or whether there will be some tough rivals to face. The story concludes by noting Comcast took another step in pushing its bid as Steve Burke, the exec who'll likely run Disney if the deal goes through, reached out to Walt Disney's nephew Roy Disney, who's leading the charge for Eisner's ouster, a source said. Comcast declined to comment. ... Speaking of Eisner, the BBC has this brief profile of the embattled Disney CEO, which concludes by saying, there is every reason to expect that Mr Eisner is about to enter the barricades for a very bitter battle that will do little to enhance Disney's squeaky clean corporate image.
Comcast Reaches Out, While Steve Jobs & Microsoft Weigh Options
According to The New York Post, [Brian] Roberts, Comcast's CEO, is said to be wooing [Steve Jobs] the Pixar Animation Studios chief to his side of the brewing battle for control of Disney, according to sources close to the unfolding events. Comcast execs believe they will have an easier time convincing Disney shareholders to accept their buyout proposal if it is likely to come with a renewed movie deal with Pixar, these sources say. At the same time, Jobs is said to be in active discussions with numerous parties, including cable operators, about putting together a rival bid of his own for Disney. ... A more credible bidder, in terms of Wall Street appears to be Microsoft. Thus, this New York Times story states, Microsoft has three options in the Comcast-Disney takeover fight: play the savior, the banker or stay on the sidelines. ... Microsoft, which holds 7.4 percent of Comcast and has helped the company in deals in the past, is saying nothing about Comcast's bid, or about any role that it might play. Wall Street investment bankers say they have not yet detected any signs of the Microsoft deal machine rumbling into motion.
MergerTalk: Comcast, Disney Combo Could Prove Disastrous
Reuters provides this analysis of the possible negative aspects of Comcast's takeover of Disney, noting, Cable television operator Comcast Corp.'s surprise bid to buy Walt Disney Co. raises doubts about the intrinsic value of mixing programming and distribution, something that has rarely succeeded in the past. The bid invited comparisons with the ill-fated America Online and Time Warner Inc. merger three years ago, and Time Warner's pursuit and acquisition of cable properties in the 1990s. It also dredged up stinging reminders of Sony Corp.'s 1989 $5 billion gamble on the purchase of Columbia and TriStar movie studios in hopes of selling more TVs and VCRs, only to write down billions of losses in less than five years.
The Simpsons' Movie...Finally?
E! Online recalls, In 1993, Matt Groening, in a caveman-era Internet chat, was asked if there'd ever be a Simpsons movie. He didn't say yes, he didn't say no. He said a film 'is way down the line.' He wasn't kidding. Now, it notes that Daily Variety 20th Century Fox's feature-film animation division is 'in the very early stages of developing an idea for the movie,' exec Chris Meledandri said. ... Less vague, is this interview with Simpsons producer Mike Reiss in DVD Fanatic, in which he says, Theyve wanted to do this since season two. Its been 13 years of wanting to do The Simpsons Movie. Finally Fox said, 'Lets just do it!'
DreamWorks Mulls Animation Unit Spin Off
Speaking of financial matters, earlier this month, as noted by Reuters, DreamWorks SKG is ramping up efforts to spin off its animation unit, the producer of hits including "Shrek" and "Chicken Run," The New York Post reported ... A spin-off would allow it to raise cash while keeping a production agreement, The Post said, citing sources familiar with the matter. ... Australia's ABC Online, citing a story in Daily Variety, further states, the spinoff will be done in the form of a stock offering.[Investment] bankers believe Wall Street is likely to react more favourably to floating just DreamWorks' animation wing rather than the whole studio and its distribution operations, Variety said. It quoted a well-placed source as saying there was a 60 per cent chance that the effort would come to fruition but that studio executives were committed to the idea. The proceeds from the offering, one must assume, go at least in part to provide some return to the DreamWorks' original investors.
Pixels Pushed to New Heights and Beyond
The Hollywood Reporter has a special issue on Hollywood crafts which includes several stories relating to digital effects and animation. These include this background piece on the Oscar nominees and the runner ups in the visual effects category, which claims, In the history of visual effects, 2003 likely will go down as a watershed year. Heavy R&D, briefly details how special effects houses, such as ILM, keep up with the latest technology in their work on films like Terminator 3 (pictured). There are also profiles of what it considers two of the industry top visual effects prodigies, ILM's Tim Alexander and Sony Pictures Imageworks' Scott Stokdyk; there is also profiles of two animation prodigies, PDI/DreamWorks' Tim Cheung and Disney TV Animation's Scott M. Gimple.
He Started Drawing 66 Years Ago
The San Francisco Chronicle has this profile of Bud Luckey, who directed Pixar's Oscar-nominated short, Boundin'. It notes, The filmmaker's homey low-key spirit is apparent in Boundin,' which has almost no dialogue beyond Luckey's song, which he recorded in Nashville for the film. The animated short follows a proud dancing sheep who faces ridicule after his fluffy coat is sheared off. A wise jackalope (also voiced by Luckey) bounds on the scene with an important life lesson.
India: Expatriates, Call for Collaboration, Postproduction & West
The Business Standard has this story about the accomplishments of Indians in the area of special effects in Hollywood, including some words from Umesh Shukla, the talented expatriate animation artist who has worked for Disney and DreamWorks. (Pictured is his award-winning short, Still I Rise.) ... The Hindu, reporting on a seminar on Digital Animation in UK and India, put on by the British Council, in which Animation professionals from UK and India ... called for forging collaborative ventures for developing creative and technical skills in the animation industry. ... According to The Asia Times, While an anti-outsourcing bandwagon spreads across the United States, in India key players are girding themselves for what is being seen as the next big opportunity in business and process outsourcing (BPO) postproduction of Hollywood motion pictures, TV serials and commercials. ... Finally, in the everyone wants to get into the act department, The Hindustan Times reports, West Bengal, striving to project itself as a preferred destination for IT firms, now plans to go up the animation outsourcing ladder by capitalising on its vast pool of low-cost skilled professionals.
In Class with a Chronicler of Cartoons
Speaking of India, The Calcutta Telegraph has this article about ace animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi on the occasion of his visit to the Salt Lake Institute. The author of Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation says, I have travelled around the world teaching at many different places, but everywhere the young people have preconceived ideas of what animation films are and should be. In Russia, they think the best is what they have seen as children on Russian television. In the US, its Disney they identify with; in Korea, Japanese films rule. Its very frustrating, because I feel they should be looking beyond. But this is the first batch that has no previous ideas, and their attitude is one of wanting to conquer the world. That is as it should be.
February 12, 2004
Finishing my roundup of some news developments that occurred during my recent hiatus, I will focus on the attempt by Comcast to take over Disney. Following on the heels of Pixar's decision to break off talks to renew their relationship with the Mouse House, this has put beleaguered Disney CEO Michael Eisner in a awkward spot; it has also added to the adulation in the Hollywood animation community towards Roy Disney, whose resignation from the Disney board seems more and more prescient. (The general good will he generates was seen last Saturday at the Annie Awards, where he received a standing ovation when he came to present who received a standing ovation when he came out to present a posthumous Winsor McCay Award to John Hench, who died just a few days before the ceremony.
Comcast/Disney: The Takeover Bid So Far
On February 11, as Forbes reported, Things just got more complicated for media giant The Walt Disney Co. and its chief executive, Michael Eisner. This morning, cable TV company Comcast stunned the market with news that it will make an unsolicited bid for Disney. The offer, which involves an exchange of shares was initially valued at $54 billion, or about 10% above the market value of Disney shares. The announcement came, Forbes noted, after Eisner apparently rebuffed Comcast's requests for talks. In terms of animation, Comcast Vice President Stephen Burke said a newly combined Comcast and Disney would extend a new hand of friendship to Pixar Animation Studios. ... 'Ten years ago Disney was an animation powerhouse,' Burke said. 'But in the last five years Disney's biggest hits have come from Pixar. Our goal would be place Disney Animation once again at the center of the company.' Comcast also released a letter it had sent to Eisner from president and CEO Brian L. Roberts (pictured) (see here and here), giving some of the rationale for the bid.
In discussing the financial aspects of the bid, this CNN/Money story says, Much of the weakness in Disney's share price is due to the perception,merited or not, that CEO Michael Eisner has become a liability to the company. Roy Disney and Stanley Gold quit Disney's board last year over their long-running dispute with Eisner, and have called for his ouster. In another blow, late last month Pixar pulled out of talks to extend Disney's five-picture deal to distribute Pixar films. Because Eisner has apparently rejected Comcast's advances, it is unlikely that he would have a job at the combined company.
A New Pixar Deal?
The thought that Comcast might salvage a deal between Disney and Pixar stirred up the hopes of some. Thus, this Reuters story says, 'I have reason to believe that if Michael Eisner were gone, you could do a deal with Pixar on acceptable terms,' Stanley Gold, a former board member and ally of Walt Disney nephew and fellow ex-board member Roy Disney, said on a conference call with investors. 'I think (Comcast) or others could probably do that if Michael is gone.'
Time Warner May Join Mouse Hunt
No self-respecting mega-merger like this can be without someone else wanting to get into the act. Thus, The New York Post reported, Time Warner, parent company to such animation-related entities as Warner Bros. and the Cartoon Network, is weighing a possible bid for Walt Disney Co. to counter Comcast's surprise hostile takeover offer for the beleaguered entertainment giant, The Post has learned. Time Warner, the world's biggest media company, was scheduled to hold a conference call with investment bankers yesterday afternoon to discuss the possibility of making a run at Disney, say sources familiar with the situation. Meanwhile, Pixar Animation Studios' Steve Jobs was understood to be in active discussions with parties, including cable operators, about putting together a team to emerge as a potential white knight for the Mouse House.
A Strategy of Opening the Door Before Opportunity Has to Knock
The New York Times, in analyzing the background to the takeover offer, notes, Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts is betting heavily that Comcast's executive vice president, Stephen B. Burke, who had been a rising Disney executive before joining Mr. Roberts in 1998, could improve the performance at some of Disney's troubled units, including the ABC broadcast network. ... Mr. Roberts said he also saw opportunities for improving some of Disney's cable channels, particularly the ABC Family Channel, which was performed poorly since Disney acquired it from the News Corporation for $5.2 billion in 2001. Yet Richard Greenfield, [of] Fulcrum Global Partners, a research firm, was less certain that Comcast had the executive talent to fix Disney. 'While Comcast has done a great job managing cable systems and networks, its ability in core Disney assets such theme parks and animation are unknown,' Mr. Greenfield said. A Dow Jones story, while taking brief note of skeptics about Comcast's ability to manage Disney, says, Yet despite these glaring differences [between the companies], supporters note that Chief Executive Brian Roberts has gone about the deal in characteristic, savvy fashion. And shareholders, assured by the company's history of sure-footed deals, are not worried that Disney will get out of hand.
The Associated Press has this story on the death of John Hench, the longtime Disney artist and the official portrait painter of Mickey Mouse at the age of 95. Hench, whose work were featured in both the company's animated films and theme parks, designed such attractions as Disneyland's Space Mountain. ... Hench began his career with Disney in May 1939 as a sketch artist on Fantasia, later working on story editing, layout and special effects for such classic Disney films as Dumbo, Peter Pan and Cinderella. The BBC obituary adds, When Walt Disney started planning for Disneyland, Hench was one of the first artists he enlisted. After the founder's death in 1966, he oversaw the creation of Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971 and the addition of Epcot in 1982. He also helped supervise the design of Disney's first overseas park, Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983. Neither story, however, mentions Hench also worked with Salvador Dali on the design of Destino, a short which was only recently finished and nominated for an Academy Award.
February 11, 2004
As noted yesterday, after my month plus hiatus, I will begin with a brief review of some of the more important news stories that have occurred while I was away. Although the hostile bid by cable giant Comcast for Disney has considerable promise, none has been more important than the not entirely unexpected breakdown of contract negotiations between Disney and Pixar.
On Friday, January 30, 2004, as The San Francisco Examiner reported, One of the most successful marriages in filmmaking history, the partnership behind blockbusters such as Finding Nemo and "Monsters, Inc.," appeared headed for divorce Thursday after Emeryville's Pixar Animation Studios said it was ending talks to extend its co-production contract with media titan Walt Disney Co. The sudden announcement, made public shortly after the close of the stock market, raises significant questions about the future of both companies. ... Among the suitors to express immediate interest in signing on with Pixar: Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century Fox. 'We'd love to be in business with Pixar,' said Warner Bros spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti.
This Associated Press story on February 2 began by stating, Boosted by a record quarterly and full-year performance, Pixar Animation Studios chief Steve Jobs on Wednesday explained his company's decision to split with The Walt Disney Co., blasting Disney as weak creatively and unwilling to compromise on a new agreement. In a conference call with analysts to discuss Pixar's earnings, Jobs took a slap at Disney's recent animated films. 'The truth is there has been little creative collaboration with Disney for years,' Jobs said. 'You can compare the creative quality (of Pixar films) with the creative quality of Disney's last three films and judge each company's creative ability yourselves.'
At the same time, The Los Angeles Times had this interesting analysis of the personalities behind the breakdown. It begins by reporting that, Several months before last summer's release of Finding Nemo, the chairman of Walt Disney Co., Michael Eisner, told his board not to expect a blockbuster and suggested that such a fate might not be all that bad. Eisner said that although Pixar Animation Studios was excited about its film, he was not impressed by early cuts he'd seen, according to people familiar with the matter. Should the movie falter, Eisner said, Disney could gain negotiating leverage in contentious talks to extend its partnership with the highflying animation company. Pixar, Eisner concluded, may be headed for 'a reality check.' It adds that, sources close to Eisner and Apple Computer Inc. founder Jobs said the stunning split was less about the math of the deal than the equation of the personalities. Associates say the two corporate titans, both famously strong-willed, let their personal differences cloud their objectivity in a partnership in which the spoils were evenly split.
In the making the best of a bad situation department, Newsday had this interview with John Williams, chair of the Beverly Hills-based Vanguard Films, in saying, he is ready to fill at least part of the enormous gap Walt Disney Co. will face when it is no longer distributing films by Pixar Animation Studios. The company has a deal to produce four computer-animated films for Disney, starting with the British-made Valiant (pictured) about a misfit, outcast carrier pigeon that must fight off German-trained falcons to deliver the secret of where the D-Day invasion will be. Self-serving as the interview is, the story ends with a sensible quote from Merrill Lynch media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen [who notes,] 'Disney now has several years of breathing room to reinvigorate its animation capabilities.'
Awards Season Annies & Oscars
It's that time of the year, with both the Annies and Oscars coming at us earlier this year. The winners of the Annies, sponsored by ASIFA-Hollywood were announced at their 31st annual awards ceremony held on February 7 at the Alex Theatre, in Glendale, California. As the Associated Press reported, Finding Nemo took top honors Saturday at the animation industry's 31st annual Annie Awards, earning nine awards, including best theatrical feature, best directing and best voice acting. Pixar also won in the best short subject category for Bud Luckey's Boundin' (pictured), while The Simpsons won four awards, including, yet once again, for best television production. The strangest award was to Sharon Forward for storyboarding in an animated feature production on Disney's Jungle Book 2, a film which got three other nominations in the same category, with a fifth nomination going to Disney's 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure; the absence of any major feature, such as Finding Nemo, was certainly due to the rather foolish rules governing this category rather than anything else. A complete list of nominees and winners can be found here on the ASIFA-Hollywood website.
A week earlier, the Oscar nominees were announced in Beverly Hills (see list here). The announcement of the nominees for the 76th annual Academy Awards ceremonies evoked this Fox News story on the current state of feature animation, specifically the battle between drawn and computer animation. To wit, Brother Bear, The Triplets of Belleville (pictured) and Finding Nemo, this year's Oscar nominees for best animated feature, are indicative of a fierce struggle between tradition and technology. While such stories do tend to be a bit tiresome, this one does compensate somewhat with quotes from Sarah Baisley, Jerry Beck and John Canemaker.
The announcement also brought forth a few animation-related hometown boys/girls make good stories this year. Thus, The San Francisco Chronicle has this piece on all the Bay area nominees in the animation and special effects categories, including those for Pixar and ILM. While Australia's ABC News Online proudly announced that, A Melbourne man has been nominated for an Academy Award for his short film Harvey Crumpet. Adam Elliot from St Kilda has written, directed and animated the 22-minute film about a man that lives at Spotswood.
February 10, 2004
After a hiatus starting in late December, during which I relocated from Los Angeles to London, I have begun to once again update this site. Today, I have posted some additional links to the Animation Studio Links pages. This will be followed in the next day or two by resuming daily postings for the popular News on the Web feature, perhaps including some highlights of what's been happening during my absence from the web. After all, I understand a few things happened at Disney and Pixar, while the Annie Awards were given and Oscar nominations were announced.
I suspect my perspective on the news will change somewhat due to my move. Like New York, my old home town, London is a city where the entertainment industry does not seem the focus of everyday life. If there is any change, I hope it is for the better.
I want to thank everyone for their continued support and understanding during my absence, and hope I can continue to live up to your great expectations.
© 2004 Harvey Deneroff
Animation Consultants International