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March 31, 2004
Disney Western Cartoon End of the Hand-Drawn Breed
According to Reuters, When Walt Disney Co.'s animated film Home on the Range debuts on Friday, it may signal the end of an era for hand-drawn cartoon features as the company that all but created the art form moves to computer images. It concludes by noting that, Disney has slashed its animation work force ... which created a lot of uncertainty at the company, said, Peter de Seve, [the] character designer who ... led the team that designed characters for Ice Age. He said that Disney was making creative decisions in a corporate manner, watering down the artistic process. 'There is such an aim for the bottom line and so much census-taking and poll-taking that the stories get diluted,' he said. But, he added, the word is that [its next film, the CGI] Chicken Little looks good. ... Also, Glenn Whipp of The Los Angeles Daily News, in introducing his rundown of Disney animated musicals, says, If indeed Home on the Range is the last traditionally animated feature we're going to see from Disney in a while, then you can say the form is going out with a laugh and not a whimper. A high-spirited romp about three cows, a horse and assorted other critters looking to capture an ornery cattle rustler, the movie is notable for what it omits. There are no dead parents to grieve, no characters desperately looking to find their place in the world, no Important Life Lessons to be learned.
'Home on the Range' May Just Lasso You In
The reviews for the new Disney film are starting to appear. One of the first up is from Christy Lemire for The Associated Press (also here), who says, Ordinarily, an animated movie about talking, singing cows, which contains the tag line 'Bust a moo,' might be udderly (sorry, couldnt help it) cringe-inducing.
But Home on the Range is so darn cute, and features such an impressive array of vocal talent, its hard not to be lassoed in. As Disney movies go, its not extraordinary enough to be deemed an instant classic; the story ... is weak and the pacing drags a bit in the middle. But kids will enjoy the colorful characters and grown-ups will chuckle at many of the jokes.
Disney Indulging in a Blame Game, Pennsylvania Treasurer Says
In regards to Disney's meetings with various government pension fund managers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Pennsylvania Treasurer Barbara Hafer said yesterday that Walt Disney Co. officials were blaming consultants for misdirecting the company on several management issues. ... she said the Disney representatives told her that consultants had advised the company to ignore claims from dissident shareholders that chief executive officer Michael D. Eisner had mismanaged the entertainment giant and that he should be ousted. 'You're telling me, as a shareholder, you spent a lot of money and you're blaming these people who gave you bad advice,' Hafer said. 'That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard.' But, as The Miami Herald says, Despite her concerns about Disney, Hafer does not want the state pension funds to sell their shares [right now].
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell
Tokyo Screen Daily has this review by Mark Schilling of Mamoru Oshii's film, saying the director has created a world of astonishing depth and presence, one that fully realises the potential of animation to bring to life the world of its directors imagination in all its hallucinatory complexity. Sometimes there is far too much information on the screen, visual and otherwise, to take in at one go. This will delight Oshiis many devotees abroad, who will see the film again and again to revel in its detailed imagery and figure out its deep think dialogue. The larger public, who think that the height of animated excellence is Finding Nemo, will probably be baffled.
A Superman Campaign for American Express
The New York Times has this story about the Web-only advertising [campaign] for American Express that reteams Superman with Jerry Seinfeld. ... The first of the five-minute 'Webisodes,' called A Uniform Used to Mean Something, [directed by Barry Levinson] began appearing yesterday on an area of the American Express Web site meant to resemble Mr. Seinfeld's living room (www.americanexpress.com/jerry). ... In sponsoring Internet commercials shot to resemble films, American Express joins a lengthening list of marketers creating ads that can be seen only by computer users. See also the story in Newsday, which notes It ... marks another entry in a growing niche of the marketing world: entertainment advertising, often referred to as 'advertainment.' Instead of a traditional commercial, marketers attempt to disguise their message by associating their brands with other forms of entertainment.
Adult Cartoons Animating Networks
Gannett News Service provides this rundown (also here) of the new lineup of primetime animated shows coming up on American networks. It feels that this new wave of animation and not just for kids is being sparked by technological advances, the need to expand beyond typical sitcoms and the durable windfall success of The Simpsons, TV's longest-running current series. It concludes by noting that, technological advances in animation make shows both cheaper and quicker to produce. Using desktop computers cuts costs dramatically. And because traditional series are often conceived and written in the U.S., then shipped to the Far East for animation, newer methods also means a much shorter production schedule six weeks instead of nine months, [Cartoon Network's senior VP Mike] Lazzo says. Pictured is DreamWorks' Father of the Pride, which will debut on NBC.
Phoenix Rises in NHK Animated Series
The Daily Yomiuri reports, Last year was the story-line birth year of Astro Boy, the fictional robot created by manga legend Osamu Tezuka (1928-89), and commemorative events were held around the nation, including the launch of a new animated series on the Fuji TV network. This year will see another Tezuka creation given new life on TV: the Hinotori phoenix. ... adapted from Tezuka's 13-volume comic saga of the same title. ... NHK used to have a designated slot for animation, which over time has been occupied by Mirai Shonen Konan Hayao Miyazaki's directorial debut Nirusu no Fushigi na Tabi and Anime Sanjushi. This is the first time for NHK to create an animation slot since Fushigi no Umi no Nadia ended its run in 1995. It also notes the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum is holding an exhibition titled 'Hinotori: Inochi no Kagayaki.'
Shark Tale' Offensive to Italian Americans?
The Associated Press has this follow-up to the Italic Institute of America's John Mancini widely published op-ed piece criticizing DreamWorks' forthcoming animated movie because some of its villainous sea creatures are played by Italians and have Italian names. 'Were concerned about what preteens are learning from the outside world,' said Mancini, 56, a Long Island real estate manager. 'They dont associate other groups as criminals, they only know Italians as gangsters. Our goal here is to de-Italianize it.' ... With an October release date, the movie is not yet finished. The Italic Institute hasnt even seen the script, and there is no trailer so far. DreamWorks spokeswoman Terry Press said the movie 'is about family and telling the truth and the cost of telling a lie.' 'You wish they would wait until theyd seen the movie before attacking it,' she added. ... The Italic Institute has made Shark Tale the latest in a long battle over Italian-American representations at the movies. The group says there have been at least 1,233 films related to Italians since 1928, and about 31 percent show the culture in a positive light, while 69 percent are negative.
The Voice of Scooby-Doo
The Associated Press has this interview with Neil Fanning, who got the job as the voice of Scooby-Doo using a lively impression of the late actor Don Messick's original rendition of the fraidy-cat dog from the 1969 cartoon in the live action-animated Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed because the ... film [was being] shot in his Australian hometown, and the filmmakers were looking for a voice reader. Asked if he has to exercise to get [his] normal voice into the high breathlessness of Scooby?, he says, It's something I've been doing for a long time, pretty much since my voice broke. ... I misspent my childhood watching a lot of cartoons. ... I warm up every day that I have to perform the voice. But it comes really naturally, and that's half the trick, keeping it natural. It's like 'hummmeeemmph!' pretty much do that and I'm in.'
Solitary vs Social
Independent Online has this article on South African artist and animation filmmaker William Kentridge, who has received more international acclaim than any other South African artist, is constantly navigating both poles of artistic experience the solitary and the social. The story focuses on Kentridges nine Soho Eckstein films, created between 1989 and 2003, [which ] document the dialectic between the politics of racism and the existential angst of the individual, personified in Jewish business tycoon Soho Eckstein and his rival, Felix Teitlebaum. It notes, Music is an essential feature of the films. It creates a 'glue' that binds the films together and smooths the awkwardness that otherwise is an innate part of the stop frame animation process.
In an Asia Pulse/PTI story, which notes that, Zee subsidiary Padmalaya Telefilms Ltd has signed a US$14 million deal with the European animation house Mondo TV group for the co-production and licensing of cartoons, it also Padmalaya would utilize Mondo TV's old library for financing future productions and has plans to produce two animated movies. See also this Sify report. ... In a separate story, Indian Television reports, Zee TV group outfit Padmalaya Telefilms will be developing a kids channel as part its relationship with Italian firm Mondo TV. The channel called Space Toons it is slated to launch some time in August.
In Brief: Rajeev Chakravarty, Stephen Root & Korean Quota
The Indian Express has this profile of Rajeev Chakravarty, a final year animation student at National Institute of Design ... [who] shot to fame after his film Dhak, which depicts the Durgapuja, won the grand prize at Trivandrum Toon Animation festival and who is now doing storyboards for Elizabeth-fame film director Shekhar Kapur['s] ... upcoming films Water and Mantra. He says, 'Even as a Fine Arts student, angles used to excite me. Shekhar Kapur gave me this offer because he liked the use of angles in an animation film, which is very difficult. He offered me a live-action project. For me, a film is a film, be it animation or live.' ... Back Stage has an interview with character actor Stephen Root, who in addition to roles in such live-action films as Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl and the Coen brothers' The Ladykillers, has done voice work in Finding Nemo and is the voice of Bill, Hank Hill's neighbor on King of the Hill. ... The Korea Times reports, The Ministry of Culture and Tourism will require at least one percent of all animations broadcast on a television channel during the year to be of local origin.
March 30, 2004
After 13 Years, Judge Dismisses Case on Pooh Bear Royalties
The New York Times reports, The Walt Disney Company prevailed on Monday in a 13-year legal dispute over royalties related to its Winnie the Pooh franchise when a judge dismissed the case, contending the plaintiff altered confidential memorandums and covered up the theft of documents obtained by a private investigator who sifted through the company's trash. Judge Charles W. McCoy of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in his decision that the misconduct of the Slesinger family, which sued Disney in 1991 after contending the company cheated it out of royalty fees, was 'so egregious that no remedy short of terminating sanctions' would adequately protect Disney and the justice system from further abuse. ... The two sides have been locked in a bitter and often contentious fight which, if Disney had lost, could have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Over the years, the Slesinger family has been represented by nearly a dozen lawyers three in the last year alone including Bertram Fields, the well-known entertainment lawyer who has made a career out of representing Disney's opponents. He abruptly resigned last summer without explanation. Most recently, the Slesingers were represented by Johnnie Cochran. See also story in USA Today.
A Fine Line for Mitchell
The Boston Herald spotlights criticism aimed at former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, recently appointed Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, in working as a consultant to companies on whose board of directors he also sits. It notes, Mitchell is paid $75,000 to consult for Staples Inc., where he is also a director. At issue is the potential for, or even just the appearance of, a conflict of interest at the Framingham office supply retailer. 'Relationships beyond the relationship as director are always complicating and always create an appearance problem,' said Nell Minow, with The Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm. Mitchell, recently named chairman of the Walt Disney Co., earlier received $300,000 in Disney consulting fees, the Los Angeles Times reported. Since then, Disney has ended business relationships with directors, the Times said.
More Than 60 Seconds with Gary Baseman
Fast Company's website has an extended transcript of the interview [with cartoonist Gary Baseman, creator of Disney's Teacher's Pet,] in the April 2004 issue of Fast Company. Asked, How much of Teacher's Pet is yours?, he says, I came up with the concept of the little dog, and the artwork is mine. And then you work together the writers, the animators, the director on how you want to tell the story. When I do my own paintings, I'm trying to keep myself inspired. With this, I'm trying to keep all my artists inspired. Instead of just copying what I do, I'm inspiring them to do better than I ever could. ... I wasn't just the hired gun art director who came on to this thing. I created the project, so I could argue and sometimes win and sometimes lose why something should be a certain way. Disney has certain really big strengths. Voice talent, access to these wonderful actors like Nathan Lane and Kelsey Grammar and Jerry Stiller something we're so grateful for. They're so gifted they add so much to the script and to the acting. And also with music. Disney has a strong professional approach to the songs. Sometimes it was the Disney executives who played up the creative additions.
An Early Easter Treat
The Ardmore (Pennsylvania) Main Line Times has this story about local artist (he lives and works in Narbeth) Gene Barretta, the 43-year-old film animator and children's book illustrator last year did the drawings for Off To Plymouth Rock!, a Thanksgiving story. And now he has illustrated his first Easter book. Journey, Easter Journey!, written by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a gentle, whimsical version of the life of Jesus, illustrated in the witty style that is the artist's trademark. ... Among his various achievements, he created animated shorts for Sesame Street.
What's Happened to Wholesome Cartoon Violence?
That's the question asked by this story in The Toque. It says, There's something terribly wrong when a character doesn't bounce off the ground or create a cookie-cutter outline of his body in the pavement. There's something awful when he doesn't wobble and vibrate like a tuning fork when a door is slammed in his face, and something's definitely amiss when he doesn't light up like an x-ray when he gets electrocuted. Children need to get away from their real angst-filled lives and escape into worlds where the real physics don't apply, instead of mourning over the reality cartoon character who accidentally touched a live telephone wire.
March 29, 2004
Bangalore Forces US Techies to Auction Themselves
India seems to be taking notice of the decline in animation employment in the States. Take for example, this story in The Economic Times, which begins by asking, What do you do after you lose your job to outsourcing? One way to beat the creditors would be to make T-shirts with the message 'I lost my job to India and all I got was this (lousy) T-shirt' and make oodles of money! Or, like Gus Grubba and his team of San Francisco software programmers you could put yourself up to the highest bidder on e-bay! Go to ebay and you will find that Gus Grubba and his team of a dozen programmers offering their service. Here is your opportunity to hire an entire, top-notch development team. But the shocking fact is that they are not just any bunch of techies. They are 3-D animation and graphics specialists and their handiwork can be seen in films like The Matrix, The Last Samurai and Mission Impossible to name a few. If you go for gaming, you'd recognise their handiwork on Warcraft and Myst.
Laughs Via Laptop
The Age has this story about Australian standup comedian Howard Read who is now the author of something new and surprisingly fun: comedy by laptop. Everything goes pretty smoothly when I see Big Howard and Little Howard, a show he does largely with an animation of an innocent but rather disgruntled little boy controlled onstage by Big Howard on the keyboard. I can see, though, that one of the inherently funny things about it is that things could so easily go wrong. We all know what computers are like. Howard doesn't even have to say, in the manner of so many comedians, 'Haven't you ever noticed', before launching into some joke based on our bonded experience. ... The focus [of the act] is Little Howard, his muddled language and his faux-naive rebellion against his cartoon status.
In Brief: Weta, Nelvana Series, Mike Young's Sales Outfit, Holy
According to C21 Media, Canadian toon house Nelvana has unveiled details of its partnership with Weta Workshop: kids series Jane & the Dragon (26x30'), marking the New Zealand CGI studio's first foray into the kids TV sector. ... Weta and its sister Weta Digital have previously worked [the special effects for the] big screen smash Lord of the Rings. ... C21 Media reports, After launching its inhouse distribution arm two years ago, LA-based animation indie Mike Young Productions has spun-off the division as a standalone distribution outfit. Taffy Entertainment named after MYP partner Bill Schultz's favourite candy bar will be headed up by evp Regis Brown, who came over from Film Roman to launch Mike Young Distribution back in 2002. (Pictured is the studio's CGI TV series, Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks.) ... The Salina (Kansas) Journal has this story about, A former Salinan and his wife [who] have developed a religious video for children ... Wayne Laugesen, who worked at the Salina Journal from 1987 to 1991 and now lives in Boulder, Colo., said the [animated] video, Holy Baby, Seven Prayers in Seven Languages, is based on the same concepts as the Baby Einstein and Baby Genius videos that are on the market.
March 28, 2004
In Brief: Prizewinners 'Lemmings' & 'Africa'
The Salt Lake Tribune has this story about a group of Brigham Young University students [who] stubbornly marched on to complete their computer animated movie. But their stalwart determination has paid off handsomely.
Their short film, Lemmings [pictured], about a furry rodent who tries to stop his fellow lemmings from advancing off a cliff, captured first place in digital animated short films from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation, also known as a 'student Emmy.' ... Also, The Chosun Ilbo reports that, The Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Animation Fair 2004 went to a Korean animation called "Africa." Dongwoo Animation's Africa.
March 27, 2004
Out of the Picture
The Los Angeles Times has this lengthy story on the decline in animation employment in Hollywood, especially in 2D. It notes, Some animators have been out of work for 18 months or more. Some have taken part-time jobs in art supply shops or bookstores. Others have become gardeners, chefs, teachers and real estate agents. While a number are making strides to transition into 3D, or computer-generated imaging, others figure it looks like a good time to delve into long-sidelined projects. Then there are those who are simply stuck, lost or in denial. They vent and carp with friends or on the busy Web site www.AnimationNation.com, or sit at home and obsess. As with many laid-off populations, occasional rumors of suicide pepper conversations. It focuses on the plight of several animators and includes quotes for the likes of Tom Sito and Mark Kausler.
Giving Credits the Credit They're Due
The New York Times has this profile of Randall Balsmayer, founder of Big Film Design in New York, [who] is one of the most innovative [designers of movie-title sequences], wedding novel digital effects with type and image and pushing the limits of the form. Although he never imposes an identifiable personal style, Mr. Balsmayer always relies on equal parts visual wit, irony and drama to prepare the audience for what's to come. ... Mr. Balsmayer came to the field from graphic art and environmental design. He was inspired by the work of [Saul] Bass and Maurice Binder, who designed the original gun barrel trademark that opens all the James Bond films. Like them, Mr. Balsmayer has pushed the boundaries of animated montage and typography as storytelling tools on screen. The story provides brief photo essays on three recent title sequences: the remake of The Ladykillers, Chicago and Intolerable Cruelty.
Triplets Composer Hits Big Time Playing the Hoover
According to The Canadian Press, Ben Charest has made a decent living playing jazz guitar over the years but that's nothing compared with what playing the vacuum cleaner, the bicycle wheel and refrigerator shelves has recently done for him. The Montreal composer included that oddball assortment of 'instruments' on his soundtrack for The Triplets of Belleville, the made-in-Quebec film that earned Oscar nominations for best animated movie and, for Charest, best original song. Charest, who is scheduled to work on Chomet's next movie, which is about the Paris Commune of 1871, says, 'The absurdity of life is that I've become famous by playing the Hoover more than by playing the guitar. That's funny.'
Cinar Opens The Cookie Jar
C21 Media reports, Canadian animation house Cinar has rebranded itself as The Cookie Jar, following the successful takeover of the company by ex-Nelvana execs Toper Taylor and Michael Hirsch. The move would seem to be an attempt to distance the company from Cinar's scandal-plagued history of the past few years.
March 26, 2004
Roy Disney & The Battle for the Mouse
The Associated Press quotes Roy Disney as saying to a gathering of pension fund officials and other large investors, that Michael Eisner is behaving like a Third World dictator of a once-great country ... and his Cabinet sits mute for fear of beheading. ... Reuters in reporting on the same gathering notes, Roy Disney, [who is leading a campaign to oust Chairman Michael Eisner, said he would share information about the company with fellow investors pushing for change at the entertainment company. 'Shamrock will share ideas and information' with the state pension funds and others, he said, referring to his family's investment company, Shamrock Holdings, which holds a major stake in The Walt Disney Co. ... Meanwhile, The Associated Press also reports that, [North Carolina] State Treasurer Richard Moore blasted The Walt Disney Co. on Friday for how it handled a meeting this week between Moore and officials seeking to rehabilitate the company's image. ... In a letter sent Friday to Chairman George Mitchell, Moore wrote that ... 'I am now convinced that Disney has little interest in generating long-term shareholder value for the nearly 700,000 pensioners that I represent and a great deal of interest in conducting a short term public relations campaign at the expense of investors,'
The Overleveraged Disneyland: Will Disney Take Losses in France?
The New York Times begins this story on trouble-plagued Euro Disneylan by noting that, When Walt Disney Co. decided to build a Disneyland in Europe, it was clever in many ways perhaps too clever. It managed to build first one and then a second theme park largely with other people's money, while not showing any of the loans on its own balance sheet. If all had gone well, it would have shown profits without much in the way of expenses. ut almost nothing has gone well in the 12 years since Disneyland opened, nor in the two years since Disney opened a second theme park with more money borrowed in off-balance sheet transactions. For the second time, Disney is engaged in negotiations with French banks to restructure Euro Disney's debts. Those talks do not appear to be going too well, although this week they were extended for two months after Euro Disney promised to find E40 million, or $48.5 million, for the banks by next month and Disney promised it would not try to get any of its own loans repaid while talks are continuing.
Disney Studio Chief Sees Big-Screen 'Toy Story 3'
According to Reuters, Walt Disney Co. studio chief Dick Cook said on Friday he was leaning toward making the third installment of Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios Inc.'s 1995 hit, as a feature movie rather than a straight-to-home video project in a few years. Pixar and Disney plan to part ways after two more films together, but Disney retains the rights to make the sequels to the movies they have already produced, including the two Toy Story movies. The film, though, would seem to be a few years away from production. Incidentally, Toy Story 2 was originally planned as a direct-to-video film before it was decided to take the theatrical route instead.
Scooby-Doo: Hey, Dog! How Do You Do the Voodoo That You Do So Well?
Just in time for the release of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Slate has this article on the longevity of the Scooby-Doo franchise. It says, Though it's hard to believe and for animation purists, practically impossible to stomach Scooby-Doo is the most enduringly popular cartoon in TV history. Starting with the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the show, in various permutations, was produced for 17 years (and, with its latest incarnation, it's in production again), making it the longest-running network cartoon ever. Because of syndication, it's never been off the air since it debuted, and it probably never will be. Now it's expanding its empire: Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed opens today in theaters nationwide, the second of what promise to be many live-action Scooby movies. In 2002, the live-action Scooby-Doo raked in $54.2 million on its opening weekend, on its way to a $153-million box office.
Kids' TV Just Gets Better
Denver Post TV Critic Joanne Ostrow, starts this story on what's happening in kids' TV in the US by focusing on Peep and the Big Wide World (pictured). However, she says, Don't look for this sweet science series on the networks. You won't run across Peep unless you have a preschooler and a cable bill, and that's the case with most positive children's programming. Peep is coming to TLC and the digital Discovery Kids Channel beginning April 5. (In an unusual arrangement, Boston's noncommercial WGBH produced but doesn't air Peep.) ... The trend in children's television is clear: If you can afford it, and if you can afford the technology that lets you skip commercials, there is a lot of creative and educational entertainment available. For the rest of the audience and 20 million households do not get cable - there is a flood of violent, rude and cheaply animated programming, the background noise that keeps the $8 billion children's TV advertising market humming.
City in Frame for Top French Movie-maker
The Scotsman has more details on the earlier announcement about how French director Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville) is set to open Studio Django in the next few months [in Edinburgh], bringing up to 80 jobs to the city. Two features are in the works, including Barbacoa, which has attracted £25,000 [US$45,480] in funding from Scottish Screen and filming is set to get under way in earnest. It will be produced in association with 4-Way Pictures, the film company formed by actor Robert Carlyle. Film buff Mark Cousins will co-produce. The second project is a collaboration with Dimension Films, a division of film company Miramax. Dimensions chairman, Bob Weinstein, flew the Chomets and their creative and producing team to New York at the end of last week to clinch the deal. ... Scottish Screen adds that the latter project will be done in 3D and will begin pre-production in Edinburgh in the summer.
Other Countries Seek to Imitate Japan's Anime Success Story
The opening of the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2004 sparked this story in The Daily Yomiuri, which notes, Japan, long regarded as an animation superpower, is coming under closer scrutiny by other countries [especially in Asia] looking to follow suit and tap into the success enjoyed by the anime industry here. The country occupies a dominant position at the forefront of the industry, to the extent that 65 percent of cartoons broadcast on television around the world reportedly are produced in this country. According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the global market for animation broadcasts and anime character-related goods has topped about 2.2 trillion yen [US$20.7 billion].
India is Shining
Andy Bird, President, Walt Disney International recently made a stir in India with his talk at FICCI Frames 2004. Now, Screen India has an article by Bird on the same topic (and could possibly be the text of the speech). He notes, The growth India is experiencing is multi-faceted and robust. Industries across the board are booming, and the impact of this development is filtering down to different levels of the social strata. A strong education system is ensuring that the quality of the labour force is consistent, and that Indias indigenous R&D capabilities remain on the cutting edge. Political stability which has eluded India for several years now seems within grasp. Today, India is on the move, and offers a treasure trove of opportunities to the world. In terms of animation, he feels, Other than focusing just on film or TV animation production, the industry also faces a big opportunity to tap other animation user segments such as games, advertising, music videos, mobile, and documentaries.
Digital Art Media Makes an Impact
Screen India has this profile of Bangalore-based special effects house Digital Art Media, which discusses many of the films it has worked on in India. It says, DAM believes in giving a good output that is very creative and of high quality and to achieve this there is a team that puts in their sweat and blood to the work they have in hand. Mostly, these are unnamed credits but the company as a corporate, truly believes in acknowledging, highlighting and rewarding the contribution of each and every artist of a team. DAM believes that for giving their best to movie value it is essential to get involved with the script itself as is proved by the performance of KMG. The real value of visual effects cannot be established only after the start of the post-production work but from the word go itself.
In Brief: Magnetic Dreams, Going For a Burton, Buster in Iqaluit
The Nashville Tennessean has this story on two short 3-D animation films produced by [Nashville-based] Magnetic Dreams for Sesame Street will air during the public television show's 35th anniversary special. The first of the two TJ & Bernie segment[s], titled Me and My Chair[pictured], is set to song and is to introduce viewers to both characters. The second, titled 14 Baskets, is a counting lesson that sees TJ (the initials stand for 'Traction Jackson') sink 14 basketball shots in a row. ... The South Manchester Reporter has this local-boy-makes-good interview with Chorlton animator Brian Demoskoff, 26, [who] has waved a temporary goodbye to Albany Road's Cosgrove Hall Films after being recruited by [Tim] Burton to work [in London] on the full-length stop motion animation film The Corpse Bride. ... The Nunatsiaq News reports that, A field producer from WGBH [Boston] will be in Iqaluit until next Wednesday to prepare for an episode of Buster the Bunny, a spinoff of Arthur, which which will be located in Iqaluit, the South Baffin Island community.
March 25, 2004
Focus Turns to Walt Disney Earnings
The New York Times says, When the Walt Disney Company ends its fiscal second quarter next week, Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, can only hope for better news from the financial department than he has had on other fronts lately. The company had a promising fiscal first quarter, and analysts say Disney remains on track to deliver double-digit earnings growth this year. ... But Disney's financial performance has been overshadowed lately by a $54 billion hostile takeover offer from the Comcast Corporation and the shareholder revolt that led to Mr. Eisner's being stripped of his chairman's title and some big investors calling for Mr. Eisner's ouster. That is why the company will be scrutinized for any sign - however slight of economic distress.
European Headache for Disney
Speaking of economic distress, The International Herald Tribune begins its analysis of the Mouse House's troubles at Euro Disneyland by noting that, When Walt Disney Co. decided to build a Disneyland in Europe, it was clever in many ways perhaps too clever. It managed to build first one and then a second theme park largely with other people's money, while not showing any of the loans on its own balance sheet. If all had gone well, it would have shown profits without much in the way of expenses. But almost nothing has gone well in the 12 years since Disneyland opened, nor in the two years since Disney opened a second theme park with more money borrowed in off-balance sheet transactions. For the second time, Disney is engaged in negotiations with French banks to restructure Euro Disney's debts.
He-Man Leads Cartoon Attack on USA
The Scotsman reports, Cartoon strongman He-Man is to lead an assault on the US market after Entertainment Rights acquired the character in a £11 million [US$20 million] deal today. The London-based owner of Basil Brush and Postman Pat has bought the Filmation library of cartoons from greetings card giant Hallmark, giving it access to more than 500 hours of classic animation. ... Chief Executive Mike Heap said: 'Its a transforming deal for the company. We have been looking for some time at how we access the US and what this does is to give us classic animation characters [such as She-Ra, Ghostbusters, The Lone Ranger and My Favourite Martian] that have been off air for 10 years.' See also this Reuters story, which adds that He-Man currently generates around 4-5 million pounds [US$7.27-$9.1 million] a year from broadcast, video and DVD sales. Heap said this would rise as the firm revives the characters on television and DVD.
March 24, 2004
Roy Disney Seeks Information on Disney Workers' Votes
Bloomberg reports, Roy Disney, an ex-Walt Disney Co. director, asked the company to disclose how many shares voted by employees participating in Disney's retirement plans didn't back Chief Executive Michael Eisner's re-election to the board. More than 70 percent of shares held by participants in Disney's 401(k) plans are ``rumored'' to have been voted against Eisner at the company's March 3 annual meeting, Roy Disney's attorney, David Robbins, said in a letter. The letter was sent two days ago to the board of Burbank, California-based Disney and was distributed today in a press release. A Reuters report notes, The pension plan vote may be the best stand-in for a poll of Disney employees' views on Eisner. About 24,000 of Disney's 112,000 employees are members of the plan, Disney said. Roy Disney's press release can be found here and here.
Technology Goes to the Movies
In an analysis of the special effects business, E-Commerce Times notes, Yankee Group entertainment analyst Adi Kishore, a former TV producer, said that with use of visual effects at an all-time high, a natural assumption would be that all firms in the industry are making good money. 'But they are not,' he told the E-Commerce Times. While it points out a major contributing factor in the escalating cost of movie production is the increased use of special effects. It adds, Costs within the special-effects industry are skyrocketing as well, however, threatening these firms' profitability especially among small and midsize visual-effects houses. Interestingly, this rise in costs has taken place even though the cost of infrastructure for producing visual effects has fallen. ... The underlying problem is the price of top-level talent, according to Maurice Patel, product marketing manager at Montreal-based Discreet Solutions, whose Flame and Inferno products are often used by Hollywood.
VFX Teams Scrambling to Launch 'Sky Captain'
The Hollywood Reporter reports that, Kerry Conran, the first-time writer-director behind Paramount's retro-futuristic Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, set out to eliminate the live-action middlemen of moviemaking locations scouts, set builders, etc. by shooting his movie on HD video so actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law could be inserted into 100% CG environments. ... Conran told the New York Times this month that in tackling the project, 'the goal was to make a live-action film but to use conventions of traditional animation.' Another key objective, he told the newspaper, was 'first and foremost, to do it cheaper.' ... Production sources say the movie is expected to contain 1,500-2,200 visual effects shots. [However, as] of December, sources say, fewer than 500 of those shots had been completed.
Coogan in Trouble over Cartoon's Pampered Lab Animals
According to The Independent, Steve Coogan and his Baby Cow production company have been accused by anti-vivisectionists of being 'irresponsible' in making a cartoon series which portrays laboratory animals as living in pampered conditions. The series, I Am Not An Animal, is shortly to be screened on BBC 2, and shows the animals enjoying 'a stylish waterside apartment, specially designed clothes, modern European cuisine and a cellar full of chianti' as they await their experiments. It adds that, Those who have seen the show regard it as a satirical look at vivisection and believe it will not cause offence.
In Brief: Tartan Toons & The Incredibles
Empire Online says French director Sylvain Chomet of The Triplets of Belleville (Belleville Rendez-Vous) fame, and his wife Sally Chomet will move to Edinburgh and set up Studio Django to produce their new movies. Leading [the] charge will be Barbacoa a bestial tale of escaped zoo animals as they make their bid for freedom during the 1871 Paris Commune. The second film will be a 3D project that will begin pre-production in the Summer. ... FilmForce has this report on Brad Bird's surprise appearance at ShoWest 2004, where he screened about four minutes of footage from Pixar's forthcoming The Incredibles [pictured]as well as the debut of the theatrical trailer. ... The Incredibles looks to have the same type of trademark Pixar humor and quality that has characterized all of their other releases. The film presupposes that superheroes are subject to the lawsuits and the troubles of modern life and therefore most of them have retired or gone underground.
Viacom News: Viacom in China & Nickelodeon Movies
According to Indian Television, Media conglomerate Viacom is expanding in China. The company has announced several breakthrough partnerships, including a joint venture with Shanghai Media Group (SMG). This marks the first investment by a global player in a Chinese content production company. As part of the deal China Central Television (CCTV) hatched a deal with Nickelodeon for Cat Dog and Wild Thornberrys. They air a total of 1.5 hours daily on CCTVs new childrens channel. This marks the debut of Nickelodeon animation in China. ... [The move follows a] change in Chinese law announced several weeks ago that allowed foreign participation in Chinese production companies for the first time. ... In a press release, Nickelodeon Movies ... announced their upcoming slate of thirteen feature films. The animation titles in production include The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, based on the popular TV series and The Barnyard, a CGI musical from Steve Oedekerk and his O Entertainment, while John Woo's CGI Mighty Mouse is in development.
March 23, 2004
Disney Officials, Pennsylvania Treasurer to Meet
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Walt Disney Co. officials are scheduled to meet with Pennsylvania Treasurer Barbara Hafer today in Harrisburg as part of the company's attempt to win back support from state pension funds, which have been critical of the company's management. Disney said it had been meeting with shareholders around the country to discuss its operations and strategy in the wake of the stormy annual meeting March 3 in Philadelphia. ... Also yesterday, a group of six public pension funds requested a meeting with Disney's board to discuss the company's plans to improve its operations and reform its corporate-governance policies. ... Commenting on the pension funds' request, The Motley Fool says, Both sides need this meeting. It's not just because they all have money riding on the future of the company's growth. That's a given. However, the funds gone gadflies need to know that their flexed muscles matter. Meanwhile, Disney can use a slap of brutal honesty. ... Meanwhile, The New York Times, in updated the status of Comcast's bid for Disney, notes, Several people involved in the transaction said that Comcast, the giant cable operator, was likely to leave its bid, which was made in February, open for three to six months, but not longer.
Disney Financial News: Brother Bear Passes $200 million & Euro Disney
According to BBC News, Disney's Brother Bear film has become the 16th film in the company's history to pass the $200m (£111.1m) mark. The film has made more than half that amount $115m (£63.8m) outside the United States. ... Its biggest European success has been in France, where it has made more than $24m (£13.3m). ... Bloomberg reports, Euro Disney SCA, Europe's largest theme park operator, said creditors granted it two more months to renegotiate the terms of its loans, buying the unprofitable company time to avoid default. Euro Disney, which is 39 percent owned by Walt Disney Co., has until May 31 to work out a plan with lenders to repay a 168 million euro ($207 million) debt due in June. The same story also reports increased profits by Oriental Land Co., which operates Tokyo Disneyland and the two-year-old Tokyo DisneySea.
But Where Are the People?
The Business Standard has this report on the ongoing talent shortage that is a byproduct of the rapid growth of the Indian animation industry. Avishkar Dahiya, chief executive producer, Digital Art Media, [feels,] 'we are at a phase where investments to increase the talent pool are most essential' ... Most animation industry experts echo Dahiyas concern about the shortage of animators. While animation studios in India may be flooded with enquiries and projects from the entertainment industry in the US, the industry here has very little manpower. ... Today, the Indian animation industry is said to employ about 5,000 people. ... By 2006-2007, it is estimated that the industry will need between 30,000 and 40,000 people to keep pace with the requirements of the animation business.
Would You Please Just Grow Up?
Columnist Rush Button in The Orangeburg (South Carolina) Times and Democrat provides some thoughts on The Perpetual Adolescent, an article by Joseph Epstein in The Weekly Standard, who observed that over the past 40 years or so, the youth culture has taken over the United States. Button says, I believe his assessment of the present state of our culture is a true one. The 'me generation' seems to be in charge. Otherwise, why does so much contemporary entertainment come in the form of animation or comic-book cartooning? Television shows such as The Simpsons and King of the Hill all seem to feel that the animated cartoon/comic-book format is very much of the moment. They are right if you think of your audience members as adolescent, or, more precisely, as unwilling to detach themselves from their adolescence.
March 22, 2004
Make Way for Noddy in China
The news that Make Way for Noddy has been sold to China prompted this story in The Guardian. It notes, Noddy's Chinese adventure has been made possible by a landmark deal clinched last week by Chorion, a British firm that specialises in the creative rebranding of intellectual property. The deal was thrashed out with a Chinese publisher that specialises in children's learning, but it opens the way for the Noddy brand to be exploited for potentially huge profit in the world's most populous country, just as it already has been across other Pacific rim countries. When Chorion's chief executive, Nicholas James was asked, Why was Noddy a lucrative brand to develop?[, he replied,] 'We believed there was room in the pre-school market for another character to be dominant and to rival Thomas the Tank Engine. Properties like these can have tremendous longevity if they are rebranded correctly. We asked ourselves whether there was any obvious property we could go after. With Noddy, we could see how he could be developed to have universal appeal.'
Return of the Green Giant
The casting of Monty Python comedy legend John Cleese [as the voice of] King Harold the father of Fiona who tries to kill Shrek in Shrek 2 is the initial focus of this icScotland.co.uk story. However, after quoting Cleese that,there's nothing nicer than doing the voice for animation because you don't have to get up early in the morning, it notes the sequel will feature new fairytale characters and digs at the movies like Spider-Man, From Here To Eternity, Ghostbusters and The Lord Of The Rings. In the original film, Shrek reluctantly saves Fiona from the dragon and ends up marrying her after she also turns into an ogre. In the new film, we find out that Prince Charming, who Fiona first wanted to rescue her, did indeed make the effort, but Shrek beat him to it, which provides the story's jumping off point.
New Draw on Campus: Animation
Asahi Shimbun reports that, Hoping to foster a generation of producers who can lead the animation and game industries worldwide, the University of Tokyo plans to start this fall a course of study focusing on the creation and marketing of animation products and computer games. ... The production problem isn't in technology, though. Infrastructure such as the Internet and other tools have spread rapidly, the university concluded. It is the study of program content and strategies to groom content providers that still lags in this country, the university said. Among the experts being recruited for the program are Spirited Away producer Toshio Suzuki and such directors as Mamoru Oshii and Katsuhiro Otomo.
Strategy Unveiled to Raise Ideological, Moral Standards of Young
According to Xinhua, China on Monday made public a package of proposals on raising the ideological and moral standards of the country's 367 million young people under 18, including more publicity campaigns, educational reform and investment in projects for young people. Among the strategies it will pursue, it noted Governments will increase support for production and screening of China-made animated films, and Internet portals of various kinds are also urged to have better understanding of their social responsibility, according to the document.
March 21, 2004
Weta May Hire Out Servers
Stuff.co.nz reports, Five hundred powerful computers used by [Peter Jackson's] Weta Digital to help create the special effects for the Lord of the Rings may be put up for hire. The special effects company is considering renting out several racks of IBM blade servers worth about $2 million [US$1.32 million] in partnership with Telecom, which would share a proportion of the revenues. ... The extra servers were brought in to help create the effects for the final instalment of the trilogy, boosting Weta's processing capacity by about a third. Hmm! One wonders if that's the only reason, especially given Jackson's recent decision to halt production on his remake of King Kong and send everybody home? In the meantime, Stuff.co.nz also reports, Weta Digital staff are now working on a sci-fi thriller [I, Robot] starring Will Smith ... a futuristic thriller set in 2035, and stars Smith ... as a Chicago detective investigating a murder possibly carried out by a robot.
India's 'Bollywood' Film Industry Attracts Foreign Businesses
Voice of America in this story on a recent international conference in Mumbai (probably FICCI Frames 2004) notes, India's film and television industry is getting global attention as it grows into a multi-billion dollar industry. ... Andy Bird, president of Walt Disney International, sees great opportunity for animation production in India, because of the country's large English-speaking work force with technology skills. Mr. Bird says Disney also wants to expand in India, where nearly a third of the billion-plus population is under 15 years of age, and where Disney's animated films are already popular. 'We are looking at all the different avenues,' he said. 'We are very keen to learn not only about the animation business, but all the other types of business that the Walt Disney company is involved in.'
Arts, Technology Converge
Columnist Robert Miller in The Dallas Morning News has this piece on the Institute for Arts and Technology in the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas, which is offering its students three new majors with an emphasis on technology. ... The students explore the synergies between arts and technology, and also take digital arts, game and interactive classes that complement their arts studies. The majors are the brainchild of Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, and Dr. [Thomas E.] Linehan, who came to UTD in 2001 after 20 years directing the animation program at Ohio State University. As might be expected, animation is an integral part of the curriculum.
March 20, 2004
Pop Idols Puffy Debut as Cartoon Figures on US TV
Kyodo News has this background story on the development of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, a new series scheduled to debut on Cartoon Network in December based on Puffy, the Japanese pop singing female duo whose popularity in Japan has been compared with that of Madonna or Britney Spears in the United States. It says the show was the idea of Sam Register, the network's senior vice president of cartoon development, and will feature Puffy [Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki] on the road with their band as well as letting loose in Tokyo. 'Pokemon is a model show where someone goes over to Japan and just buys it and adapts it to U.S. television,' Register said. 'This was me, an American producer, bringing two real Japanese girls from Japan and making a cartoon about them.' It concludes by noting that, No concert is scheduled in the U.S. just yet, but it seems this will be quite a 'Puffy' year in the U.S. 'We've gotten so much interest for the show. People like an original idea,' Register said. 'We're going to have little kids speaking Japanese to their parents after they watch our show.'
March 19, 2004
Monkey Dust Wins Animation Award
BBC News reports, Cutting-edge comedy Monkey Dust [by Harry Thompson and Shaun Pye (pictured)] has scooped a top prize at the British Animation Awards. The satirical BBC Three sketch show, which depicts the seedier side of modern Britain, took the award for best comedy. ... Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids: Revenge of the Bogeyman won two awards for Jamie Rix and Nigel Planer, including best children's series. Chris Shepherd was commended for his short Dad's Dead, while rock group Blur were the jury's choice for best video. An award for best commercial went to Aardman Animations for Polo while Passion Pictures ... took one for their NSPCC advertisement.
The Changing Face of British Animation
Before the British Animation Awards were announced, BBC News posted this interview with the Awards' director and founder Jayne Pilling about the event's history and the current state of animation, especially in the UK. It notes that, Currenty there is no award for animated feature film, though the category did feature in 2002, when it was shared by Chicken Run and the French film Kirikou Et La Sorciere. 'I used not to be terribly interested in animated feature films because I found them rather formulaic,' says Ms Pilling. 'But I've been really turned around by the things coming out of Europe and Japan.' It concludes with her comment that, There is no shortage of talent. What we need more of is people who are trying to get some of this really wonderful work to audiences that will appreciate it. Pictured is The Cramp Twins by Brian Woods, a 1996 student award winner, which she points out is the first children's animated series from the UK to be commissioned by America's Cartoon Network.
Found in Translation: 'Cool Japan'
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have this story which uses the newly launched Australian magazine, Gaijin! (the Japanese word for foreigner), [whose editor Stuart Ridley] is at the commercial edge of 'Cool Japan', a movement that has Australian popular culture in its grip, to explore the influence of Japanese culture, including anime. This includes broadening the audience for animation. Thus, Tim Anderson, whose company, the Madman/AV Channel Group, says that, 'There is starting to be a shift in perception with films like Spirited Away, and even to an extent Finding Nemo and Toy Story, but I think we've still got a reasonable way to go before we are like Japan where animation is widely accepted and where people of all audiences and all ages read comic books and watch cartoons' ... The wider audience for anime has had a ripple effect in other places. Graphic designers and fashion labels were among the first to take up the strong colours, intricate detail and sharp definition. And there were immediate spin-offs for the toy industry.
Asian Growth in the Hands of Intellectual Fellows
The Manila Bulletin, in this story about the six Filipinos who have been given The Nippon Foundation Asian Public Intellectuals Fellowships, talks to Rudyard Pesimo, a Digital Arts and Computer Animation instructor at Ateneo de Naga University. Pesimo feels there is a need to conduct a research that will be able to provide an Asian perspective about Japanese animé, Thailand animation and Philippine animation. 'Through my research project, I hope we can learn more from the experiences that they have in Japan so that we can improve our directions here in the Philippines. By then, Filipino animators will finally capture the global market,' he conveys. He also mentioned that his project will give homegrown animators more insights about how Japanese animé is related to their culture, how Thai animation is being supported by their government, and what Philippine animation presently has that can be improve on.
March 18, 2004
Disney's Directors May Perceive Few Alternatives to Eisner, Mitchell
The Miami Herald notes, That the [Disney] board of directors remains pro-Eisner won't surprise anyone familiar with its reputation. ... Disney directors may be loyal; but they're not blind. Nor are they patsies anymore. Indeed, power at Disney is gradually shifting from the chief executive to the board, which must find a successor to Eisner and fend off criticism of the man they have just elected their chairman: former Senator George Mitchell, whose record as a corporate director is pretty dismal. The board's current thinking goes something like this. Eisner, whose contract runs out in September 2006, deserves more time to show that the turnaround at the entertainment giant is real. It adds, the most important question facing the board: if not Michael, then who?, then goes on to speculate on who it might be. ... Meanwhile, The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports, Warner Books ... has delayed the June release of Disney CEO Michael Eisner's book on management and the lessons he learned at summer camp. A Business Weekreport says the [publisher] is delaying the release due to Eisner's full plate, a schedule made more hectic by a takeover bid from Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. and a vote of no confidence from 43 percent of Walt Disney Co. shareholders.
IT's Walking the 'Animated' Talk or Is It?
Indian Television reports, FICCI Frames 2004 is abuzz with the 'A' word animation. With two sessions dedicated to animation on day two yesterday, prominent Indian and international personalities met again today to talk about the buzzword. 'Animation will outperform IT,' that's what Crest Communications CEO AK Madhavan would have you convinced. ... However, before a Pixar comes out of an Indian IT giant, there would be many a teething troubles to deal with. 'This industry is starved for money and this is where IT can help,' said [iGate president and co-founder Ashok]Trivedi adding that while the animation businesses had weak and flexible processes, they could utilize the best practices of the IT industry especially as to managing the human capital. He further emphasized that for Indian IT companies to graduate to animation, sustainable business models would have to be created.
In Brief: Prasad/Sheridan, Polar Express Premiere & Not Another Valdez
According to The Hindu, Prasad Media Corporation signed a Letter of Intent with [Canada's Sheridan College] to establish an institute of animation in the twin cities on Friday. Under the agreement, Sheridan College would host a few animators from Hyderabad at their campus to train them as teachers. Later, these trained animators and some faculty from the college would teach at the proposed institute in Hyderabad ... The Grand Rapids [Michigan] Press notes, Celebration Cinema will host one of four national premieres of The Polar Express [pictured], the big-screen adaptation of the book by children's author Chris Van Allsburg, a native of Grand Rapids. ... The Van Allsburgs were the driving force behind the Grand Rapids premiere. He talked Warner Bros., the film's distributor, into organizing the event and approached Hospice of Michigan to be the beneficiary. ... In a sign of the increasing use of animation for political purposes, The Alaska Wilderness League has this press release announcing its new online animation, Not Another Valdez!, produced by Free Range Graphics, which looks at the devastation produced by the Exxon Valdez disaster on March 24, 1989, and draws parallels between the Valdez spill and the Bush administration's misguided plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
March 17, 2004
Dialogue with Nickelodeon's Zarghami
The Hollywood Reporter speaks with Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami on the occasion of the cable network's 25th anniversary this month. Asked when she felt Nickelodeon first connected with kids, she points to the live-action Double Dare (1986), but, with the launch of the Nicktoons, we really made an impression with the adult community. That was sort of the big moment for us. And we launched all the Nicktoons on Sunday morning so we could really stand out by ourselves. That was really great because we got really big numbers, compared to the benchmarks, and we got noticed because we were there by ourselves. Lucky for us, we had three incredibly fabulous projects (Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy). It wasn't just that we had one really great show. We were on a roll, and the next real milestone was when we took the Nicktoons (in reruns) Monday-Friday and we realized that this model of self-syndication was really going to be the key to our success.
Japanese Cartoon Enjoying Resurgence
According to The San Antonio Express-News, The colorful Japanese cartoon whose characters first came into vogue in the United States in the late 1990s is enjoying a resurgence. Since the Pokémon phenomenon started in 1996, it has spawned Gameboy games, a toy line, television show and six major motion pictures. A host of other Pokémon-related merchandise is about to hit stores and theaters. ... The seventh Pokémon movie, Jirachi Wish Maker [pictured], about a secret character that awakens only once every 1,000 years, will be released this summer. It adds that, Pokémon also competes against the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game based on a Japanese comic [which has also]spawned game cards, video games, a toy line and an animated television series.
Inspired Animation Tools from an Uninspired Sitcom
This article in the game section of The Boston Globe says, Never mind that Game Over, the new animated sitcom on the UPN Network, isn't very good. Perhaps disappointed viewers can produce something better. UPN is giving them the tools for the task, in the form of a free video game that's more than a game. It's also an introduction to 'machinima,' a gaming-inspired technology that may become as vital to filmmakers as colored ink was to Walt Disney. ... And what is machinima? Think of it as computer animation made a whole lot easier. Essentially the technology, derived from computer games, avoids the process whereby each frame has to be digitally rendered on banks of computers, [in a process which] takes hours. ... Because all the characters and backgrounds are built into the game software, machinima artists don't have to render the movie frame by frame. Everything happens in real time, like filming a movie with human actors. Only here, the actors sit at computer keyboards, making their scripted moves. The film director sits at his own computer, programmed to give him a God's-eye view of the digital set and everyone on it.
In Brief: Marge is Top Mum & Disney Sees Indian Growth
Just in time for Mothering Sunday, BBC News reports, Cartoon icon Marge Simpson has beaten a host of famous women to become the UK public's most respected mother. The blue-haired matriarch with a brood of three animated children topped a Mothers' Union poll to find the best mother in public life. ... [23%] of the people asked said the Springfield character was the mother in public life they most admired. Television host Lorraine Kelley came in second with 18%. ... Meanwhile, according to Sify, Walt Disney has said the Indian animation industry will grow at 30 per cent annually. Animation is estimated to be a billion-dollar industry in India and is expected to grow 30 per cent annually in the near future, Walt Disney President Andy Bird said at FICCI-FRAMES 2004 yesterday. Walt Disney, which is finishing groundwork for launching its satellite television channel in India, sees a big potential in the Indian market.
March 16, 2004
Oshii Talks Softly, But Carries a Big Script
The Japan Times has this interview with Mamoru Oshii by Mark Shilling about his new movie, Innocence: Ghost in the Shell. When asked about the film's retro look in a futuristic tale, Oshii says, Yes, I'm not trying to make science fiction. The film is set in the future, but it's looking at present-day society. And as I said, there's an autobiographical element as well. I'm looking back at some of the things I liked as a child the 1950s cars and so on. Basically, I wanted to create a different world not a future world. In a separate review, Shilling says, Oshii has created a world of astonishing depth and presence, one that fully realizes the potential of animation to represent the imagination in all its hallucinatory complexity. It's impossible to take it in at one go there is simply too much information, visual and otherwise, up there on screen. While trying to process it all, I finally understood the meaning of that queer word 'boggle.'
Digital Damage to Special Effects Men
BBC News has this report from India about how special effects shops have been taking away work from Bollywood's traditional movie effects artists [who have become] a despondent lot. And it notes, Arun Patil president of the special effects men's trade union, the Movie Action and Dummy Effects Association ... is having a hard time keeping his flock happy as their work dries up and incomes dwindle. ... But even though computer-generated effects are now the new buzzwords in Bollywood, few film-makers have a clear idea of what they want from the new effects shops.
Give Me Animation or Give Me Death
Columnist Bob Rybarczyk, writing in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, talks about his love of animated movies, starting with an admission of that part of the reason he let some kids he was hanging with watch Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie (pictured), was that I actually wanted to watch it. He also notes, It wasn't that long ago that I refused to go see A Bug's Life at the theater because I didn't want to spend eight bucks on a 'kids' movie.' But as I sit here today, I can tell you that there are only two movies I can guarantee I'll pay good money to see this year: Shrek 2 and the next Pixar movie, The Incredibles. And I may even have one or both of the kids with me when I do.
Broadway World has this interview with Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, who has just returned to the New York stage for the first time since [she was a teenager], with the new show More at the Union Square Theatre. In between shes become famous as a costar of the longest-running sitcom in TV history. Or has she? Yeardley Smiths anxiety about being 'on the fringe' of fame is just one of the afflictions she confesses to in More, an autobiographical solo show she wrote that is currently in previews and opens March 22. Despite her long-lasting stint as the voice of TVs Lisa Simpson and an Emmy award for the role plus memorable scenes in a couple of Oscar-winning movies (As Good As It Gets, City Slickers) and regular roles on two other sitcoms (Dharma & Greg and Hermans Head) Smith has never been quite famous enough for, say, a profile in People magazine.
Animation, the New Boom Sector
The Business Standard has this report on a speech given by Andy Bird, president of Walt Disney International at the Ficci FRAMES 2004 convention in Mumbai. He said, The core advantages that give India a competitive edge are a large base of English speaking workforce, a robust software industry, the presence of an active entertainment industry particularly film and television, a developing animation production capability and a rich historical heritage of mythological characters and folklore to facilitate content development. ... For a further report on Ficci FRAMES, see this Indian Television story, which notes, Ficci took the first steps towards making the Indian Animation Industry's presence felt in the Indian entertainment industry with Ficci BAF Awards India's top 25 animation companies endorse the efforts of Ficci in recognizing excellence in the animation industry.
IDT Entertainment Acquires DKP Effects
According to The Newark Star Ledger, IDT Entertainment, a unit of Newark-based IDT, said yesterday it acquired [Toronto-based] DKP Effects, a 3-D animation and special-effects production company. ... 'This acquisition brings that extra measure of pizazz to the animation magic created by IDT Entertainment," said Jim Courter, IDT's chief executive. 'By adding DKP's cutting-edge technology to its own world-class computer- generated animation capabilities, IDT Entertainment moves further ahead of the competition.' See also IDT's press release on the acquisition. ... And while you're at it, check out their press release detailing its latest quarterly earnings report.
Sale of Cinar Animation Firm to Toronto Group for Us$143.9m Closes
Canadian Press reports, The deal, announced last fall, makes Cinar a private company owned by Michael Hirsh, Toper Taylor and the private investment divisions of TD Bank and OMERS, one of Canada's biggest pension funds. Cinar was a rising star in the entertainment industry before a series of financial scandals battered the company a few years ago, almost wiped out its stock price and led to its delisting on stock markets. The Montreal Gazette's story on the event notes, Cinar was [once] a darling of Quebec's entertainment industry, captivating children with stories about Arthur and Caillou. But four years ago, it was rocked by a series of financial scandals that forced its founders, Micheline Charest and Ronald Weinberg, to withdraw from all involvement with the company. Cinar's stock tumbled and was de-listed on stock markets.
March 15, 2004
Can Michael Eisner Hold The Fort?
Business Week begins its story on the weeks' events in the battle for the mouse by noting, Sometimes life really does imitate art. Walt Disney Co. is preparing to release a much-delayed movie about the Alamo massacre. Just like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, embattled Disney Chief Executive Michael D. Eisner and new Chairman George Mitchell are facing more than a few hostiles. Some folks are betting they'll be on the losing end, too. Institutional investors, who tasted first blood with their 43% no-confidence vote in Eisner on Mar. 3, are in no mood to break off the attack. 'This isn't over because Disney changed some titles,' says Cynthia Richson, corporate-governance officer at the $59 billion Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, which withheld its 4.7 million votes from both Eisner and Mitchell. ... Meanwhile, The Orlando Sentinel has this analysis of Michael Eisner's negotiations for a new contract in the light of current events, pointing out that he is no longer dealing from a position of strength.
From Fruit and Veg to Top Banana
A story which has garnered wide attention in the UK, including making the front pages of some newspapers, is that of supermarket worker Clive Woodall who sold his story to Disney for $1 million. For instance, Telegraph.co.uk reports One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, which Woodall wrote in his spare time, was championed by film director Franc Roddam, best known for the television series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Canterbury Tales and the rock opera Quadrophenia, who say, 'I was surprised by the quality of the writing. I liked the simplicity. I had an instinct that it could have the appeal of Watership Down.' Fed up with the 'dependency and delays' of film-making, Roddam decided to publish One for Sorrow: Two for Joy himself and set up Ziji Publishing to do it. Then, in January last year, on a hunting trip to America to secure funds for filmmaking, Roddam pitched it to Disney's head of animation. Ten days later, Disney offered a million-dollar deal for the film rights.
Professor Archived Films of Avant-garde Animator
The Los Angeles Times has this obituary of Bill Moritz, one of the true giants of animation scholarship. It notes that, Moritz, a longtime California Institute of the Arts professor who was an authority on abstract animation and the work of experimental filmmaker Oskar Fischinger, has died. He was 63. ... His death coincided with the publication of Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger, his full-length biography on the avant-garde animator and painter who fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood in the 1930s. ... He spent years restoring the films not only of Fischinger but of other experimentalists [and] made 44 experimental films, including live-action shorts and animation, which were shown at museums in Europe and Asia. I will soon post a separate commentary about Moritz, who I had the great pleasure to both know and work with over the years.
Broadcasting & Cable has this rundown on the challenges posed by preparing South Park (and Sex in the City) for distribution to local TV stations in the United States. The story states, It's clear, from what we've been seeing, that TV executives are trying to thread a slender needle, toning down language and other content without alienating fans or destroying the flavor that has made the shows such breakthroughs. ... Still, the new anti-indecency wave is making things difficult. 'The Janet Jackson thing is bad for everyone,' says Mort Marcus, president of Debmar Studios, which is selling Comedy Central's South Park in syndication with more than 60% of the country already cleared. 'The fact of the matter is, it puts more of a microscope on the editing of the show.'
March 14, 2004
Government Wakes up to Anime's Export Potential
According to The Daily Yomiuri, As the Japanese economy continues to struggle, pop culture, particularly anime and games, has taken on a new luster. About 60 percent of cartoons broadcast in the world are made in Japan, according to some reports, and a study by the Japan External Trade Organization showed that Japan exported about 4.36 billion dollars worth of animation products, including broadcast licensing fees and video and other software sales, to the United States in 2002. This was about 3.5 percent of all Japanese exports to the United States and about 3.2 times more than Japanese steel exports to that country. ... Surprisingly, the entertainment industry as a whole occupies a mere 2 percent of Japan's entire gross domestic product, which is less than the world average of 3 percent. This may be due to cheap labor costs and the inexpensive price of manga, for example, but the Cabinet's Strategic Council on Intellectual Property sees worldwide development of the industry reaching 6 percent by 2010, which suggests the Japanese entertainment industry, too, has better prospects abroad than at home.
The King of Cartoonists Pays a Visit to His Old Hometown, Portland
The Portland Oregonian has this interview with Matt Groening on the occasion of a lecture he's giving at Evergreen State College, noting, He's 50 years old, rich and famous and admired as the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, but he often sounds like a 10-year-old kid reading Mad magazine for the first time. It concludes by noting, A recent episode of The Simpsons had Homer's friends Lenny and Carl portraying Lewis and Clark. The explorers came to a beautiful valley and said the 'lovely land' deserved a name 'Eugene, Oregon!' The skies turned black and rain fell in torrents. 'That's our little tip of the hat to Oregon,' Groening said, laughing. 'We wanted to ease the crowding we don't want everyone moving there. 'I'll never escape Oregon,' he said, laughing.
March 13, 2004
Disney Plan to Sell Stores, Ducks Presses Forward
Reuters reports, Walt Disney Co. is plodding ahead with plans to sell two money-losing units its Disney Stores and its Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team despite the distractions of an unwanted takeover bid and a revolt by unhappy shareholders. Both auctions stalled last month to varying degrees, but the iconic media and entertainment company continues to hold discussions with prospective buyers, people familiar with both situations said. ... Although Philadelphia-based Comcast has signaled its interest in keeping the stores should it succeed with a Disney takeover, it could not keep the Anaheim Mighty Ducks because it already owns the Philadelphia Flyers, and the National Hockey League prohibits ownership of more than one team.
How Bubble Brains Spent Mega$$
Glenn Garvin, writing in The Miami Herald, opines, The economists who will spend the next several generations arguing about what caused the 2000 dot-com bust could save themselves a lot of time by watching Shocked, [the] Trio [cable channel] documentary that clearly has the answer: too many idiots with too much money and too little adult supervision. ... It's the story of how Matt Stone and Trey Parker [pictured], the two animators who created South Park, managed to wangle a $2 million contract from a dot-com [Macromedia's shockwave.com] to create porn cartoons so unfathomably sick that they couldn't even be shown on the Internet. However, Trio has the cartoons, Princess, available on its site for Shocked; the link in the story is incorrect.
This Just In
Ray Richmond in The Hollywood Reporter, in reviewing This Just In, the new Flash animated TV series, feels, It isn't enough that the right controls our radio talk shows. Now it wants to preside over our cartoons too. This, anyway, is what one might take away from This Just In, a wild, take-no-prisoners and defiantly politically skewed animated satire from the guy channel Spike TV that aims to be written and produced the very week it airs (thanks to a digital Flash Animation technique) to provide for maximum timeliness. He complains, The setups are more or less lame conceits designed to deliver a running stream of opinionated blather and spoofery. But concludes that, While it misfires more often than it connects in the opener, one has to admire its considerable edge and unapologetic point of view. In an age where everyone seems to be running scared, that's worth plenty in itself.
The National Post has this review by J. Kelly Nestruck of Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, the new autobiography from the master of stop motion animation, who notes that, Ray Harryhausen didn't make monsters. Sure, the legendary stop-motion animator created the octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), the flying dinosaur that snatched Raquel Welch up in its talons in One Million Years B.C. (1966) and the sword-wielding skeletons who did battle in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), but to Harryhausen, these famous movie characters are his beloved creatures not monsters in any way. The book was also reviewed earlier by Matthew Sweet in The New Zealand Herald, who says, Now is the time to marvel at the career of Ray Harryhausen. Computer-generated effects may have rendered steel and latex creations obsolete, but his monsters still possess a fleshy corporeality yet to be matched by any pixelated substitute.
Chinese Lawmakers Show High Concern over Cultural Security
Xinhuanet reports, Shen Qipeng, [a Chinese professor of arts and] a deputy to the National People's Congress, said that he was painful to see that a university students cartoon exhibition in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, was full of cartoon figures from the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan and even the prizes were foreign cartoon toys. He further complains that, foreign style buildings are shootingup from the debris of stylish ancient structures and films and animated cartoons full of violence and porn are influencing the taste of appeal. In addition, the cartoon film Mulan created on the basis of Chinese legendary story enabled Walt Disney Inc. to rake in 300 million dollars of profits. But raped by the Western approach to cater to Western aesthetic taste, the original Mu Lan spirit has been unbearably violated.
March 12, 2004
French Court Denies Disney Ban
Forbes reports that, Judge Louis-Marie Raingeard de la Blétière refused a request for an injunction that would have barred Disney from selling books and merchandise related to its hit movie Finding Nemo in France, saying that Disney character and the French clownfish, named Pierrot, weren't similar enough to justify pulling Nemo merchandise off the shelves. 'Nemo is red, Pierrot the clownfish is more orange,' the judge said, according to French press reports. Even though a civil trial remains on the docket for the fall, the court decision is a blow to Franck Le Calvez, the author [of the] book, Pierrot le Poisson Clown.
Characters Come to Life on Screen
The New Zealand Herald has this interview with veteran animation producer Don Hahn, on a promotional tour for Disney's Haunted Mansion (pictured), when he dropped in on Weta, the special effects house known for its work on The Lord of the Rings films. (The digital effects on the Disney film are actually the work of Sony Imageworks.) 'It's just the onset of computer graphics. I say that like it's a disease. We started using it in the ballroom scene of Beauty and the Beast and people loved it. We used it again with the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King,' says Hahn, who is so interested in the animation process he wrote a behind-the-scenes book in 1996. '[CGI] began to take over the movies more and more until now virtually all we're doing is computer graphics films.'
When Oscar Met Harvie
The Sydney Daily Telegraph here joins in the celebration of Adam Elliot's victory lap for his Oscar-winning short, Harvie Krumpet. 'I got home and had a pile of mail and flowers and all that sort of stuff and I'm opening my mail and there's congratulation cards and one from Centrelink saying Your dole has been cut off because you didn't turn up to an interview on the second of March,' [Elliot] says. On March 2, Elliot was in Hollywood celebrating his Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and fielding calls from a hungry Australian media.
March 11, 2004
Where Eisner Went Wrong & Disney Disses Shareholders
The Motley Fool has part 2 and part 3 of The Motley Fool Radio interview with Kim Masters, author of The Keys to the Kingdom: How Michael Eisner Lost His Grip, focusing on the recent Disney shareholders meeting. Asked where Disney is headed, Masters says, I don't know, but I can tell you that, especially having been there at the shareholder meeting, this is almost like waving a flag in front of a bull. These people came in, they said, 'We want to make it extremely clear. We are not talking about splitting these jobs and giving one of them to Michael Eisner; we are talking about replacing Michael Eisner.' So what do they do? They split the job. They left Michael Eisner as the chief executive; they put in someone who had a completely clear 'no confidence' vote. She adds, I think [Eisner] made two big mistakes. He underestimated Roy Disney Jr. and he allowed the Pixar relationship to go away. You don't negotiate that kind of hardball tactic with talent that is so incredibly important to your company, but Michael Eisner did. (Here's part 1 of the interview.)
Disney's Mitchell Says Board to Watch Management
Reuters reports, Newly elected Walt Disney Co. Chairman George Mitchell said on Thursday that the embattled board would help develop company strategy and continue planning for a successor to Chief Executive Michael Eisner. 'We will continue a formal review of succession, covering all high executive positions, including that of chief executive officer,' Mitchell told lawyers during a luncheon speech about a week after the board named him chairman. ... Meanwhile, Reuters also reports on Roy Disney's continuing efforts to get rid of Michael Eisner. It says, One of the most dramatic gestures would be to return to investors with a proxy-style campaign to unseat some directors, a grass-roots effort called a consent solicitation that if successful could be the fastest way to force change. But it is also seen as a high-stakes, expensive gamble.
'Shark Tale' Bites With Stereotypes
Rosario A. Iaconis, director of the Italic Institute of America, has this op-ed piece in New York Newsday critical of the forthcoming CGI movie. He starts by saying, Find yourself another sea, Nemo. Absorb this, SpongeBob SquarePants. There's a new breed of anthropomorphic fish roiling the briny deep. It's the undersea predator spawned by DreamWorks SKG in Shark Tale, the upcoming children's cartoon adventure. Unlike Tinseltown's other aquatic role models, this animated bottom-feeder belongs to a vicious celluloid species: the Sopranos goombah stereotype. By grafting the bigoted imagery of The Sopranos along with a generous whiff of Goodfellas and The Godfather onto a computer-generated flick for kids, DreamWorks' Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen have crossed the line into the cinematic exploitation of children. The Institute's campaign against the film first surfaced in a press release issued last October.
In Brief: Game Over Ratings & Canada-India Mission
Reuters reports, The debut of Game Over, touted as prime-time TV's first fully computer-animated series, turned up lackluster viewership for broadcaster UPN, according to preliminary ratings data from Nielsen Media Research on Thursday. [The show] drew an average of about 2 million viewers in the 8 p.m. half-hour putting it in last place of the six major broadcast networks and down roughly 50 percent from the same slot one week earlier. ... According to The Indo-Asian News Service, A team of leading Canadian companies and institutions will arrive this month to scout for tie-ups with Indian counterparts to develop academic and corporate links for films, TV and animation.
March 10, 2004
Eisner Deal to Get an Overhaul
The New York Times reports, Walt Disney and its lawyers are renegotiating the employment contract of Michael Eisner, the company's embattled chief executive, to allow him to retain a salary of $1 million even though he has resigned as chairman, according to two people close to the negotiations. What the haggling now over Eisner's contract reflects, said analysts, is that Disney's board was forced to act sooner than it expected in separating the chairman and chief executive jobs because of an overwhelming shareholder revolt the past two weeks. The board [is] worried that if [Eisner] left the company now it would be vulnerable to a hostile takeover, like the recent $54 billion offer from Comcast, or falter on its planned turnaround.
Disney Daughter: Eisner Should Go
According to CNN/Money, The L.A. Times quoted Diane Disney Miller, 70, on Tuesday as saying that she thinks it's time for Eisner to 'step down and let someone else come in for the future.' However, she apparently disagreed with the 'vicious and personal' campaign led by her cousin, Roy Disney, saying that an immediate ouster of Eisner could hurt Disney's stock price, making it vulnerable to Comcast's hostile takeover bid for the media and entertainment company.
More on 'Game Over'
The new UPN CGI series, Game Over, has generated a flurry of additional reviews. Virginia Heffernan in The New York Times says, Game Over, an animated sitcom that starts tonight, has a cute premise: video game heroes lead ordinary lives. Against the odds it makes good on that cuteness. .. Each of its characters is tightly formulated, equally the product of futuristic graphics programs and good old joke writing. ... Robert Bianco in USA Today gives a mixed review, concluding that, Though the premise is certainly original, it also makes Game Over something of a hard sell, particularly on a network not known for its salesmanship. While it lasts, though, it should give you a few unexpected laughs. ... Less positive is Melanie Mcfarland in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who feels, the idea that patterning a half-hour animated comedy after video games is enough to inspire boys to tune in and turn off the console fails to take into account the most obvious of factors: TV isn't interactive. Like a booth babe at an electronics expo, Game Over has more looks going for it than cleverness and substance. At least video games have levels.
Noddy Proves Success for Chorion
The Scotsman reports, Toytown hero Noddy was today hailed for helping entertainment group Chorion record a six-fold leap in profits. The London-based group said the childrens favourite had been one of its success stories in 2003, with strong performances also coming from crime authors Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon. ... Sales of Noddy products in the UK quadrupled in 2003 to more than £20 million [US$35.9 million] with a new range of books, magazines, toys, videos and DVDs reaching store shelves for the first time. More than 100 episodes of the computer-generated animation Make Way for Noddy were shown on television channel Five during 2003 and the broadcaster has indicated this will continue in 2004, Chorion said.
Animated Al Qaeda to Hit Israeli TV
C21 Media says, An Israeli network is in production on a US$2m new adult toon that lampoons the entire military situation in the Middle East and even has what appears to be an animated version of Osama Bin Laden. Entitled Military Base 22, it is being pitched as a show 'where political correctness flies out of the door faster than a ballistic missile' by the company behind the series, Keshet. ... according to vp of business development at Keshet Formats, Illi Edry. 'It's very dark comedy, very edgy, very South Park.' The show sends up various stereotypical characters from both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide, and includes a wheelchair-bound Israeli combat volunteer, a womanising Italian corporal, a sergeant with an inferiority complex and an Arab terrorist called Abed Bin-Jihad.
Made in Japan, Embraced in America
This story in The San Jose Mercury News on the influence of manga and animé notes, From television's Iron Chef to major league besuboru's Ichiro Suzuki to fashion's embrace of pop artist Takashi Murakami, Japanese cultural exports are being absorbed by the mainstream in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Since Japan's grand master of animé, Hayao Miyazaki, won an Academy Award for his magical animated film Spirited Away last year, the Japanese motif has become the rage in Hollywood. Witness the latest crop of films, including Lost in Translation, director Sofia Coppola's poignant comedy set in Tokyo that earned her an Oscar for best original screenplay last month. Cross-cultural heartthrob Ken Watanabe was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in Last Samurai, which also featured Tom Cruise. Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (pictured), an ode to over-the-top animé violence, is a cult hit.
March 9, 2004
Eisner's Surreal Ouster
The Motley Fool has an interview with Kim Masters, author of The Keys to the Kingdom: How Michael Eisner Lost His Grip (actually, first of three parts). In regards the shareholders meeting, she says, You started to get the feeling which way things were going the day before the meeting when Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, the two dissident former board members who have started this movement, had what they call the 'briefing session' for shareholders. You could see a line of people. It looked like the opening weekend of Star Wars. These people were lined up down the street trying to get in. These are sort of mom-and-pop investors. A lot of them have a few shares, but together they are 35% of this company. They were there because they were really mad and they were siding with Roy. That face he looks like his Uncle Walt and that name are magic to these people. I didn't get it until I saw them there. (Here's has part 2 and part 3 of the interview.)
Disney's Own Digital Divide
Computer news service CNET News.com has this lengthy analysis of the deep problems within the Magic Kingdom that are far more serious than studio backlot fodder for Hollywood gossip columns. Disney's failure to capitalize on the digital revolution in entertainment is a key factor in the company's vulnerability to Wednesday's hostile takeover bid by cable giant Comcast. 'The concern is that they are turning out the lights on Pixar without having turned them on at Disney in computer-generated animation,' said David Mantell, a stock analyst ... at Loop Capital Markets. 'I think there's some concern about Disney not having developed their digital prowess.' It then goes on to take a look not only at Disney's approach to animation, but to other technology-oriented aspects of the Mouse House.
Disney's Iger Expects Higher Comcast Bid & Possible Iger-cide?
Reuters reports, Walt Disney Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Iger said on Tuesday that he sensed the 'inevitability' of a new and higher bid from Comcast Corp. to take over the entertainment conglomerate. Disney's board on Feb. 16 rejected the original $47.7 billion all-stock offer from the nation's largest cable operator, but Comcast has indicated it still wants a deal at the right price and said so in a presentation on Monday. ... Also, according to The New York Post, This week's big question is whether Robert Iger, Disney's president and head of the company's ABC television network, is in imminent danger of unemployment especially if Eisner feels like sacrificing him to bloodthirsty shareholders. 'Iger's toast,' says a source of mine with first-hand knowledge about the intrigue inside Disney's corporate suite. Eisner, my guy says, 'is spending 90 percent of his time trying to figure out how to save his own skin,' and Iger would be the perfect scapegoat considering the mess at ABC.
Mickey Meets the Mousepad
For those who have lamented the closing of Disney studios in Orlando, Paris and Tokyo, check out this story in The Sydney Morning Herald, which notes, Contrary to reports from Hollywood, Bambi is not dead. At least not in Sydney. At the top of a nondescript office block in the Haymarket sits the last surviving outpost of Walt Disney's hand-drawn animation empire Disney cartoons as we know them. Hundreds of artists are hunched over light tables, pencils in hand. A single animated feature film requires 500,000 individual drawings. In Disney's Sydney pipeline, Bambi, the sequel, and Lilo and Stitch 2 are taking shape. ... We are now [Disney's] primary traditional animation studio in the world, and that just shores up our future, says the general manager of the Disney Toons Studio Australia, Philip Oakes, putting a positive spin on Disney's turmoil and the larger question over the future of the hand-drawn genre. (Image is from the original Lilo & Stitch.)
'Game Over' Gets Animated Nudity Debate Going at UPN
The Los Angeles Times reports, Viacom-owned UPN has ordered the producers of Game Over, prime time's first computer-generated animated series, to delete nudity and salty language from the pilot episode airing Wednesday, including one two-second shot in which a female character's buttocks are clearly visible, according to a source close to the production. Executives also want to cut a line in which one character uses a mild scatological epithet to disparage another. The edict has angered the producers, who are said to have argued that the material now deemed objectionable has been in the episode for months and was included in review tapes sent to critics recently. Viacom's move apparently came as the result of the outcry over Janet Jackson's bared breast during [Viacom-owned] CBS' Super Bowl telecast.
March 8, 2004
Disney Board to Discuss CEO's Future
CNN/Money reports, Walt Disney board of directors will gather next month at a two-day strategy session to possibly discuss the long-term succession of current CEO Michael Eisner, according to a report published Monday. The Financial Times said Disney's directors are expected to discuss the succession by telephone before the April meeting. ... However, the report said the board denied Eisner's future at Disney would be discussed on the agenda, pending a revised offer from U.S. cable group Comcast, which has made a $54 billion hostile bid. ... Meanwhile, according to The Associated Press (here and here) , Comcast Corp., rebuffed in an unsolicited buyout offer of Walt Disney Co., said Monday that Disney was not a ``must-have'' acquisition. Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts, speaking on a conference call, said he still believes that in the growing world of personalized television, Comcast can take Disney's movie portfolio and distribute it over its cable lines. 'We can create value at a faster rate for both companies,' he said. 'Is it something we have to do? No.' This was seen as stark contrast to Comcast's must-have acquisition of AT&T cable TV business in 2002.
In Brief: Glendales' Animation Bank & 'Game Over'
The Los Angeles Daily News provides this update on the plans in Glendale, California, to have the former Fidelty Federal Savings and Loan building ... house the Animation Bank (pictured), which would have a museum, a screening room, a library, a cafe and work and training space for fledgling animators. The committee leading the drive is headed by Frank Gladstone, head of creative services at DreamWorks Animation, and also includes Max Howard, president of Melwood Pictures and independent animation producer Tom Knott. ... Game Over, the new primetime CGI series is getting a smattering of attention, including this negative piece by Eric Deggans in The St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, who calls it Trash. Because no one wants to see video-game characters with bratty kids, useless pets and midlife crises, too. However, Joanne Ostrow in The Denver Post finds it not onlyplayful, but, The most inventive series concept in recent memory.
March 7, 2004
One Ear Down . . .
In regards to the reaction of the Disney board to the recent anti-Eisner vote of shareholders, Time Magazine reports, It turns out Disney had been floating the idea of splitting the top jobs to quell shareholder grumbling even before the votes were in. Sources tell Time that Disney made an overture to an influential shareholder advisory group to gauge its support for the idea even before the full magnitude of the revolt was known. Twelve days before the vote count was announced, a lawyer for Disney called Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the proxy advisory group, to see if ISS would change its no-confidence recommendation if the board split the jobs. The conversation ended in seconds. 'We didn't even entertain the idea' says an ISS spokeswoman. Too bad for Eisner, who could have used ISS in his camp. About 60% of its 750 institutional clients voted their shares against him.
3-D World Loses this Comedy Battle
Joanne Weintraub has this review in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of Game Over, the new primetime CGI sitcom. She feels, Pairing the conventions of family sitcoms with the careening fantasy of video games makes for some inspired comedy. ... Created by David Sacks, who also worked on the live-action version of The Tick two years ago ... Game Over faces the same hurdle as that hilarious but short-lived Fox spoof: It's an adult satire of a genre that appeals largely, though not exclusively, to kids and teens.
Special Effects Start at Home
The Hindu Business Line has this story about Bangalore-based Jadooworks, focusing on how the company trains artists from various backgrounds for its studio. It says, Being a new industry, it's difficult to get people ready. 'You have to pick people with the basic talent and nurture them in this field,' according to [COO Ashish] Kulkarni. Currently, Jadooworks has about 232 people previously engaged in traditional art and who have now moved to digital art. About 70 per cent of them held the mouse for the first time in their lives after coming here. In fact, Jadooworks has also modified the existing software to make it simpler to understand. The company has also hired software trainers who coach the artists in the language of their choice: Marathi, Hindi or Tamil. "We first make them comfortable with the technology then teach them English," says Kulkarni.
March 6, 2004
Millions for Moochers
Nicholas D. Kristof begins his latest column in The New York Times by noting, The business world finally cracked down this week on one of the world's biggest welfare moochers, dragging Michael Eisner out of the chairman's seat at the Walt Disney Company. Probably the only thing that allows Mr. Eisner to hold on to the job of chief executive is that he has been so incompetent or shrewd? that he has failed to cultivate not only profits, but also a successor. The larger question is not why the Disney board allowed Mr. Eisner to run the company nearly into the ground. Rather, it is why it has paid him $285 million since 1996 to do that. ... Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports, Comcast Corp. has no plans to increase its takeover offer for Walt Disney Co. and instead hopes that disgruntled Disney shareholders pressure the firm's board to seriously consider a combination of the companies later this year, people familiar with the cable giant's strategy said yesterday. Without dialogue between the companies, Comcast officials see no reason to raise their bid, withdraw it or take any further action at this time.
50 Years of Burrowing Gently Into Czech Culture
The New York Times has this story on Zdenek Miler's Krtek or Little Mole, character, which was created 50 years ago. Over nearly five decades, Krtek starred in 62 short animated films for children that thrived despite the complete absence of exploding cigars. Krtek outsells Disney here, his anatomically incorrect eyes poking out from book bags, puzzles and pillow cases everywhere. He is shown around the world, and is especially popular in Germany and Japan. ... But Krtek never caught on in the United States. Ask why of Mr. Miler (pronounced miller), or his colleagues in the renowned world of Czech animation, and they say Krtek may be just too slow for the frantic land of the Cartoon Network. Krtek films are, in fact, slow, but also lyrical and so hypnotically distinct that they can feel less like watching movies than climbing into another human's head. That would be Mr. Miler's.
In Brief: Tanzanian First, Chal Hutt, South Africa & Ottawa Festival
IPP Mediaand The Guardian report, Tanzania has taken another step towards joining the global information technology and communication race after the production of the first animated cartoon strip by a Tanzanian national. Unveiling his novel achievement at the Tanzania Information Service (TIS) yesterday, animator Alex Kesi Kassuni, said that his production of 'live' cartoons would help in education and entertainment. ... According to Indian Television, Technology today has made possible for the first time in Hindi cinema an item number in a live-action, animation combined format. Shaadi Ka Laddoo, a feature film directed by Raj Kaushal ... offers this unique proposition in the item song called 'Chal Hutt' [pictured]. The song features actress Negar Khan and animated characters similar to the Who Framed Roger Rabbit technique.
According to The Sunday Times, Johannesburg-based animator, director and designer Gregoire Pinard's video for the single English Summer Rain [pictured] [for the British band Placebo] has made it onto the MTV A list, guaranteeing it daily airplay on the international 24-hour music channel. He created the video using clay, wood, wire and masking tape, painstakingly designing a lounge complete with tiny books and a functioning drum kit. ... And a story in The Ottawa Citizen on library closures and other effects of the city's budgetary shortfalls ends by noting that, Kelly Neall of the Ottawa International Animation Festival said her organization might have to leave the city if funding is cut. With a lack of venues, a small animation community in the city and few direct air routes into Ottawa, Ms. Neall said the event might be better off in another city.
March 5, 2004
It's Round Two
The New York Post reports, Dissident Disney shareholders, furious that Michael Eisner remains CEO, may try to force another shareholder meeting and nominate a new slate of directors. Investors said the Disney board didn't go nearly far enough Wednesday night when it voted to strip Eisner of his chairmanship, leaving him CEO, after a whopping 43 percent of shareholders withheld their support of Eisner's re-election to the board. ... Ordinarily, investors would have to wait until the next annual meeting to change the board. But if enough investors join a 'written consent' lobbying group, Disney would be required to call another gathering. ... New York Newsday also notes, former Maine Sen. George Mitchell will have his diplomatic and tactical hands full as new chairman of embattled Walt Disney Co. After shareholders Wednesday withheld 43 percent of their vote for Michael Eisner's re-election as director, the Disney board gave the chairmanship to Mitchell, 70, while keeping Eisner, 61, as chief executive. 'However, giving up this pound of flesh may not hold off the masses, as it may just fuel the fire,' said Paul J. Kim, a media analyst at Tradition Asiel Securities. Peter Clapman, chief counsel of the mutual fund firm TIAA-CREF, said yesterday Mitchell ... got an 'extraordinary' protest vote of 24 percent. Clapman said it is important Mitchell and the board 'explain what these changes mean in real terms, not just formalities, and how the company expects to regain its credibility with shareholders.'
For a Diplomat, Task Is Quelling Disney's Unrest
The New York Times has this profile of former Senator George Mitchell in light of his new assignment as chairman of the Walt Disney Co. It says, Mr. Mitchell, 70, ... who has little business experience, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he had no desire to play the corporate strategist, as many chairmen do. Instead, he sees his main job as negotiating among factions of unhappy investors, other board members and Michael D. Eisner, the chief executive who lost the chairman's title in the wake of a resounding no-confidence vote at the company's shareholder meeting on Wednesday. How well Mr. Mitchell fares could determine the fate not only of Mr. Eisner's nearly 20-year reign but of Disney itself. ... On Capitol Hill, Mr. Mitchell's former colleagues said his experience as majority leader of the Senate should have more than prepared him for what he now faces in the Disney boardroom. What this and other stories don't seem to realize is that Mitchell is facing Roy Disney, who has lately proven himself an amazing politician in his own right. ... The Portland Press Herald, from Mitchell's home state of Maine, both his role at Disney and the ex-senator's experience in the corporate world.
Eisner: Richer Than Scrooge McDuck
Business Week explains that, If and when he goes, the Disney chief won't leave the Mouse House as a pauper. All told, between now and 2011, he could bag around $375 million. ... To Eisner's critics and corporate-governance experts, though, the amount seems particularly unwarranted in light of the company's poor performance over the last three years. 'That's a pretty big number,' says Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. 'It's a 'heads I win, tails I win' scenario.'
Animated Series Will Play off News, Ted Kennedy, Ann Coulter
WorldNetDaily reports, A television producer tired of seeing conservatives portrayed as zealots and 'boobs' has helped create a new animated series featuring a journalist 'passionate about the right-wing cause.' This Just In, debuting March 14 on Spike TV ..., will feature freelance columnist Brian Newport, tabbed as a Matt Drudge-like figure who 'says what everybody's thinking' with 'no filter.' ... The comedy series uses the Flash digital animation process to enable each episode to be written and produced the week it airs. The plots will play off current topics in politics and pop culture, and there will be frequent mention of political figures, said co-producer, head writer and the voice of Newport, Steve Marmel.
Oscar Winner Comes Home
ABC Online has this transcript of an interview with Adam Elliot after returning from Hollywood with an Oscar in hand for Harvie Krumpet, in which he recalls, we spent a week in Hollywood before the Oscars then three days post and we've met with every studio, it's amazing. The hardest thing in Hollywood is getting a meeting, but with the little gold man in your hand, the doors definitely fly open, so we've met with Miramax, MGM, DreamWorks, Pixar, Disney, all the big studios. And they basically want to know have we got a feature. Hollywood is about features, not short films, so we're going to take the next couple of weeks to not make any rash decisions and just absorb everything, enjoy the moment because it may not happen again and just be very careful with what we decide.
March 4, 2004
Discontent Remains High After Disney's Moves on Eisner
The New York Times reports that although, The next shareholder meeting is a year away, but big institutional shareholders and analysts said today they were less than thrilled with how directors at the Walt Disney Company reacted to the results of Wednesday's tumultuous meeting in Philadelphia. Following the meeting, the Disney board unanimously voted to strip chief executive Michael D. Eisner of his role as chairman and named George Mitchell, the company's presiding director, as non-executive chairman. Mr. Eisner remains as chief executive. The board took this step even though significant numbers of shareholders withheld their support for Mr. Eisner and Mr. Mitchell as directors. 'It's half a loaf,' Barbara Hafer, state treasurer of Pennsylvania, said today. 'The forty-three percent withholding vote is a very clear signal. Mr. Eisner should go.'
A Desperation Move for Disney?
Newsweek has this interview with Nell Minow, editor of the Corporate Library, an investment research firm, following Michael Eisner's decision to turn over the job of chairman to former Senate majority leader George Mitchell. Asked is installing Mitchell as a non-executive chairman really a strong response to the shareholder discontent?, he replies, Thats a definite time-will-tell situation. We rate boards on the decisions they make, not on the nameplates that they move around from title to title. We will be looking for Disney to add some additional, very strong new directors; for them to be very clear in their disclosures about CEO succession planning to talk more about what theyve done. And, of course, they need to counter the reputation that the company has right now of not being creative enough, producing, yet another Daughter of Cinderella video.
Comcast: Disney Vote Should Cause Board to Reconsider Offer
According to The Philadelphia Business Journal, Comcast Corp. pressed its case in its bid to acquire Walt Disney Co. in the wake of a shareholder vote Wednesday that showed Disney Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner's vulnerability. 'Today's unprecedented withhold vote by Disney's shareholders sends a powerful message that Disney's board and management need to focus more on shareholder interests,' said Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen on Wednesday. 'Consistent with this focus, Disney's independent directors should immediately meet with Comcast so we can directly present our full and generous proposal and the benefits of the merger.'
Eisner No Longer Chairman; Contemplating Possible Exile To Africa; Blames
U.S. For Forcing Him Out
The Daily Farce has its own take on Michael Eisner being stripped of the job of Disney chairman, reporting, 'This is preposterous,' stated Michael Eisner, 'The people of Disney love me! I was forced to resign by the United States and some white people dressed in military clothing. They made me sign a resignation letter or they told me that I would be killed!' 'Mr. Eisner and the exiled ex-president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have spoken over the phone,' stated Mr. Eisner's assistant, 'They both were treated unfairly by the U.S. media and the U.S. government. They have many things in common. Mr. Eisner has also contacted the Reverend Jesse Jackson for advice as to what he can do next.'
What's Good About It?
In a letter to the editor responding to a piece on overseas animation by New York Times' Thomas Friedman in The Pasadena Star-News, animation industry veteran Rob Maine complains, Friedman says anyone who opposes outsourcing is a 'demagogue divorced from reality.' I think he ought to look in the mirror. It's easy for journalists and politicians to sing the praises of outsourcing and insourcing since they are not likely to lose their jobs to foreign workers, but they should not simply dismiss those whose lives are destroyed by these practices in such a one-sided and uninformed way. ... I worked in the animation industry ... for nearly 30 years, often with female supervisors that were rare in most other businesses, until the double whammy hit with outsourcing of thousands of jobs to other countries and more insidiously the insourcing of hundreds of foreign animators and computer artists into California by way of H1-B visas to fill many of the animation jobs that remain inside the state, many paying over $100,000 a year.
Americans May Scoop Up Korean Cartoon Hit
The Hartford Courant has this story about the impending American video release of Doggy Poo, a short children's film about a talking pile of dog excrement. ... Doggy Poo is getting the 'largest consumer marketing campaign' in the 14-year history of its American distributor, Central Park Media, whose main business is Japanese anime. Doggy Poo comes from Korea and is a fairly primitive brand of clay animation (more like Davey and Goliath than Chicken Run). It notes that there animated films about talking excrement are not new, noting, in 1997 ... Comedy Central's South Park introduced Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. It danced, wore a Santa Claus hat, and according to Kyle, a South Park character, came 'every year to all the good boys and girls who have a lot of fiber in their diet.' (Kyle was then institutionalized.) To make matters funnier, another animator accused South Park of stealing his idea. John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy, said he created Nutty the Friendly Dump more than four years earlier and pitched it to Comedy Central, which didn't buy it. He included the character and a whole family of talking waste products in a cartoon that was running on the Web two months before Mr. Hankey made its debut.
March 3, 2004
Former Senator George Mitchell Selected as Disney Chairman
Here's the official Disney press release which begins by stating that, The Walt Disney Company Board of Directors, mindful of the shareholder vote today, announced that it is separating the positions of CEO and Chairman. Effective immediately, the Board created the position of Chairman of the Board. The Board has unanimously elected former Sen. George Mitchell to serve in that non-executive position. While making this change in governance, the Board remains unanimous in its support of the Company's management team and of Michael Eisner, who will continue to serve as chief executive officer. Los Angeles' KABC-TV in reporting on the surprise appointment notes, Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Disney's new chairman, has earned a reputation as an able diplomat and experienced voice at corporate helms. ... The 70-year-old Mitchell brokered a peace accord in Northern Ireland in 1998. He also was the architect and namesake of a Middle East peace plan that won bipartisan and international support in 2001.
Time for Eisner to Go?
The Motley Fool has this transcript of a discussion on The Motley Fool Radio Show on NPR in which Tom Gardner notes, Let's widen the lens 10 years here and look at what Michael Eisner has done. The stock has underperformed the market's average. The man has given himself exorbitant amounts of money. He made an acquisition of Capital Cities in which ABC paid way too much, and that acquisition really hurt Disney shareholders. So, if you look at the last 10 years, I think you have to be as critical as CalPERS has been, and I think that you have to suggest that this business would be better off with a new CEO at the helm. ... The Motley Fool, in a separate piece, gives the case for Eisner. It argues, Things have improved [lately], with the shares nearly doubling since its 2002 lows. With the insultingly weak Comcast buyout offer and Pixar's walkout sting, the entertainment giant has already started to respond to the moved cheese. The financial improvement in fiscal 2003 was obvious, and things are starting to get better in many of the company's businesses. ... Finally, Roy Disney's SaveDisney.com site has this Mike Peters cartoon on the subject, see here in part.
Disney's Real Battle Is to Keep Good Cartoons Coming
The Christian Science Monitor has this article examining Disney's problems appealing to the children's market, especially with animated movies, in an increasingly competitive market. It feels, The Disney battle, in part, is also a collision over changes in technology. The old-fashioned way of making animated features is very labor-intensive. ... 'There is still a big market for the old style, but there's an even bigger demand for the new computer-generated images,' says Thomas Inge, an authority on popular culture, particularly comics, at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. 'What will Disney do?' Disney's problems may relate to the fact that it is a mature industry, says Joel Goldhar, a professor at the Stuart Graduate School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. 'It's hard to make money when there is a lot of competition,' he says. 'Have they lost touch with their customers?' he asks. 'Do they know what excites kids?'
Disney Urges California Judge to Throw Out Pooh Lawsuit
According to Reuters, Attorneys for the Walt Disney Co. Tuesday urged a Los Angeles judge to throw out a lawsuit over hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from Winnie the Pooh merchandise, arguing that Disney's legal foes stole a decade's worth of confidential files. In closing arguments in the week-long hearing, Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli used terms like 'tampering,' 'fraud' and 'cover-up' to characterize the way that the Slesinger family, which owns the rights to Winnie the Pooh, came to possess thousands of pages of internal Disney documents. 'As we learned from Watergate, the fraud is often worse than you thought,' he said in court. ... The [Slesinger] family maintains that Disney had systematically destroyed documents relevant to the case, forcing them to hire private investigator Terry Sands to legally retrieve documents from Disney's garbage. Slesinger lawyers have introduced a Disney letter from an employee named Tom Patterson who wrote in part, 'There appears to be faulty accounting, at best, on the audits we have discussed. See also Associated Press story.
The Age of Innocence
The Daily Yomiuri has this interview with Mamoru Oshii about his Innocence: Ghost in the Shell, which is being released this weekend. It notes, Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli coproduced the movie [along with Production I.G.] the culmination of a longtime collaboration between Miyazaki and Oshii . 'I know him too well,' Oshii said with obvious warmth. 'It's impossible to think of him and his work as two separate things. I respect all his work, but it differs from mine. I could explain it, but it will probably take me at least overnight.' Those differences are visual as well as philosophical. Miyazaki prefers more conventional hand-drawn 2D animation, whereas Oshii has set the benchmark for the fusion of 2D with 3D computer graphics, particular in past projects he was involved with such as Jin-Ro (1998), Blood: The Last Vampire (2000) and Avalon (2001). With Innocence, it's his intent to raise the standard to new heights.
New Airline Campaign
The New York Times, in reporting on a new series of TV commercials for United Airlines, says, In between the[familiar strains of Rhapsody in Blue] music and [the voice of Robert] Redford, United ... has come up with a series of four commercials by well-regarded animators that use muted colors and sentimental stories to depict travelers aboard the airline. The first of the ads, called Interview [pictured], by two Canadian filmmakers, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, were broadcast in six cities on Sunday night during the Academy Awards on ABC. Three more commercials are planned through June, appearing primarily on cable television. Forthcoming is Rose, created by the animator Aleksandr Petrov, which shows the journey a rose takes from a passenger's garden, through meetings, on the plane and ultimately to his mother's hand. That commercial will be broadcast on Mother's Day. Other commercials planned by the airline include A Life, created by Michael Dudok De Wit, who won the 2000 Academy Award for best animated short film. That commercial shows a businessman traveling throughout his career until retirement. Rounding out the commercials is Lightbulb, by the two-time Academy Award nominee Joanna Quinn, showing a business woman's idea circulating throughout her company in the form of a light bulb. It doesn't say so, but I would assume the spots were or are being done through Acme Filmworks.
That Old Feeling: Seuss on First
Time Magazine film critic Richard Corliss corrects some of the omissions in previous articles on the occasion of Dr. Seuss' 100th birthday. In terms of animation, he takes note of Bob Clampett's terrific animated cartoon of Horton Hatches the Egg for Warner Bros. and that most of his wartime [work] Geisel spent on a cartoon series called Private SNAFU (from the military acronym Situation Normal All Fouled Up, or word to that effect), which he goes into in some detail. Although he does cover the various TV specials, including Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble's How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who, he inexplicably ignores his stint at UPA.
In Brief: UTV, Tapei & The Gay Man's Krumpet
The Economic Times has a rundown on what's going on with UTV Toons, which gives some insight on how the Mumbai-based overseas studio operates. It discusses such assignments as The Triplets (pictured) for Spain's Cromosoma and Honk Toot Swo-Swoosh for The Netherlands' Creative Graphics. ... The Taipei Journal has this story on the government's Media Industry Development Plan, which the government will provide partial funding for at least one transnational joint-venture 3-D digital animation production per year in the endeavor to help Taiwanese producers keep abreast of technological developments and make the island into a high-tech animated-content exporting center. ... The Sydney Star Observer has this piece on Oscar-winning Harvie Krumpet director Adam Elliot, which notes how it was the directors last-minute thank you to boyfriend of two months, Dan Doherty, that seemed to create the biggest stir. ... Speaking with the ABCs AM program on Tuesday, Elliot said his nerves held him in good stead during the Oscar ceremonies. 'My nerves went out the window. Its weird, you sort of forget the fact the fact that theres a billion people watching.'
March 2, 2004
Obsessive Fans Join the Disney Proxy Fight
The Wall Street Journal has this story about how Roy Disney and Stanley Gold are tapping into huge fan base of Disney fans in their fight to unseat Michael Eisner as Mouse House CEO. It notes, unlike Trekkies or Deadheads, who are into Star Trek and the Grateful Dead, hardcore Disney fans own stock in the object of their devotion. Those stakes may be just a few shares apiece, but multiplied by thousands of fans across the county, they help make Disney one of the most widely held stocks on Main Street. ... If Messrs. Disney and Gold can mobilize this group as they campaign for shareholders to withhold support from Mr. Eisner at this week's Disney annual meeting, they could help win public sympathy -- and ballots. So Roy Disney, the nephew of the late Walt Disney, has been courting a number of popular Disney fan sites. This includes soliciting help from the likes of Disney dweeb Jim Hill, who runs jimhillmedia.com, a Disney-obsessed site that dwells on both the big news and tiny tidbits affecting the entertainment company.
Disney's ABC Woes & Successor Speculation
Reuters reports that, One day before he faces angry shareholders, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner's woes deepened on Tuesday as Disney's struggling ABC television network said it sees key audience ratings falling 8 percent in February. ABC's viewership among adults 18 to 49 years old will be off during the key "sweeps" month in which ratings are used to set local advertising rates, network executives told reporters in a teleconference on Tuesday. ... Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes, Walt Disney Co.'s board would probably look to Hollywood veterans to lead the company should Michael Eisner be forced out after Wednesday's annual meeting. Candidates include Peter Chernin, president of News Corp., or Interactive Corp.'s Barry Diller, executive recruiters said. ... In addition to Chernin, 52, and Diller, 62, potential candidates to replace Eisner include Disney President Robert Iger; Pixar Animation Studios Chief Executive Steven Jobs; Comcast Corp. cable-unit president Stephen Burke; DreamWorks SKG co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg; Yahoo Inc. CEO Terry Semel; Viacom Inc. President Mel Karmazin; Jeffrey Bewkes, head of Time Warner Inc.'s film studios and television networks; and Ron Meyer, head of Universal Studios, executive recruiters said.
Dr. Seuss Turns 100
The Durham (North Carolina) Herald Sun, among others, has noted the 100th birthday of Dr. Seuss ( Theodor Seuss Geisel), who is also being honored with a new US postage stamp. Geisel and his stories have inspired everything from movies and a Broadway musical to political parodies and recipes, plus an entire line of clothes and products, such as lunchboxes, clocks and chairs. This, like many other stories, unfortunately neglect his animation connections, which at least date back to some theatrical commercials for Flit, a spray-can pesticide, as in Quick, Henry! The Flit!, made around 1930, when he drew his main income as an advertising illustrator. Most famously, he provided the story for Bobe Cannon's marvelous Gerald McBoing-Boing, one of UPA's defining films, and help adapt his How the Grinch Stole Christmas for Chuck Jones' memorable TV special.
In Brief: Mainframe Profits, IMI Global Rights Issue & Korean Voices
According to The Canadian Press, Mainframe Entertainment Inc., the computer imaging firm that created TV's ReBoot series, made a profit in its fiscal third quarter, reversing a year-earlier loss on tighter cost controls and a revised business strategy. In addition to a new Popeye TV special, Mainframe is also in production on the fourth Barbie feature length direct-to-video/DVD project for Mattel Inc. ... and has just started production on a new feature-length direct-to-video/DVD based on the Inspector Gadget [pictured] franchise. ... In other financial news, Dow Jones reports, Computer animation producer IMI Global Holdings Ltd. said Tuesday it will ask shareholders to approve a HK$74.4 million two-for-one share issue to finance expansion of its production facilities and establish a U.S. marketing team. ... IMI Global said it would seek another name change, to Imagi International Holdings Ltd., to match its trade name, Imagi. Its animation operation goes under the name Imagi Animation Studios Limited. ... The Korea Herald has this story on English voiceover acting in Korea, focusing on Kristin Cho, noting about one in 20 Korean TV commercials have English recordings. ... The English recording industry is enigmatic and based on personal connections, and there are a few select individuals who have made a full-time career out of voice acting in Korea.
March 1, 2004
I must admit trying to watch the Oscars in London for the first time was going to be a challenge. As BBC1 started their Oscar show at 12:50 am, I thought I would be able to catch one or two of the animation gongs before dozing off; as it were, I forgot that the building's electrical system was being worked on and all power went off 20 minutes before broadcast time! And the Brits think of themselves as Oscar-mad as anyone else; well, no right-thinking landlord in L.A. would ever even think of doing something so foolish. Actually, given the way the overhyped and overlong The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, dominated the festivities, I'm almost glad I missed it. Anyway, on to the news of the day, starting of course with reaction to the two animation Oscars:
Pixar Glitters With Oscar Win
Reuters notes, Pixar Animation Studios Inc.'s Oscar win on Sunday could raise the stakes in the contest for which the movie maker is the prize the race among Hollywood studios to release its films. Box office hit Finding Nemo ... won the Academy Award for best animated film, and director Andrew Stanton said the Oscar had legitimized the upstart studio's approach to making films. Following its decision to abandon its agreement with Disney, a host of studios [are now] pursuing Pixar. Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., Sony Corp. studio Sony Pictures Entertainment, News Corp. Ltd.-controlled Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. are all seen as contenders.
Krumpet Creator Is Toast of Hollywood
While Finding Nemo takes place in Australia, a real Australian film, Adam Elliot's Harvie Krumpet was the surprise winner of the Best Animated Short Film Oscar. This disappointed supporters of Roy Disney, who were hoping his acceptance speech for Destino would have embarrassed Michael Eisner. But Oscar voters would have none of that, and as a result Adam Elliot has become something of a national hero. Among the stories, there is this one in The Age which notes, Elliot, 32, did not go to the Oscars expecting to win, and he certainly did not expect to make one of the more controversial speeches of the night. He professed not to know that homosexuality is a hot issue in the US right now, especially in California, where dozens of couples have been earning the ire of the President by getting married. He was just so excited, he couldn't stop thanking his 'beautiful boyfriend Dan', prompting an American journalist to ask if he thought they might use the time delay to cut him off. 'Nah,' he said, 'in Australia, we're OK with all that.'
Ex-Directors of Disney Reiterate Call for Eisner's Removal
Meanwhile, Roy Disney was going ahead with his fight against Eisner. Thus, The New York Times reports, Two days before a critical shareholders meeting of the Walt Disney Company, two former directors including a nephew of the company's founder aggressively pursued their campaign today to oust Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chairman and chief executive, and three other directors. In a letter to Disney shareholders, Roy E. Disney, and Stanley P. Gold, the two former directors, reiterated their call for votes to remove Mr. Eisner, and they cited a growing list of public and private investors who have publicly said they do not intend to support him. See also this CNN/Money story, which quotes the letter as saying, We urge you to vote today and send an unmistakable message that it is time for a change in the senior management and the Board of The Walt Disney Company. Tell the Board you believe it is time to replace Michael Eisner eight years of substandard performance is long enough.
Online Animation: It's Weird, It's Edgy and It's Spreading like a Virus
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer asks, Seen the latest television commercials for Quiznos subs? The ones featuring the bizarre, pulsating-eyed creatures that resemble stuffed-and-mounted marmots and sing off-key about the joys of toasted bread and meat? If so, chances are you either stared in fascination or left the room in horror. But if you're of a certain age or have kids who are online, I bet they not only loved them, they also recognized them as the Spongmonkeys from the Web site Rathergood.com. In explaining the newfound popularity of web animation, it says, Just as boomers repeated catchphrases from shows like Laugh-In or Saturday Night Live as part of their cultural glue, young people who troll the Net are doing the same with online animations. Thanks to instant messaging, e-mail, discussion forums, peer-to-peer networks and blogs, news of the latest animation sensation gets out quickly, spread around the world in viral fashion among the digitally enabled. It also takes a look at several other online animations of interest.
© 2004 Harvey Deneroff
Animation Consultants International