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April 30, 2004
Euro Disney's Tragic Kingdom
According to Deutsche Welle, “All is far from magical at Disneyland Paris. Euro Disney, the debt-burdened operator of the theme park, announced on Thursday that unless creditors can be persuaded to give the ailing enterprise more breathing space after the end of May, Mickey, Pluto and Goofy could be looking for alternative employment come June. ... Euro Disney has been feverishly negotiating with banks and Walt Disney, the entertainment and media group which has a 39 percent stake in the operating group, 'to reach a mutually acceptable resolution to the company's financial situation.' In an attempt to keep the park afloat, Walt Disney has deferred payments of royalties until 2005 and waived certain rights to ease the pressure.See also Reuters story.

Animated Siegfried & Roy Coming to NBC
Father of the PrideThe Associated Press has this story on Father of the Pride, the forthcoming DreamWorks CGI series. It notes, “The comedy, part of NBC’s fall schedule, makes comedic kibble out of Siegfried and Roy, their stage act and the notion that their animals lead routine domestic lives with a touch of [Las] Vegas kitsch. ... The show’s look is sophisticated computer-generated imagery in the style of the Oscar-winning Shrek, costly but made feasible for a TV budget by advances in technology. The tone is wittily adult and even risque in hopes of snaring the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 crowd. ... With viewers favoring reality shows and crime dramas over laughs, and with stalwarts like Friends signing off, comedies have fallen on hard times. But networks and studios won’t give up easily on the lucrative genre, which can be a money machine in syndication.”

When Hi-tech Meets High Fantasy
Lord of the RingsBBC News has this story about “Weta Digital, a firm formed by [Lord of the] Rings director Peter Jackson and others in 1993 to do the effects for the Heavenly Creatures movie. Back then Weta had only one computer, which it leased, to do special effects work. Now it runs the third largest supercomputer on the planet if you count the number of processors, 3300, it can call on, says Scott Houston, chief technical officer at Weta. [Since The Lord of the Rings (pictured)Weta's resources] have been used for effects in the forthcoming I, Robot movie and will help with future releases such as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” Houston expresses his need for additional computing power, especially for forthcoming projects like King Kong, “even though [it] only has one, albeit big, monster and many sequences in Lord of the Rings featured hundreds of thousands of them. 'King Kong is covered in hair,' he said, 'we could be animating that.'”

In Brief: Adam Duritz, Final Fantasy & Animax to Launch in India
Billboard has this story on Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz's experience writing the song “Accidentally in Love” for the opening sequence of Shrek 2. “'They just told me that the song had to be uplifting. They actually said, “Don’t write a song about Shrek. Write a song that’s about you.” The funny thing is, the song ended up reflecting a lot of what was going on in my life at the time: falling in love with someone you’re not supposed to fall in love with because it’s inconvenient,' Duritz says.” ... Celebritynews.about.com has this interview with Andy Jones about his role as animation director on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Asked what the film's biggest challenge was, he says, “Human facial expression. It's just so subtle, pushing the animators to try and get the look and the expression and the feeling in these characters that we need without exaggerating it to the point of like we're used to seeing in a Toy Story or Disney film. They use a lot of exaggeration to get you a certain mood and we had to do it subtly. ... Indian Television reports, “SPE Networks – Asia today announced plans to launch the highly successful anime channel, Animax, in India on 5 July. The dedicated Animax South Asia feed follows the successful Animax Asia rollout that began with Taiwan on New Year's Day [and will] mark the fifth Animax operation in Asia.”

April 29, 2004
Comcast Abandons Disney Bid, but Pressure on Eisner Remains
The New York Times notes, “The Magic Kingdom is no longer under assault, but its king remains under siege. The Comcast Corporation ... abandoned its $54.1 billion hostile takeover bid for the Walt Disney Company on Wednesday, but the move is hardly a triumph in the storied career of Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive. Mr. Eisner still faces a raft of issues, most notably restive shareholders so convinced that he has mismanaged an American icon that they forced Disney's board to strip him of his chairman's title last month. Analysts and investors are also concerned about whether Disney can deliver on the company's promised turnaround given the continuing troubles at its ABC network and animation division. ... Comcast's withdrawal offered Mr. Eisner and Disney only temporary relief from their critics. Later on Wednesday, just a day after Disney's board expressed confidence in Mr. Eisner at the end of a two-day retreat, Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney's nephew and a former board member, reaffirmed his commitment to force Mr. Eisner out.” ... Business Weekprovides this analysis on why Comcast's bid for Disney failed, noting that, “Brian Roberts made two big mistakes: Misreading his shareholders' willingness to buy Disney and mishandling its board.”

Computer Animation Taking New Steps
The Provo (Utah) Daily Herald has this story about how “Brigham Young University researchers have developed new techniques that let a computer create more realistic animations faster. Using artificial intelligence, the researchers have developed a new software technology that allows computers to learn to animate a computer-generated character through examining animation examples provided by a human. The computer then makes choices based on those examples regarding how the character will behave and react, even if the computer is presented with an unfamiliar situation. 'This is brand new stuff,' said Jonathan Dinerstein, a BYU graduate student studying computer science and co-author of a paper detailing the research. The paper was published in Tuesday's issue of the Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds.” See also KSL-TV news story.

April 28, 2004
Comcast Drops Disney Bid
Not unexpectedly, Reuters reports that, “Comcast Corp. on Wednesday withdrew its unsolicited $48.4 billion offer to buy Walt Disney Co. after the entertainment conglomerate steadfastly refused to open negotiations. ... The decision handed a major victory to embattled Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner, who still faces a revolt from shareholders contending he does not have a strategy to ensure long-term growth.” This is London adds, “While Comcast's decision is no surprise, few probably expected on day one that Comcast would walk away because it has a reputation for following through on its takeover attempts. Comcast wanted to expand its content capabilities as a way of competing more directly against rivals such as Time Warner, the world's largest media company.”

Animating a Success Story
Delgo posterAccording to CNN, “In Atlanta's trendy Buckhead district, amidst the pubs, boutiques and fashionable eateries, lurks a company building an animated feature that just might get Hollywood to sit up and take notice — figuratively, of course. ... The company is Fathom Studios and the film is Delgo, a feature described by producer Marc Adler as 'an animated fantasy adventure set in a magical world with action, humor and romance. It combines the epic visual style of Lord of the Rings with the original comedy of Shrek.' ... While it's unlikely that anyone can belly up to Pixar in the name recognition and creativity game (yet), it's companies built of passion and autonomy, like Fathom, that have the best chance of becoming the next name brand. Of course, the risks are incredible.”

April 27, 2004 
Shorties Watching Shorties
Shorties Watching ShortiesComedy Central's new series, featuring animated versions of standup comedy routines introduced by wisecracking babies, has gotten some mixed reviews. For instance, Michael R. Farkash in The Hollywood Reporter (also here) says, “Yes, there are some funny bits that almost satisfy, though they'd work better if expanded — notably Richard Jeni's tale of lobster angst as the fearful crustacean awaits the cooking pot and Elon Gold's spoof of a big Hollywood awards ceremony for the world's best religions. Visually, however, the cartoons have an intriguingly ingenuous style.” ... Nick A. Zaino III in The Boston Globe notes that, “aside from showcasing Boston talent, what Shorties does best is repackage lost nuggets of comic material in a fresh environment. The formula is similar to Short Attention Span Theater, the Comedy Central show that helped break names such as Jon Stewart and Marc Maron 15 years ago — archived recordings pasted together in short bursts that don't give viewers time to get bored with any one voice.” ... However, Steve Johnson in The Chicago Tribune feels it “is one of those shows that probably seemed like a good idea in a meeting. With the simple setup of two precocious animated babies flipping TV channels, it's essentially an excuse to bring together a series of stand-up comedy routines and escape the traditional brick-wall backdrop. But the two babies ... don't have much to say, their transitional material resting somewhere between knowing adult takes on infancy and actually being infantile.

In Brief: MGM Approves $8 Dividend, After Balamory?, Kong's Endorsement & George Borshukov
In the wake of Sony's takeover bid, The Associated Press reports, “ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. declared a one-time dividend of $8 a share Monday, even amid speculation the venerable studio could soon be sold. ... MGM's largest shareholder is billionaire Kirk Kerkorian through his Tracinda Corp. holding company. Mr. Kerkorian owns about 74% of MGM's shares and stands to make about $1.4 billion from the dividend.” ... The Scotsman has this interview with Claire Mundell, under whose leadership “Children’s BBC Scotland (CBBC) has come to play an important role, commissioning shows such as Balamory, which she helped develop, a huge hit in the pre-school market that looks set to rival cult shows like Teletubbies and Tweenies.Her current focus of attention is Shoebox Zoo, “featuring a combination of live action and CGI animation,” which might also be made into a movie. ... Zap2it.com reports that Ray Harryhausen, speaking at the Los Angeles Times' Festival of Books said “he is supportive of the upcoming remake [of King Kong by] Peter Jackson. The special effects wizard explains, 'Peter Jackson has taste [and] has gone back to the storyline. He'll do a good job.'” ... And Novinite has this brief profile of George Borshukov “the only Bulgarian with [a] special effects Oscar Prize. What is probably even more intriguing to movie maniacs — he has worked on The Matrix, the trilogy which marked a new era in the visual effects history.”

April 26, 2004
Succession is the Big Question at Disneyland & Comcast Retreat
The New York Times reports (also here and here) on the first board meeting of the Walt Disney Company on Monday “since last month's investor revolt at the shareholders' meeting in Philadelphia.” It notes, “what takes place during the two days of closed sessions this week could have a greater significance for the future of Disney than the well-publicized events at the beginning of March. As part of a continuing review of who will succeed Michael D. Eisner, the chief executive, the 11 directors of Disney plan to scrutinize the strengths and weaknesses of the top 8 to 12 senior executives, including Anne Sweeney, co-chairwoman of the New Media Networks unit, and Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios. ... The board appears willing to give Mr. Eisner time to deliver a turnaround, even though ABC is in disarray, several recent movies like The Alamo are missing in action at the box office and the company stripped him of his chairman title after more than 45 percent of shareholder votes were withheld in his re-election as a director.” ... Meanwhile, according to The New York Post, Comcast appears likely to withdraw its bid for Disney in the coming weeks.”

Seoul Animation Festival Aims High
Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival 2004 posterAccording to The Korea Herald, Korea's animation industry is facing a turning point. The country used to serve as a cheap production base for foreign animation houses. Not any longer. The not-so-enviable role is now poised to be handed over to China. The trouble is that Korea has yet to assume a new role. The local animation sector, worth 315.8 billion won [US$269.26 million] in 2002 according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is still way behind Disney and Pixar in terms of quality. The eighth Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival, to be held Aug. 4-10 at COEX in southern Seoul, may shed light on where Korea is headed. ... SICAF, which is aspiring to become one of the key animation festivals in Asia, will certainly showcase the latest trends in the global animation sector. But that's only part of what preoccupies the festival organizers. SICAF must become an irresistible marketplace for animation producers, directors, distributors and experts. And all eyes are on the SICAF Promotion Plan, a pre-market where specialists in the animation industry can browse and work on new works or projects in the pipeline.”

Return of the Beasts
Land of Lost MonstersNew York Newsday has this review by Noel Holston of Animal Planet's Land of Lost Monsters, “the latest descendant of the jaw-dropping, eye-popping Walking With Dinosaurs, a BBC-Discovery Channel co-production unveiled four years ago,” which brings to life these ancient monsters through the use of “puppetry and computer-generated animation. ... Charlie Foley, Animal Planet's director of development and the executive producer of [Lost Monsters] said Walking With Dinosaurs' success 'heralded an era where CG [computer graphics] had arrived on the nonfiction side.' Technology that until just a few years before had been the exclusive province of mega-budget theatrical films like Jurassic Park was now affordable for the makers of TV documentaries. And the market potential wasn't lost on Discovery Networks. 'Discovery, corporately, started to make a much greater priority for animation,' Foley said. 'Not long thereafter, we entered into a joint venture where we co-own an animation studio up in Canada called Meteor Studios.'”

In His Missouri Hometown, Disney Is Never Far Away
Larry Bleiberg reports in The Dallas Morning News on his visit to Marceline, Missouri, to cover the “festival honoring cartooning in general, and [Walt Disney] in particular. ... The Disney story is well told in the town's museum, the former Santa Fe railroad depot. The museum displays Disney artifacts and papers. Disney's familiar flourishing signature, still the company logo, jumps out from correspondence with family members. ... But Disney had much bigger plans for Marceline. He had hoped to develop his hometown into a theme park devoted to rural American life. During a visit in 1956, he formed a silent partnership to start the so-called Marceline Project. Rush Johnson, now 77 and president of the Disney museum, said the idea was hatched over a scotch in his basement. Disney was in town for the dedication of a swimming pool at the town's recreational complex (named for Walt), and he stayed at Johnson's home, then one of the few in town with air conditioning. 'He envisioned a working farm,' Johnson said. It would be a place to teach children what an acre was and where their food came from. But the idea died shortly after Disney's death in 1966.”

In Brief: Kadokawa Invests in DreamWorks & Unswept Floor
Bloomberg reports, “ Kadokawa Holdings Inc., a Japanese publisher, said it will invest $100 million to take a 2.83 percent stake in DreamWorks SKG ... Kadokawa will obtain exclusive rights to sell DreamWorks films, videos and DVDs and other products in Japan. ... News Wales reports Jane Hubbard and Maureen O'Kane's Lloriau/The Unswept Floor (Cineteg) won the Best Animation Bafta.”

April 25, 2004
Look, No Hands: Pixar's Killer App

Elvis Mitchell begins this piece on 2D vs. 3D animation in
The New York Times by noting, “Home on the Range is only the latest example of an old-fashioned, line-drawn animated feature that lands with a thud at the box office. Like many recent hand-drawn cartoons, Home on the Range didn't take a lesson from Pixar: 'It's all about presence, and how you enter the room,' as one of the creatures in Monsters, Inc. says. Although the statement is meant as parody ... it could also refer to the way Pixar bestrides the cartooniverse these days. Every few decades an entire field of filmmaking ends because of a single technical innovation. The Jazz Singer finished off silents ... The introduction of Technicolor has been slowly choking off black-and-white pictures .... And now, because of the successive digitally animated box-office winners from Pixar ... hand-drawn animation seems to be on the way to theatrical obsolescence.” However, he warns, “What the leap into the hard drives of computer cartooning ignores is that the technology has been most successful in the hands of one studio: Pixar .... Surrendering the old ways of animation because of one house's success with the new would be akin to the studios' giving up on action movies because of Joel Silver's preoccupation with them — and that hasn't happened yet.”

Ivor the Engine Steams Back
Ivor the EngineBBC News reports, “One of Wales' best loved TV characters — Ivor the Engine — is steaming back to Welsh television screens. Ivor was a children's favourite through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and even voted one of Wales' top 100 heroes in an official poll last year. Now the engine is being brought up to date with computer animation to promote the BBC Wales digital channel 2W.” The new show uses the talents of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, the character's original creators, and represent the first new programs in 30 years; the original TV series was launched in 1959.

April 24, 2004
A Superhero, at Last & The Team Behind the Toons
Danny PhantomIn conjunction with the 17th Kids Choice Awards ceremony, Nickelodeon arranged a junket for a reporter from The Star, in Malaysia, to do a couple of interviews in Los Angeles. One is with Butch Hartman, creator of The Fairly OddParents and Danny Phantom (pictured), which is the focus of the story. Hartman says, “I’m a very hyper person, so all my characters are very hyper. Some guys I know are heavy and their characters are slow and heavy. So a lot of what you are goes into your drawings.” As to whether there is any message in his cartoons, he responds in part that, “I just want to grab [kids] and not let them go for half an hour — then I’ll let them go, and they can come back if they want to. But I don’t want them to get bored, that’s why everything is cut so fast. But there’s no message, no moral, really. But I do put a lot of love in my shows and that’ll come through, hopefully.” ... The other interview is with Klasky-Csupo's Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo, whose shows, such as Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys, form much of the backbone of Nickelodeon's cartoon lineup. Asked about the “core values” in their cartoons, Klasky says, “We always try to be responsible and to give kids what they like. We take some risks with them, talk about their feelings, things that kids are going through. And it’s universal, what kids go through — friendships, problems with friends, problems with parents, freedom from their parents, problems in school, relationships — having little love feelings for the opposite sex — and self-esteem. But they have to resolve the problems. And we have kids resolve issues (in the cartoons).”

In Brief: The Voice Is Familiar, Cast of Thousands & Animation Cheating
Welcome, Foolish Mortals book coverThe Orange County Register has an interview with “Ben Ohmart, author and publisher of Welcome, Foolish Mortals ... , a just-released biography of [voice actor Paul] Frees [who] is best known as bumbling spy Boris Badenov on Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends, Disney's Ludwig Von Drake and the Pillsbury Doughboy.” The article provides an overview of his career and quotes with some of his colleagues. ... The Business Times Singapore has this story about Stephen Regelous, who was given “the task of developing a system for generating more realistic 'casts of thousands' [on the Lord of the Rings films]. Mr. Regelous rose to the challenge by developing Massive, a revolutionary software animation system that gives individual 'personalities' to every single character in a crowd that could number in the hundreds of thousands.” ... The Star reports from Kuala Lumpur that, “A man said to be working for an award-winning composer was remanded following allegations of cheating relating to a 13-episode animation series aired by RTM [Radio Television Malaysia]. Magistrate Azniza Mohd Ali issued a five-day remand order against the 39-year-old man following a request by the police yesterday.” The story did not give the name of the show, which RTM bought for RM585,000 [US$154,000].

April 23, 2004
In Brief: Time Warner/MGM & Shoebox Zoo
In the everyone wants to get in the act department, Reuters notes (also here), “Time Warner Inc. may make a bid for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the situation. Time Warner may renew merger discussions with the film and television studio and are looking at a possible offer to rival that of Sony Corp. and its private equity partners, the Journal said.” Both Time Warner and MGM would seem to be mainly interested in MGM's library of more than 4,000 films, which includes a number of animated film and TV productions. ... The Scotsman has this short interview with Claire Mundell, head of Children’s BBC Scotland, about Shoebox Zoo, a live-action/animated show she co-created. She says, “Children’s broadcasting isn’t kids’ stuff anymore. Competition for young viewers is fierce, the market is worth millions in merchandising and is increasingly attracting big stars. I feel in my gut that Shoebox Zoo is the next big brand to come out of children’s TV and BBC Scotland.”

Pixar Brings Movie Magic to Ithaca
Toy Story 2 DVD cover
The Cornell (University) Daily Sun reports, “Over the past four nights, leaders in computer graphics and animation addressed audiences about movie-making, digital art and gaming” as part of the university's Digital Arts and Graphics Week. The speakers were “Rob Cook '82, vice president of research and development at Pixar; Ed Catmull, president of Pixar; Prof. Marc Levoy '76, computer science and computer engineering, Stanford; George Joblove '76, senior vice president of technology at Sony Pictures Imageworks; and Douglas Kay '76, chair of Mondo Media.” In discussing Catmull's talk, it notes, “One of Pixar's biggest crises was Toy Story 2, which was originally a direct-to-video production. Part of the way through production, Pixar executives realized the film was not working and decided to throw everything except the animation models away. 'That was a gruesome experience,' Catmull said. ... The first lesson, [he said], is 'if you give a good idea to mediocre people, they will screw it up.' The second lesson, he said, was to stay away from direct-to-video production. He explained that this would create two standards of quality, one of which is cheap and degrading. 'Toy Story 2 was the defining moment of the studio. [It] changed the way we think about things,' he said. The biggest thing Pixar learned, Catmull said, was 'we could pull the plug ourselves.' Although they were distributed by Disney, they realized that the older company was not the final authority.”

Writer Discovers Spiritual Core to TV's 'The Simpsons'
The Gospels According to the Simpsons coverThe Princeton (New Jersey) Packet has this story on a “lecture by the Orlando Sentinel's pop culture and religion writer, Mark Pinsky, on the subject of 'The Simpsons: Spirituality and America's Most Animated Family'” at Princeton University. It notes, “Mr. Pinsky, author of the book The Gospels According to the Simpsons, is an expert on evangelical Christianity and writes for Christianity Today and Tikkun magazines. A ground-breaking television show for more than a decade, The Simpsons is watched by between 15 million and 18 million people, more people than the swimsuit series Bay Watch, Mr. Pinsky said. The Simpsons is also full of religious themes, he said, demonstrating his point by rolling a clip from the series. 'As you can see you can find God in the funniest places,' Mr. Pinsky said. 'I found God, faith in the supreme in serious abundance. ... The Simpsons is not a show about religion,' Mr. Pinsky said. 'It is a show about a family — and religion plays a role.' And, he said, the show gives a pretty accurate view of religion in America.”

April 22, 2004
Disney's Characters Came to Life When Animator Harry Holt Drew
Harry HoltThe Orlando Sentinel (here and here) has an obituary on Harry Holt, 93, of Casselberry, Florida, who died April 14. It notes, he “helped design legendary scenes for such animated classics as Snow White and Lady and the Tramp. As art director and sculptor, he helped develop attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Epcot and at Disneyland in California and Japan. ... He remained with Disney for 20 years until he left to work in television production and art direction. After a couple of years in Chicago, he moved back to Los Angeles and joined Hanna-Barbera Studios, where he worked on the Flintstones TV series and Tom and Jerry cartoons. Holt returned to Disney in the 1960s as plans were unfolding for Walt Disney World in Orlando.

In Brief: The Speed of Flash, Corus' Profit, Animation Bridge & 'Shrek 2' at Cannes
SeNef2004Asia Media has this report on the online Seoul Net and Film Festival, which focuses on Flash animated projects. Lee Ae-rim, a filmmaker who won the SeNef Vision Award in 2002, says, “In Korea, it's very difficult to make films continuously because of the lack of funding and other limiting situations. But I'm looking forward to using digital technology and the Internet, which make it possible for an individual to continuously produce films or collaborate with others.” ... According to Canadian Press, “Radio and TV broadcaster Corus Entertainment Inc. reported [18%] higher profits in the latest quarter as continued cost controls and improved results at its specialty television and toy business helped boost the bottom line.” Corus is the parent company of Nelvana, the Canadian animation studio. ... The Economic Times has this story on the alliance between India's Animation Bridge and “Los Angeles-based Cybergraphix to co-produce shows in classical 2D, 2D digital and 3D formats,” and the Myth House TV series in particular. ... NBC4.TV reports, “The computer-generated family comedy Shrek 2, Joel and Ethan Coen's crime comedy The Ladykillers and Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 are the American entries in this year's Cannes Film Festival, organizers announced Wednesday in Paris.”

April 21, 2004
Sony-Led Group Reported in Talks to Buy MGM
Babes in Toyland video cover
The New York Times reports, “A consortium led by the Sony Corporation of America is in talks to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the Hollywood studio famous for The Wizard of Oz, James Bond and the Pink Panther, for as much as $5 billion, executives close to the negotiations said yesterday. The consortium, which includes the buyout firms Texas Pacific Group and Providence Equity Partners, is discussing a complex arrangement in which the group would buy MGM from the billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian for about $20 a share, shut down most of the movie studio operation, and then have Sony license and distribute MGM's most valuable asset, its film library, the executives said. Under the proposed deal, only the studio's best-known film series like James Bond would continue to be produced under the MGM brand.” MGM's library also includes theatrical cartoons produced by DePatie-Freleng, including the Pink Panther cartoons, and films and TV series from its own in-house operation; the latter included The Pink Panther TV series and Toby Bluth's direct-to-video Babes in Toyland movie. Sony, for its part, is expanding into CGI animated movies, and is a major producer of animated TV series; it also owns the Screen Gems and UPA libraries. See also CBS Marketwatch and New York Post stories.

Drawn to a Dream
Dreamation character designAccording to The Chicago Tribune, “Venture capitalists here and in Los Angeles, along with local agencies who invest in small businesses, are hoping that two women filmmakers with Chicago roots will build an animation empire and help put Chicago back on the moviemaking map. In early May, business partners Brooke English and Lee Litas will move their small, Near North Side-based animation studio, Dreamation, to a 60,000-square-foot facility in Buffalo Grove. ... Not content with just one major startup, however, the two are working on their all-animation network, called 1AN, the first global animation and digital media network, scheduled to launch on cable television around February 2005. The third arm of their business is Cineme, an international animation festival scheduled for its second run this September in Chicago. And along with all that, the two are working on a major studio-backed animation feature film, called IF (short for 'imaginary friends'), scheduled for release in mid-2006.”

Bollywood Toons Now Target UK's Prime Time TV
The Economic Times reports, “ After the success of the Broadway musical Bollywood Dream, the Indian dream merchants are planning to enter United Kingdom 's television homes at prime time through an animated series, Bollywood Road. Scripted by a British writer and tailored exclusively for UK audiences, this 26-part half-hour 2-D animation show would be entirely executed at studios in Mumbai, with a budget of around $4 million — nearly half the cost what it would have taken to be made in UK.” This sitcom, which will be produced by UTV, the plot “revolves around [a] London-based Mumbai family that copes with the antics of a failed Bollywood actor ... In a typical Bollywood style, the family breaks into songs and dance in keeping with mood and situation. ... talks are on with a British TV network to air the show some time in 2005.”

April 20, 2004
Disney Employee Pension Fund Opposed Eisner in Vote
Reuters reports (also here), “[72.5] percent of Walt Disney Co.'s employee pension fund shares were cast against Chief Executive Michael Eisner's reelection to the company's board, dissident shareholders said on Monday. Former directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold who released the tally said it was an indictment of Eisner's leadership by his employees and renewed calls for him to resign as CEO.” (Here's the Roy Disney's press release.) ... The Motley Fool, in commenting on Disney management's spin on the results, says, “Just pretending that nothing's wrong may work well when you're talking about monsters under the bed, but it's a dangerous approach when you're dangling from the ledge. Despite promising 40% profit growth this fiscal year, the mouse can't chase the demons away. From losing Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Pixar as an animation partner to upsetting some of the largest state pension funds with its underperformance and lavish compensation, Disney's board needs to wake up and realize that it's not as well-liked as it thinks.”

Serkis Acts
Andy Serkis in motion capture suitBack Stage has this profile of actor Andy Serkis, which notes, “It's not intended as an insult to say that one can see a little bit of Gollum in Andy Serkis. Even though the CGI character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was largely created by special effects artists, the character was also based on the actor's facial structure and mannerisms. And watching the energetic and physical Serkis in real life, one can instantly spot familiar traits. Indeed the British actor is constantly recognized in everyday life. 'I didn't expect to be recognized at all,' Serkis admits. 'I suppose a lot of people have now watched the behind-the-scenes specials and making-of featurettes on the DVDs, and I've done a lot of publicity, so they know who I am. In the UK, people have known me for other works. But it is bizarre to be walking around in America, where I have not done a lot of work, and have people recognize me on the streets.'” While it does deal with his other work, it does focus on his involvement in the Peter Jackson films.

In Brief: DVD Boom, Japanese Influence & Cartoon Festival
According to this The New York Times story on the boom in DVD sales, “Studios now spend comparable amounts of money on DVD and theatrical marketing campaigns. Disney spent an estimated $50 million marketing the Finding Nemo DVD last year, said officials at Pixar, which made the film. It was money well spent. The DVD took in $431 million domestically, about $100 million more than the domestic box office. DVD has resuscitated canceled or nearly canceled television series like The Family Guy and 24, and has helped small art movies like Donnie Darko win rerelease in theaters. ... Cox News Service provides yet another story on the increasing influence of Japanese pop culture, and animation in particular. It says,“Although it still has the world's second-largest economy, Japan is no longer the economic superpower it was in the 1980s. Now more Japanese are talking about becoming a cultural superpower as a way to regain that influence and possibly even as a way out of its decade-long economic stagnation. 'Traditionally, America has taken this role,' said Kubo, the creative director of publishing house Shogakukan Inc. 'Maybe Japan must attach more importance to becoming a soft power from now on.'” ... Finally, The Boston Globe has this report on last weekend's 2nd annual AnimeBoston, which saw, “More than 3,300 fans of anime ... fanned out across the city, many in costume.”

April 19, 2004
'Simpsons' Holdouts Send Fox Scrambling
The SimpsonsUSA Today, in regards to the contract dispute between the producers and voice actors on The Simpsons, notes, The actors have completed work on six episodes for next season, including the annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween episode. With postseason baseball delaying The Simpsons' start until November, Fox should have enough episodes until January. But each week that passes puts the rest of the season further in the hole. Because it takes nine months after recording the voices to send the tracks overseas and have scenes animated to match the voices, the next season likely will be shortened from the usual 22 episodes.” The story then goes on to explore the various alternatives Fox has, including replacing the lead voices. ... USA Today also has this sidebar piece explaining with the issues in the dispute are.

Poof! Movie Magic
Shrek 2According to Fast Company, “As much as the latest cinema technology has transformed what's possible for summer blockbusters, it has also opened up the field to new filmmakers working on tight budgets. Where once the standard for an ultracheap, do-it-yourself movie was Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, which cost $7,000 in 1992, doorman-turned-moviemaker Jonathan Caouette just produced an independent-film-festival-circuit favorite, Tarnation , on his iMac for less than $250. But technology, for all its possibility, also feeds on itself: For every boundary-pushing stunt that's now doable, a problem arises that needs to be fixed. More-realistic animated characters take more time to create, and efficiencies have to be wrung from elsewhere in production. And surefire bits of movie magic are quickly rendered obsolete. 'Every year, the camera gets closer and closer to these digital doubles, and that makes it less forgiving of some of the tricks we've used in the past,' says Cliff Plumer, the chief technology officer at ILM.” The story largely concentrates on the work of ILM and Caouette, as well as DreamWorks' Shrek 2 (pictured).

Color Chips To Hike Headcount To 1000
The Financial Express reports, “Color Chips India Limited, engaged in the production of 2D and 3D animation films, has proposed to add over 800 animators in the next 12 months to take the employee strength to 1000 professionals. The company recently bagged two new orders from overseas clients.” Chairman and managing director Sudhish S Rambhotla says, “We are adding 250 animators in the next two to three months and will add another 600 animators subsequently taking it to the total of 1000 member team [from our current 150] in the next 12 months to meet the demands from our new customers.” Given the acute shortage of trained animators in India, one wonders how the studio will manage this sort of expansion.

April 18, 2004
My Big Fat Green Sequel
Shrek 2Newsweek has this preview of Shrek 2, in which it quotes Jeffrey Katzenberg in regards to his founding “DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen 10 years ago. 'We needed to find our own path, a sensibility that's a little subversive. Shrek defined us.' And changed the industry. Suddenly, the Little Mermaid was all wet, and Sleeping Beauty looked very, very tired. Since 2001, only one traditional animated film, Disney's Lilo & Stitch, has grossed more than $100 million domestically. Yes, Pixar has electrified the genre with the 3-D Toy Story and Finding Nemo. But if old-fashioned animation is dead, Shrek certainly helped kill it, and the sequel's about to throw more dirt on the coffin.” The original film “generated almost $1 billion in profits for the studio (thanks to massive video sales), but the solemn Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, underperformed, and last year's Sinbad flopped ... Both films were in production before Shrek was released. 'In our hearts we knew that they were our past, not our future,' Katzenberg says. 'They were closing chapters. Shrek 2 should put DreamWorks back on its game.”

In Brief: Ford Web Ad Upsets Pet Lovers, Simpsons' Voice Actors & Rose d'Or
Ford Sporka Internet adThe Detroit News reports, “ A 39-second Internet commercial that Ford Motor Co. says it never meant to release is circling the globe through e-mails, appalling pet lovers with its depiction of a cat being decapitated. The ad for the Ford Sportka, a hatchback sold in Europe, shows an animated but realistic-looking orange tabby cat climbing on top of the car and curiously poking its head into the open moonroof. The moonroof slides closed and the cat struggles briefly to escape before its headless body slides to the ground. Ford says the clip was conceived without its approval by ad agency Ogilvy & Mather as part of a “viral marketing” campaign for the Sportka, billed as the Ford Ka’s 'evil twin.'” ... NPR's Day to Day show has this audio interview “with animation critic and historian Charles Solomon about voice actors for Fox television's The Simpsons demanding higher pay for their work on hit series.” ... The Independent reports, “Creature Comforts, the animated animal series from Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animations, won best comedy” in this year's Rose d'Or in Switzerland.

April 17, 2004
Can Disney Build a Better Mickey Mouse?
In the, Is this the end of Disney department, The New York Times has this story about the waning popularity of Mickey Mouse. It notes, “'Boring,' 'embalmed,' 'neglected,' 'irrelevant,' 'deracinated' and, perhaps most damning, 'over' are some of the adjectives that cropped up in recent interviews with people in the cartoon, movie and marketing businesses. ... But Mickey is not just another property that Disney owns: he's the hallmark, the frontman, the ambassador for its theme parks, the logo on its business cards. A significant portion of the Disney empire is built around this strange creature. And yet, at a time when the company is already facing an almost cartoonishly daunting litany of travails — a hostile takeover bid, the loss of its highly successful partnership with the animation studio Pixar, mass layoffs at its own animation studio, the very public campaign by Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt, to dethrone the C.E.O., Michael Eisner — his appeal is apparently starting to slip.” In addition to quoted the likes of children's author Maurice Sendak and Maus author Art Spiegelman, the story provides a detailed history of Mickey, including the fact he has no back story, and the company's plans for his future.

The Price of a Public Face
The death of Cinar co-founder Micheline Charest from complications of plastic surgery has evoked a widespread reaction in the Canadian press, including some pieces on the dangers of such operations. For example, The Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente notes Charest was, “On the mend from the scandal that ruined her reputation four years ago, she had decided on a spring perk-up — face, breasts, and a bit of fat removal. 'For her, it was a little coquetterie for a 51-year-old girl,' one of her friends said. It's easy to read this as a modern morality tale — a life sacrificed on the altar of coquetterie. So let's all deplore the social pressures that drive middle-aged women to 'refresh' themselves, and the new wave of bottom-fishing TV shows that carve up the flesh of the insecure and vulnerable for the titillation of the viewers.” ... Karen von Hahn, also writing in The Toronto Globe and Mail, says, “What could be more humiliating for a smart, accomplished and successful woman than dying to be beautiful? This week, the phrase 'death becomes her' has taken on a whole new poignancy after the passing of Micheline Charest ... On the heels of the plastic surgery death in January of author and satirist Olivia Goldsmith, 54 ... clever women meeting untimely and wasteful ends is beginning to look like an epidemic.”

In Brief: Multimedia Visionary, Two to Bongo
BongoThe San Diego Union Tribune has this update on the career of Steven Churchill, who organized computer animation festivals back in the 1980s and created The Mind's Eye series of videos. He is now collaborating with Patricia Rincon, the founder and artistic director of Patricia Rincon Dance Collective, using “animated video segments to enhance the theme” of one of her projects. ... Mid-Day reports, “Bongo [pictured] claims to be [India's] first TV serial to combine cartoon characters with human actors. It involves 2D and 3D animation characters in the cast alongside [live actors]. Produced by Rudrakshaa Arts, with animation by Green Gold Animation, the half-hour show debuts on DD1 on April 25.

April 16, 2004
Cinar Founder's Death Shocks Film Industry

The unexpected death of Micheline Charest following plastic surgery has shocked the Canadian animation community. The Toronto Star notes, “Micheline Charest, co-founder of the award-winning but scandal-plagued film company Cinar Inc., was remembered yesterday for making quality children's shows and being 'a brilliant business lady.' ... Mel Hoppenheim, president of Mel's Cinema City, a major film studio in Montreal, praised Charest for her contribution to the film industry. Cinar produced animated children's shows like Caillou and Arthur, with Charest and her husband Ronald Weinberg at the helm. 'She just brought animation and children's films to a new level in Canada,' Hoppenheim said. 'She put us on the map.' 'Whatever happened (at Cinar), I don't know, but as far as a human being, she was a delightful lady, a brilliant business lady, and we're going to miss her.'” See also Canadian Press and Reuters stories.

Fire Kills Mitsuteru Yokoyama
GigantorBBC News reports, “The Japanese creator of the Ironman 28 [Tetsujin 28-go] manga cartoon [pictured] has died in a fire at his home in Tokyo. Mitsuteru Yokoyama, 69, who also created Little Witch Sally, was found unconscious in his bed with severe burns and later died in hospital. ... Ironman 28 was one of the first Japanese cartoons to be exported to the US, where it was known as Gigantor. Yokoyama was inspired to draw by the late Osamu Tezuka, Japan's best-known manga cartoonist and creator of the Astro Boy series.” (The story incorrectly mentions that Fred Ladd, Gigantor's American distributor, prepared a color version of the series; while Ladd did indeed plan such a version, he turned his attention to colorizing old American cartoons instead.) See also stories in Japan Today and Mainichi Shimbun.

Eisner Opposition up in New Count of Disney Vote
Reuters reports, “More Walt Disney Co. shareholders were opposed to Chief Executive Michael Eisner's reelection to the board in a March vote than an incomplete earlier tally showed, renegade shareholders said on Thursday, reporting that more than 45 percent of votes were cast against him. Some 45.37 percent of ballots were withheld from Eisner as he sought reelection to the board at the March 3 annual meeting, according to a new count released by dissident Disney shareholders Roy Disney and Stanley Gold. The vote included votes cast at the meeting. The initial count, based on votes cast before the meeting, was 43 percent in opposition.” Also see Associated Press story and the press release from the Roy Disney camp.

Disney Board, State Officials to Meet
According to Reuters, “Finance officials from several U.S. states who oversee billions of dollars in pension funds will meet next month with Walt Disney Co.'s board to express concerns over the company's performance, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi said Tuesday. Disney and the officials will meet on May 21 in New York City to air their views on the media company's embattled Chief Executive, Michael Eisner, among other issues, Hevesi spokesman John Chartier said. ...'We remain deeply concerned that our investments and the future of this company are in jeopardy,' according to the letter sent to [Disney Chairman George] Mitchell obtained by Reuters. 'The company has lost more than 20 percent in stock value over the last five years — nearly five times more than the losses incurred by the S&P 500 index for the comparable period.'” Also see story in The Tampa Bay Business Journal.

In Brief: Japanese Word Boom, Harryhausen Gets Spacey & Bill Plympton
Self portrait of Bill PlymptonThe stories on the worldwide influence of anime keep coming; one of the most interesting is from Mainichi Shimbun, which notes that, “New Japanese words are creeping in the vocabulary of American society. While many of them aren't in English dictionaries yet, the Internet is flooded with them.” And one of the reasons for this is the popularity of anime.” The popularity is such that “the Yale Anime Society has devoted a page to '100 common Japanese terms' that appear in cartoons. Among the words on the list are 'yabai' (miserable, wretched), and 'naruhodo' (I see, so).” ... According to The Canadian Press, “a special lifetime achievement [Spacey Award is being presented] to pioneer special-effects guru Ray Harryhausen, who, through unique animation techniques, brought creatures to life in such fantasy classics as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.” The ceremonies are being broadcast this Sunday on the Canadian “sci-fi specialty channel, Space: The Imagination Station.”... In anticipation of his appearance at the International Animation Festival and the premiere of his new film, Hair High, The Philadelphia Daily News has this brief interview with independent animation filmmaker Bill Plympton [pictured].

April 15, 2004
Micheline Charest Dies & Mitsuteru Yokoyama Unconscious
Micheline CharestCTV reports, “Micheline Charest, the 51-year old co-founder of the troubled animation company Cinar, died [Wednesday afternoon at Notre-Dame Hospital]. She underwent plastic surgery at a private clinic in Montreal Tuesday. During recovery from the seven-hour procedure, she experienced complications. ... Charest and her partner Ronald Weinberg were once a power couple in the entertainment industry. They founded Cinar, an award-winning animation company that produced such popular children's TV shows as Arthur and Caillou.” The company became scandal-plagued in recent years and “Charest sold her shares in Cinar last month around the time a Toronto-based investor group struck a takeover deal last month worth $143.9 million US.” The Montreal Gazette also notes, “In 1997, she and Weinberg founded the Teletoon animation cable network. See also Canadian Press story. ... According to Mainichi Shimbun, “[69-year-old] cartoonist Mitsuteru Yokoyama, best known as the creator of the animation series Gigantor (Tetsujin 28-go), suffered serious burns and remains unconscious after a fire broke out at his Tokyo home early Thursday, police said. ... Yokoyama has been unable to walk on his own since an injury three years ago ...”

April 14, 2004
D'oh! Am I Underpaid?
The Simpsons
The New York Times has this update on the labor dispute between The Simpsons' voice actors and the show's producers. It reports that The Simpsons, “by the estimate of accountants employed by the actors who supply their voices, earned Fox upward of $2.5 billion as the stars of one of the longest-running prime-time series in television history. Now those actors are demanding their share of the wealth. Insisting that The Simpsons would not be the same without them, the professionals behind the voices of Homer, Bart, Marge and the show's other animated characters are holding out for the kind of financial rewards earned by actors on hit sitcoms like Friends and Frasier.” Their demands for “a share of the show's profits is a first for an animated series, a genre that studios and networks have counted on for predictable costs and peaceable casts. ... But money is not the only issue. At stake in the negotiations over The Simpsons is a potential precedent that could color the broadcast networks' competition with cable networks, which increasingly schedule cutting-edge animated shows aimed as much at adults as at children.”

Sowing the Seeds of a New Genre
AppleseedMark Schilling, who reviews Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed in The Japan Times, notes, “Among the most innovative [new Japanese animated films], technically at least, is Appleseed, a SF animation based on a Shirow Masamune manga that has become a cult classic. ... [It] is an amalgam of traditional character design and 3-D animation. In other words, 2-D meets 3-D. It may strike anime traditionalists who reject everything Pixar as heresy, while American audiences used to the rubber-faced, lifelike mugging in Shrek and Finding Nemo may have trouble getting their minds around the film's simpler, more abstract character designs, including those for its heart-faced, perfectly sculpted women. It is as if Ridley Scott had used animated Barbies in place of human actors in Blade Runner.” He feels the film is a more successful than Final Fantasy in integrating “ the anime aesthetic into a 3-D world.” He concludes by saying,“Appleseed is not just a futuristic fantasy but, as Studio Ghibli President Toshio Suzuki recently told me, the future of animation. And it's coming faster than anyone could have imagined, though it may be a while before bioroids start selling tickets at the local multiplex.”

Home on the Range: Good Fodder for Queer Families
Home on the Range poster Ryan Bunch in reviewing Home on the Range for Gay News Now says, “In spite of occasional — and justified — charges of racial insensitivity (Aladdin) and objectification of women (The Little Mermaid), the overall tone of [Disney animated] films is one that embraces difference, values self-discovery, and promotes broad acceptance others—all themes that resonate with the queer experience. Home on the Range continues that tradition in a film with no shortage of queer and queer-friendly talent, themes that alternative families can comfortably embrace, and some good old-fashioned animation — even if it’s not technically as slick as other recent Disney features. At its heart, this is a movie about family — not necessarily the ones we are born into, but those that we create from the community of close friends, relations, and mentors who support us, regardless of biological affiliation.”

Immaculate Conceptions
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow posterAustralian IT has this story which reports on several new computer animated projects being made around the world, including Brian Taylor's independently-made Rustboy and Kerry Conran's mainstream live action/CGI feature Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The challenge of Rustboy, Taylor says, is “to see how professional a result I can achieve with a shoestring budget and a bit of imagination.” It notes, “Everyone, it seems, wants Rustboy to succeed. ... Perhaps it's because Taylor is, in many ways, very close to the Holy Grail of independent digital animation — a fully realised professional quality film made with limited resources in a bedroom.” Also discussed is the modest beginnings of Conran's films, which led to a Hollywood deal. It adds, “Both Rustboy and Sky Captain are important films because their creators are at the forefront of a digital renaissance that is reshaping film-making. Many of the traditional barriers facing the low-budget animator, such as hardware and software costs, have been swept away.”

In Brief: Aboriginal Filmmakers & Publisher and Studio Team Up
Dennis Jackson
The CBC reports that, “As part of the first-ever Aboriginal Cultural Trade Initiative, 10 experienced film producers from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec will attempt to market proposals to prospective co-producers in Australia and New Zealand.” In particular, it takes note of Saskatoon's Dennis Jackson [pictured] [who] has produced animation for Canadian television through Dark Thunder Productions. He hopes, however, to find CO-producers in Australia or New Zealand for his feature film ideas.” ... The Ottawa Business Journal notes, “A local publisher of children's books and an animation studio said Tuesday they are teaming up to produce multi-media products. GWEV Publishing Inc. said it will work with animation studio Cinerio Inc. to develop multimedia products and animation features based on its books.”

April 13, 2004
McCartney Wants to Follow in Disney's Footsteps.
Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection coverReuters has this interview (also here) with Paul McCartney about his new DVD, Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection, who talks about his “wish to follow in Walt Disney's footsteps by making a beautiful feature-length animation film.” He says, “My ambition in the '60s was to make a feature. I don't know why I wanted to but I just loved it so much. It is a passion.” It notes, “McCartney began pursuing [his] hobby more than 20 years ago and has been creating characters, writing the stories, consulting on the look, doing the voices, composing the music and, of course, singing the songs on the short animations done in the old Disney style of individual cel drawings. 'The big new thing that we want to do is to finally fulfill the ambition of making a feature,' said McCartney, who is working on a story idea he hopes to turn into a children's book and then a full-length film.”

Drew Carey's 'Green' on WB's Screen
Drew CareyAccording to The Hollywood Reporter,The WB Network has given the green light to Green Screen, a live-action/animated improv comedy pilot from former sitcom star Drew Carey [pictured]. The concept calls for the cast to film — in front of a green screen — several improv games involving topics and settings suggested by the audience. In postproduction, using different animation styles, the audience suggestions will be brought to life, inserting the actors into the skit in an animated version of the theme or environment pitched by the audience, like a barbershop or a soda can, for example.” E! Online notes the show will employ “a wide variety of animation techniques including, stop-motion, claymation, 2-D, 3-D, and CG animation.” It adds, “If it gets picked up, Green Screen could air as early as this summer.” The animation will be produced by Acme Filmworks.

Animated Success
Chilly BeachNorthern Ontario Business, in reporting on the success of Chilly Beach, says, “It’s been called the Great White North’s version of South Park. Blue-collar Sudbury, a city best known for its mining headframes and scoop trams, has staked out new ground in providing the drawing hands behind a new CBC animated comedy series. ... All the writing, audio and pre-production work begins in Toronto. The digital blueprinting, story boarding, animation and post-production processes are done in the Sudbury studio. With the first season’s 26 episodes in the can and another 26 on order, [producer and Sudbury native Dan] Hawes estimates Chilly Beach will generate between $3 million to $5 million in revenue when [March Entertainment's] fiscal year ends April 30. For the second season, he projects $5 million to $7 million.”

This Spacey Talk-show Host Is a Hanna-Barbara Ghost
Space Ghost: Coast to CoastThe 10th anniversary of Cartoon Network's Space Ghost: Coast to Coast is commemorated by this story in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which notes the show's “success paved the way for a new block of adult-targeted programming called Adult Swim on the [cable network, which in turn] kicked off a mini-revolution in television.” It goes into the history of the show, noting that, “In 1994, the Cartoon Network was largely seen as a dumping ground for old Hanna-Barbera cartoons [and] Cartoon Network's Mike Lazzo and others wanted to do some original programming, even possibly a talk show. 'In 1994, (David) Letterman had just gone to CBS, and he and (Jay) Leno were really battling it out for guests in the late night wars,' Lazzo says. 'We thought it would be really funny to do a talk show but with a superhero.'”

In Brief: Australia's Short Circuit & From Mulan to Monet
In writing about the recent success of Australian short films, The Australian naturally includes something on Adam Elliot's Harvie Krumpet. Elliot proudly proclaims, “I'm a product of taxpayer film funding ... But animation is not something you can do in your spare time. Shorts don't generate commercial income. But you never know where your film is going to take you.” ... The Orlando Sentinel has this review of After Hours, a new exhibit at the Maitland Art Center featuring art work by “26 Florida Animation Guild members, which debuted only months after Disney closed its Florida studios. ... [The show] captures your imagination on a conceptual level, because even though you don't know the artists personally, you undoubtedly have seen their work in such films as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch and countless non-Disney projects.”

April 12, 2004
The Radical
Aaron McGruder and the Boondocks charactersThe New Yorker has this in-depth profile of “Aaron McGruder, the creator of the popular and subversive comic strip The Boondocks,” one of the few widely syndicated comic strips by an African-American. After discussing the development of his art and the political controversy surrounding it, the story also deals with his efforts to adapt the strip into an animated TV series for Fox in collaboration with his friend, movie director Reginald Hudlin. It notes, “It’s been twenty years since Fat Albert, the last black animated series on a major network, went off the air, so the prospect of The Boondocks going to prime time is significant. Largely by necessity, the show is meant to be more character-driven than the current incarnation of the strip ... Animation demands a nine-month lead time, which precludes the kind of topicality that McGruder has come to rely on. If there are two models guiding the show’s development, they are probably The Simpsons, the beacon of virtually all televised satire and animation, and, paradoxically, All in the Family, the seventies sitcom starring Carroll O’Connor as the bigoted Everyman Archie Bunker.”

DreamWorks and NBC Gamble on a Lion Act
The New York Times has this report on DreamWorks's new CGI TV series, Father of the Pride, by which it hopes “to transfer the glow of its animation division to television, in the form of a politically incorrect prime-time series about the backstage lives of white lions in Siegfried & Roy's Las Vegas extravaganza. [It] is one of the most expensive half-hour comedies ever, costing $2 million to $2.5 million an episode to produce, people connected to the series said. That is a large wager on a genre, cartoons for adults, that has produced few lasting network shows in the last several decades, beyond Fox's Simpsons and King of the Hill and South Park on the Comedy Central cable channel. ... Initially the cost of doing Shrek-style ... animation for a television series was prohibitive. But by the summer of 2002, because of what [Jeffrey] Katzenberg called 'the unbelievable revolution' in computer graphics technology, 'it became actually possible to do it,' he said. 'It would still be very expensive, but it wouldn't be so far off the charts that it would be uneconomical,' Mr. Katzenberg added.”

Drawing up a New Republic
Clay FLThe Advertiser has this story on The People's Republic of Animation, an Adelaide-based animation studio. At the recent “2004 Zoom Awards, South Australia's main competition for short-film makers. Their animated short, Karaoke Nomad Squad, took out best animation and best original screenplay, while their music clip Sixxx Legs, made for Perth band the Fuzz, won the audience choice award. ... At the moment, they are searching for a sponsor for Clay-FL (pictured), an idea they have for a series of 30-second claymation comedy skits on the subject of football which has caught the eye of at least one TV station. ... The group says it would like to move into TV commercials, while continuing to make short films and music clips and, ultimately, a feature film.”

Cash Cry from Animation
The Calcutta Telegraph reports, “The [Indian] animation industry is wooing venture capitalists for financial help to compete in the global market and establish a strong domestic presence. ... ' The cost of production being high compared with ‘live action’, it becomes difficult for Asian countries to fully fund an entire TV series,' Bangalore-based jadooWorks COO Ashish Kulkarni said. According to estimates, a 22-minute live action episode for TV costs between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 4 lakh [US$7,000 and $9,000], while an animated episode will cost around Rs 20 lakh [$46,000]. ... Animation houses are concerned about a lack of corporate and project funding for Indian themes and original IP creation. Many feel that collaborating with global houses for animation projects will help reduce risks and costs. There is also a need to achieve international standards in organisation, delivery and quality.”

It's Not TV. It's TV on DVD
Family Guy DVD coverIn discussing how the DVD market is helping to revive canceled TV shows, Time begins its story by noting, “In the backwards calendar of TV, spring is the season of death, a time when fans launch drives to save endangered shows, a cause usually as futile as protesting the falling of autumn leaves. So it was unusual last month when fans of the animated sitcom Family Guy managed to bring it back, not by writing letters but by spending cash. When Family Guy — canceled not once but twice by Fox during its 1999-2002 run — was released on DVD, fans bought 2.2 million copies. That number helped persuade Cartoon Network (which reruns the show) to give Family Guy a third life, committing to 22 new episodes starting next year.”

Homer Simpson Pulls More Weight than He Knows
Leaving Springfield coverThe Chicago Tribune has this interview with Northwestern University's “Bill Savage, a lecturer in the English department and ... one of the contributors to the new book Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture (Wayne State University Press) ... The book takes a scholarly yet humorous look at how The Simpsons can remain so popular and yet be countercultural at the same time. Or, as Savage told his guests: 'Can you have something made by an evil multinational conglomerate — not to put it politely — and at the same time say something serious about multinational conglomerates and how they've affected our world?'”

In Brief: Joe Young & Anime in Singapore
The Hartford Courant reports how “Hartford native Joe Young and his team of artists [at the Connecticut Renewal Team Art and Technology Center are creating images to] be included in a half-hour animated film called It's Christmas, Dr. Joe! to be released this summer. The film's characters are a group of multicultural orphans trying to find parents while dealing with everyday issues. They were originally created by Young in 1989 for his Scruples comic strip, which was distributed to weekly newspapers through Religious News Service. ... If you had any doubts about the popularity of anime in Singapore, then check out this piece in The Straits Times, which deals with the 6-year-old phenomenon of “cosplay, short for costume play, fans dress up as their favourite characters from Japanese animation (anime), Hong Kong comics, video games and even Hollywood movies. They parade around in their fancy costumes and have their pictures taken.”

April 11, 2004
Disney Animator Ron Dias Still in Honey Pot
The Monterey County (California) Herald has an interview with “47-year Disney animator Ron Dias,” who has also illustrated a number of children's books and whose recent paintings are on display in a Cannery Row shop. He says, “I'm in a fantasy business but what people never know about are the strikes and humongous amount of layoffs after a feature. The animation business is in a helluva fix nowadays. It's always been like the ocean: the waves cresting and then banging down. But people only see pixie dust on the screen. To get away from that, when I talk (to aspiring animators) at schools like Brigham Young University, I tell them that this magic happens in a whole realm, it's not only the film. It's in children's books, posters, artwork for magazines, etc.

April 10, 2004
'It's Mike or Me'
According to The New York Post (also here),“Steve Jobs wants to return to the Disney fold if Michael Eisner is ousted as CEO ... In January, Jobs' Pixar Animation Studios dealt a serious blow to Eisner when it announced it was ending talks on extending a lucrative movie deal with Disney. But lately, Jobs has told associates in Hollywood that he would like to re-up with Disney if Eisner is pushed out, according to sources close to Jobs. ... Competing studios are salivating at the chance to ink a deal with Pixar, which has produced such hit movies as Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. If Pixar and Disney do not eventually re-ignite talks, Warner Bros. is believed to have a leg up over other studios in the race to forge a partnership with Pixar, sources say.”

Animation Traditions at Stake in `Home'
Home on the Range posterJoel Wicklund in The Racine (Wisconsin) Journal Times, in bemoaning the decision by Disney to abandon traditional 2D animation, takes issue with lack of public outcry from critics, especially Roger Ebert as seen in his review of Home on the Range. Thus, he notes, “Of the depressing Disney announcement, Roger Ebert wrote, 'Whether that is a loss or not depends on how you relate to animation; there are audiences even for those dreadful Saturday morning cartoon adventures, which are so stingy on animation they're more like 1.5-D.' Lumping in the playful, finely crafted animation of Home on the Range with the worst TV cartoons strongly suggests that Mr. Ebert needs new glasses. The illusion of 3-D is far from the only virtue in the diverse art of animation. Sadly, many other reviews have followed Ebert's lead, failing to distinguish between chosen style and artistic achievement.”

Is it Really That Bad in Cartoon Land?
Diana Wichtel in The New Zealand Herald provides yet another critique of the “new Government-funded study reveals that television — especially children's television — is anklebiter deep in violence. Among the more violent shows listed is, incredibly, Rugrats. The same week we hear that the classification for The Passion of the Christ has been lowered from R16 to R15. How many episodes an hour of graphic violence occur in that gore fest? I'd offer to count but, insufficiently desensitised by years of viewing Rugrats, I'm still steeling myself to see it.” She concludes by noting in regards to SpongeBob SquarePants, “most kids really do know that in the real world it's not okay to be mean to sea sponges. As SpongeBob's sidekick tells him in a media savvy moment: 'Take it easy. It's just a drawing.'”

In Brief: 'Peep,' Unesco's African Effort & Saving the Tasmanian Devil
Suzanne C. Ryan in The Boston Globe has this review of Peep and the Big Wide World, a new science show for preschoolers. She says, “The program's plot lines are slow-moving — strikingly calm in this era of the frenetic-paced SpongeBob SquarePants. But Peep is intelligently written and thought-provoking.” And to judge by the reaction of her 3-year-old daughter, it might well succeed with its target audience. ... International Journalist's Network reports, “Seeking to increase the amount of homegrown children’s television in Africa, Unesco has launched an initiative to assist the continent’s makers of cartoons. The program – called 'Africa Animated!' – will bring together resources and provide workshops for cartoonists and animators.” ... According to The Guardian, Hollywood hopes to help prevent the demise of the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial whose animated namesake has earned millions as Bugs Bunny's arch-enemy. Environmentalists have approached Warner Bros to help fund research into a mystery disease which has wiped out half the animals in four years. ... International fame for the devil arrived with the 1954 cartoon with Bugs Bunny.”

April 9, 2004
Roy Disney Sues to Get Results of Employee Voting
As The Associated Press reports (also here and here), Roy Disney has followed up on his recent threat and “is suing the Walt Disney Co. to force the media giant to reveal how company employees voted on the re-election of CEO Michael Eisner at last month's shareholders meeting. ... The former board member and nephew of company co-founder Walt Disney wants the results in order to verify his belief that a large number of company workers withheld their support from Eisner's re-election to the board, a sign of declining morale at the company.”

Disney's Empty Home
Home on the RangeThe Motley Fool, in commenting on Disney's disappointing slate of movies, takes special note of Home on the Range placing fourth last weekend “behind Warner Bros.' Scooby Doo film, with a gross of $13.9 million. A figure like that isn't what it used to be, especially considering that the movie couldn't even scare off Shaggy and company in their second weekend (the animated bovines should have brought along some Scooby snacks as a diversion). A few reports have estimated that the budget to make the film may perhaps be greater than $90 million .... The general rule of thumb is that a movie must make double its total cost to break even; obviously, this is a disturbing fact for shareholders. It tends to stimulate a traumatic flashback to the Treasure Planet debacle.”

In Brief: Anime in Louisiana, Matrix's Matt Welker & Kleiser-Walczak
The Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Advocate has this story about the popularity of anime and manga; it features a number of interviews with local fans and comments on their influence on American art and culture; for instance, it notes, 'Anime's influence has ... spread to contemporary art and even the fashion world. Last year, Louis Vuitton commissioned Takashi Murakami to produce a short film to promote the company at [the Venice] Biennale.” ... The Indianapolis Star has this interview with Matt Welker, head of the computer animation program at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. about his work on Matrix Revolutions, out on DVD this week. He talks about his role as lead technical director for Pinkett Smith's daredevil scenes in the film. ... The North Adams (Massachusetts) Transcript has more details on the decision by CGI house Kleiser-Walczak to remain in town at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), instead of relocating to a Vermont race track.

April 8, 2004
Arthur Spinoff Keeps Canadian Content
The Toronto Globe and Mail has this story about two new series being coproduced by WBGH, the Boston-based public broadcaster, and Canadian studios. It notes, “The shows are among the biggest projects at PBS, which is scrambling to respond to increased competition in children's programming from rivals such as Nickelodeon, makers of hits such as SpongeBob SquarePants.” Postcards from Buster, being done with Cookie Jar Entertainment (formerly Cinar), is a spinoff of the studio's popular Arthur series, and “features Arthur's sidekick Buster Baxter travelling across North America with his father, who is a pilot.” However, only one episode from the first season will take place in Canada, though more such shows are planned for the second season. Peep and the Big Wide World, a preschool science show is being made by 9 Story Entertainment of Toronto, and also combines live action and animation. As PBS did not pick it up, “WGBH is selling it to other channels, Discovery in the United States and provincial educational networks such as TVO in Canada. It's the first major commercial venture for WGBH and may not be the last.”

In Brief: Harryhausen Statue, Online Cartoon Deleted & Kleiser-Walczak Stays Put
The Herald notes, A Hollywood legend unveiled his personal tribute to David Livingstone yesterday at the explorer's Blantyre home [in Scotland]. Ray Harryhausen, the special effects maestro, designed the dramatic six tonne statue of Livingstone being attacked by a lion. The 83-year-old Oscar winner, who is married to Diana, Livingstone's great grand-daughter, said: 'I want to bring heroes back into fashion. Heroes are inspirational figures and David Livingstone was certainly one of those.' ” ... Japan Today reports, “the Asahi Shimbun [newspaper], has deleted an animated cartoon featuring Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from its website after receiving about 100 complaints from readers.” The cartoon makes reference to Chen being shot prior to Taiwan's recent presidential election. ... The Bennington (Vermont) Banner reports that, computer animation studio Kleiser-Walczak, of “North Adams, Mass., is out as a buyer for the Green Mountain Race Track,” where it had hoped to open a facility.

April 7, 2004
Dissidents to Sue to Get Disney Voting Results
According to Reuters, “Dissident Walt Disney Co. shareholders Roy Disney and Stanley Gold said on Wednesday they would sue the company to get results for the March 3 shareholder vote on Chief Executive Michael Eisner's reelection to the board. On March 24, the company said the former directors would 'soon have access' to detailed results of balloting at the annual meeting, and accused them of trying to 'manufacture artificial controversy.' Disney and Gold said the company wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement before allowing them further access to the tallies, which they have so far refused to do.” ... Meanwhile, Yahoo has the text of two new letters sent by attorneys for Roy Disney and Stanley Gold to lawyers for the Walt Disney Company concerning this matter.

Disney's Last Dud?
Home on the RangeIn commenting on the box office disappointment of Disney's Home on the Range, The Motley Fool points out, “Disney has been slowly dismantling its animation division and partnering with upstart computer animation specialists in hopes of landing the next Pixar. But that could be a huge mistake. Blaming the medium instead of the messenger is akin to blaming your tailor because you gained a few pounds. You simply can't make a blanket statement that hand-drawn animation is dead and that computerized renderings are the way of the future.” It feels by stuffing distribution channels with cut-rate home video sequels, “It diluted the perceived quality of the originals by stuffing the distribution channels for the sake of churn.” It also feels, Home on the Range would not have been a success if its “barnyard critters were dolled up on high-end Silicon Graphics machines.”

Funding Nemo
The Motley Fool has this analysis of the stock prospects of Pixar, especially in light of the fact it now has a “cash mountain [of] some $522 million in cash and near-cash investments, plus an incoming receivable of almost $200 million from Disney.” This rather laudatory piece sees little downside to buying Pixar stock. It does ask, “with others now in or scrambling to enter the 3-D animation market, what competitive advantage does Pixar have? According to Disney's own studies, says Steve Jobs, the Pixar name is a bigger box-office draw for adults both with and without children than the Disney name. Why? The novelty of 3-D animation probably plays a role. But what's the ultimate end of such animation? Unbelievably lifelike characters? Don't we have those already, and aren't they called actors? Not so fast. I'm missing the fantasy element possible with animation, which goes part and parcel with quality creative content, something Pixar will tell you is the real reason for its success. I certainly can't argue, especially considering the success of its films, but worth noting is that the success depends on a handful of really, really talented people. Let's hope they stay creative and stay with Pixar.”

In Brief: Disney's Tokyo Studio, 'Simpsons' Movie,&
The SimpsonsNikkei has this update on the pending closure in June of Disney's Tokyo studio. It says, “Of the 100 or so personnel there, about 30 will transfer to Disney's U.S. headquarters or to affiliates. The remaining 70 or so plan to establish a production company independently, aiming to launch in June.” ... The Associated Press reports (also here), “Writers are working on [The Simpsons] movie now, according to Yeardley Smith, who voices Lisa. But they won’t start making the film until after the series is over — and she says the series still has at least two seasons to go. Once the show is over, Smith told AP Radio, it will still be at least three years before the movie hits theaters because 'animation takes forever.'”

April 6, 2004
It's the Dopey World of Disney
Stephen McGinty, writing in The Scotsman, has this review of the BBC3 documentary, Outrageous Fortunes: Disney. He feels, “There were so many crimes against taste in Outrageous Fortune: Disney, the first in a series of 'investigations' into corporate brands, that it was necessary for me to call a general amnesty to make it through to the hour’s end. There was one man who had decorated his entire house with Disney merchandise, right down to a custom-made Disney-theme bar. When presenter Simon Reeve pointed out that the 'Disney brand doesn’t extend to alcohol,' his reply, like a short story by Raymond Carver, captured his life in all its dirty realism. 'Yeah, well. This wife, number six, likes to drink and so we have parties.' ... The revelation of Disney’s use of 9/11 to ban aerial advertising over its Florida theme parks was a solid chocolate chip amid a programme that consisted mostly of whipped air. Being trailed by Simon Reeve was the equivalent of being scrutinised by Dopey. The only response to sentences such as: 'I was starting to realise that Disney is a tough operator,' and 'Could there be a darker side to Disney?' was 'Surely not, Sherlock!'”

Dead Funny
The Guardian has this essay by Peter Baynham, whose new animated TV series, I am Not an Animal, “about a group of talking creatures created in a vivisection laboratory,” has caused a stir among animal rights activists. He says, Although the setting [of I am Not an Animal] is merely a backdrop for the first episode and the series thereafter isn't particularly dark, that hasn't prevented an early reaction from some, along the old lines of: 'This isn't a suitable subject for comedy.' But what does that mean? Why shouldn't humour have its say? It's fascinating that the grimmest subjects can be considered suitable for the limpest dramas or tackiest documentaries because they supposedly 'highlight' issues.”

April 5, 2004
Forced to Act, Disney's Board Considers Its Next Steps
According to The New York Times (also here), “When the board of the Walt Disney Company convenes for a two-day corporate retreat at Disneyland later this month, directors are expected to debate how powerful they should become in light of the recent shareholder revolt that led to Michael D. Eisner losing his chairman's title. Some board members, including Judith L. Estrin, remain unwaveringly loyal to Mr. Eisner, who retains his post as chief executive, and are betting that a projected turnaround in the company's fortunes will prove that the push to oust him was poorly conceived, according to several people who have talked to the directors. Other board members, including Robert W. Matschullat and Gary L. Wilson, want the newly appointed chairman, George J. Mitchell, to expand that office and take a more activist role in defining Disney's priorities and strategic vision. ... Disney's critics and supporters agree that the board has to restore investor confidence after an overwhelming 43 percent no-confidence vote from shareholders in March for Mr. Eisner, who has reigned at Disney nearly 20 years.”

Immortel (Ad Vitam)
Immortel (Ad Vitam) posterBenny Crick in Screen Daily has this review from Paris of the new French-British-Italian co-production. He says, “A futuristic take on the Greek myth of Amphitryon, set in New York City in 2095, Immortel is the visually exciting third feature from Enki Bilal, the Belgrade-born artist who is one of the dominant figures in European comic strip art. Using a darkly baroque blend of live action and flesh-and-blood actors with computer-generated animation and characters, Bilal has produced one of the more strikingly credible strip-to-screen makeovers of recent years that is likely to please both the comic strip crowd and aficionados of sci-fi movies. ... this Euros 23m English-language production has soared to near the head of the box office, taking around $2.8m from a 400-screen rollout after one week.” He feels that after two disappointing live action films, Bilal “has here hit on a hybrid technique in which live actors play central roles while CG characters people the rest of the cast.”

In Brief: Seeing the Effort Isn't Good, Zee Goes Slow on Localization, & More Bill Killing?
HellboyThe Alameda (California) Times-Star has this interview with Blair Clark, “visual-effects supervisor at Tippett Studio in Berkeley, Clark supervised the team that worked on Abe Sapien [pictured], the fish guy in Hellboy; the baby version of the bright-red, horned, stogie-smoking title monster; some tentacled, demonic-dog-like amphibian bad things; a multi-tenacled behemoth, and Hellboy himself.” ... Indian Television reports that Zee Telefilms and its subsidiary Padmalaya Telefilms have slowed their rollout of local programming on its forthcoming kids channel. Padmalaya’s spokesperson Rajiv Sangari says, “The plan is to have at least two episodes per day specially made for only Indian kids that is local and the other will be outside content, to start with, then gradually we will build up the local content.” ... Finally, in the promises, promises department, Empire Online notes that in an interview in the May issue of Empire magazine about Kill Bill Volume 2, Quentin Tarantino says, “I’ve been thinking about revisiting the story in a couple of ways .... I’ve been thinking about doing it as an anime feature that would tell the entire origin of Bill.” He's also considering the possibility of telling the story “of Nikki, the five year old whose mother was the Bride’s first victim in Volume One” as an animated film.

April 4, 2004
Eisner Faces New Disney Campaign
Outrageous Fortunes: Disney The Independent, in reporting on the new episode of Outrageous Fortunes focusing on Disney, to be shown on Monday on BBC3, says Roy Disney “has revealed he is to step up his campaign to oust the beleaguered chief executive of the multi-billion dollar company that gave the world some of its most enduring cartoon characters. ... Disney, who claims in the documentary he was fired, said: 'I told them at the time they might be sorry they did that, and I intend to make them sorry they did that.' The programme also quotes him as saying: 'The company is rapacious and soulless and always looking for a quick buck, which is leading to a loss of public trust.'” The program also focuses on various allegations against the Mouse House, and “paints a picture of the company's founder, Walt Disney, as a hard taskmaster unpopular with staff who then spied on them for the FBI.”

Home on the Range Box Office
Box Office Prophets feels that, “the poorly marketed Home on the Range” will probably place fourth in the weekend box office derby. It adds, “The very expensive ... traditionally animated feature from the studio grossed a disappointing but expected $14 million this weekend from a massive 3,047 venues. Questions should be raised as to exactly what happened with this release. It’s been no secret that Disney is moving away from 2-D animation and one has to wonder just how much the Mouse House wanted this one to work. They spent somewhere between $90 and $110 million on this project, about the level of the individual Lord of the Rings films, and then apparently forgot to market it, making a feeble effort at best.”

April 3, 2004
Give Pandavas a Quota on Cartoon Network Between Tom and Jerry
PandavasThe Indian Express reports, “In a letter to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, [the Animation Producers’ Association of India complained that,] 'The unabated invasion of television homes in our country by international cartoon and animation channels full of foreign characters is an attack on the culture of India and will have an adverse impact on the next-generation Indians. The answer, [it] helpfully suggests, is reserving airtime on cartoon channels for more ‘Indian’ characters churned out by its own houses, like the Pandavas [pictured], Hanuman or Tenali Raman. The letter ... promises that given this chance, the Indian animation industry ... can give the Johnny Bravos a run for their money.” The Association also wants foreign producers showing their shows in India to enter into co-production agreements with local studios.

King Kong Tops Movie Monster Poll
According to BBC News, “Giant ape King Kong, who ran amok through Manhattan, has been voted the most terrifying movie monster of all time by film experts. The hairy monster hit cinemas in black and white in 1933 but has managed to remain the most fearful of celluloid creations despite colourful rivals. UK film magazine Empire put the more recent T-Rex from Jurassic Park fourth in their top ten monster list. The 100-foot bronze Talos from Jason and the Argonauts came second. ... Those who failed to make it into the magazine's top ten include the Japanese titan Godzilla, who is 50 this year, the robot endoskeleton who appears at the end of the first Terminator film, and the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

April 2, 2004
Disney Produces Its Final Hand Drawn Animated Film
Home on the RangeCox News Service has this story on the meaning of Home on the Range, which begins by noting, “Today is the end of an era — but most people don't know it. With the release of Disney's Home on the Range, as they say at a rival studio, that's all, folks. Walt Disney Feature Animation has no plans to make any more hand-drawn films. Think about that for a minute. After 67 years of time-honored and cherished tradition, Disney is giving up on the very art form that made its name. It feels like Disney is throwing away the very pencil and paper with which it so wonderfully drew Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Belle, Aladdin and Simba — not to mention Mickey, Donald and Goofy.” Its nostalgia for animation of the hand drawn kind is rather palpable, feeling that, “With any luck, perhaps the folks at Pixar will try their hand at 2D someday, produce a great movie like they always do, and prove once and for all that computers aren't the thing.” While such a hope may not be as far fetched as one might imagine, I don't see it causing the competition to rethink its wholesale abandonment of 2D in the big budget feature arena.

Home on the Range Reviews
Home on the Range
The critical reception to Home on the Range seems less than overwhelming. Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times feels, “A movie like this is fun for kids: bright, quick-paced, with broad, outrageous characters. But Home on the Range doesn't have the crossover quality of the great Disney films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. And it doesn't have the freshness and originality of a more traditional movie like Lilo & Stitch. Its real future, I suspect, lies in home video.” ... Elvis Mitchell in The New York Times says, “Home on the Range is seldom funny. At the very least, the movie may be the first film to require cortisone treatments from jamming its elbow in the audience's ribs so often. Stampeding into view with a corny, jokey theme song, Range is intent on making Blazing Saddles look like The Three Sisters. It doesn't help that the project ... is so parodistic that it nearly disappears off the screen before your eyes. The watercolor vistas — the movie's way of conveying sun-drenched panoramas and rock formations — don't pop with the vividness of computer animation.” ... And Terry Lawson in The Detroit Free Press writes that, “If Roy Disney and other Walt Disney dissidents had shown Home on the Range before the recent shareholders' meeting that ended with embattled CEO Michael Eisner retaining his job, there might have been a different outcome. An unimaginative and often incoherent Western about a trio of cows who save the ranch and the day may be wish-fulfillment. But it is still all the evidence needed to prove that a company built on animation has lost the plot, at least when it comes to the art on which it was built. Compared to Home, last year's mediocre retread Brother Bear looks like Pinocchio or The Lion King.”

Cartoon Carnage
Stuff.co.nz has this response to The Report on TV Violence commissioned by the New Zealand government, noting the high level of cartoon violence on Nickelodeon, which which says, “It would be an interesting call, scene for scene, torment for torment, whether the sufferings depicted so unflinchingly in The Passion of the Christ outnumbered the even more extravagant beatings endured by Wile E Coyote in the The Road Runner Movie cartoons, writes The Southland Times in an editorial. Straight away people might find the very thought of such a comparison offensive because they see, quite rightly, a world of difference in the significance, impact and realism of those two strikingly dissimilar movies.” It concludes by noting that, “adult New Zealanders have perhaps not yet reached the stage of parental piety where we wilfully forget just how violent our own cartoon entertainment was, and that somehow we were neither traumatised nor desensitised by the experience.”

Nickelodeon Celebrates 25th Anniversary
The Fredericksburg (Virginia) Free Lance-Star has this report on what local fans feel about cable network, who emerged as animation power with such shows as Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy, noting “It's gone from being a tiny, local programming block to a sprawling cable powerhouse that claims to be the highest-rated basic cable network in the U.S., According to the Web site of parent company Viacom, which also owns MTV, VH1 and Paramount Pictures.” It is largely a fond look back on the early, mostly live-action program of the network's early days, with only passing notice of the role played by animation. Thus, 'The Nicktoons were the beginning of the end for the network,' Chris Eagan, ClassicNick.com webmaster, wrote in an e-mail. 'I feel the shows today are developed with the intent of selling merchandise, more than anything.'”

The Many Effects of 'Hellboy'
HellboyUnited Press International reports that, “The new sci-fi fantasy movie Hellboy features all kinds of visual effects, including computer-generated images — naturally — and an unusually large array of traditional effects involving animatronics and makeup.” Although it does discuss the work of a number of digital effects companies on the film, it focuses largely on the contribution made by Spectral Motion, which “specializes in practicals — creatures, props, puppets, makeup effects and animatronics that actually appear on a movie set with actors, rather than being created by computer-generated imaging in post-production.” It says, “In a business environment in which producers sometimes appear helpless to do anything about the escalating costs of production, Spectral Motion president Mike Elizalde “promotes animatronics as one way to help keep budgets under control.” ... In its take on the film's special effects, The Washington Times focuses on the work of Tippett Studio's visual effects supervisor Blair Clark and his crew. It reports that, “Even though Hellboy is an effects-heavy film, Mr. Clark never wants his efforts to replace the live actor with a completely computer-generated counterpart. 'I compare it to high school plays versus actors that have studied and honed their craft,' he says. 'Good actors are good for a reason, and you cannot take that earned craft and throw it into a computer.'”

April 1, 2004
On the Market
CheburashkaThis article in
The Moscow Times says, “It should come as no surprise that Japan, the country that fell for Hello Kitty, has also warmed to Cheburashka, a cuddly, furry animal dreamed up by Soviet children's author Eduard Uspensky and brought to life in the 1960s and 1970s in a series of endearingly clunky animated films. While few in the West have even heard of Cheburashka, in Japan, he (for Cheburashka is a he, despite his lack of gender indications) is fondly known as Chebi — the hero of hundreds of fan sites, and a slogan on everything from stationery to T-shirts. ... Four films were made about Cheburashka's adventures and were even shown abroad, but never to any real success until they hit a public nerve several years ago in Japan. All of a sudden, the low-tech Soviet animation, which barely hides the hands moving the puppets around, was no longer considered commercially viable. The creators of the simple character had to get savvy — but in their haste to turn the Soviet toy into an international best seller, they found themselves embroiled in a most un-Soviet copyright dispute, the likes of which the producers who came out with the simple animations some four decades ago might never have imagined.”

Tooning In
An article in the education section of Mumbai Newsline, notes that, “With Shaadi Ka Laddoo’s toon sequence, [we look] at the ever-expanding animation industry to check out the latest career options it offers. ... Though the rapid growth in Indian animation rests in the ‘back-end’ sector (where work is out-sourced from western countries), the recent spurt in innovative efforts, like the indigenous series, Chhota Birbal, is bringing more novelty to the field. This, naturally, leads to new career prospects too. Bollywood, for one, is determined to keep up with the trend. Though an entire animation movie is yet to be made, Kireet Khurana, Director of 2nz Animation, has paved the way to incorporate some of the latest developments in animation. He has combined animation techniques with live action in a song for Raj Kaushal’s forthcoming film, Shaadi kA Laddoo.” While there are problems introducing such techniques to Bollywood, “2nz Animation has already completed filming another live-action animation song for feature film Detective Nani, directed by Romilla Mukherjee.”

In Brief: Violent Toons & Simpsons Actors Strike
The SimpsonsAccording to Stuff.co.nz, “New Zealand television is showing up to 13 violent incidents an hour on children's cartoon channel Nickelodeon, a new study has found. Released today, the report by the Television Violence Project also found six to eight violent incidents were shown hourly on TV2, TV3, Prime and Sky1. ... 'It appears that some of the cartoon our children are watching are little more than animated thuggery,' Green Party MP Sue Kedgley said today. The researchers, from Auckland University of Technology, found that cartoons were the most violent genre on New Zealand television.” ... Meanwhile, BBC News reports, “The actors who provide the voices for The Simpsons have stopped work in a pay dispute involving the renewal of their three-year contracts, it is reported. Hollywood trade paper Variety said the six actors had not shown up for two script readings in the past few weeks.” The actors involved are Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer and Yeardley Smith.

© 2004 Harvey Deneroff

 

Animation Consultants International
News on the Web — April 2004