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May 31, 2004
First Look: 'Polar Express'
Polar ExpressUSA Today (also here) notes, “When moviegoers take a ride on The Polar Express this November, they'll see a new film technology that director Robert Zemeckis likens to an oil painting. The effect makes the film experience like watching the pages of the classic Christmas story come alive. 'I wanted it to look like a movie in an oil painting, then have all the warmth, immediacy and subtleties of a human performance,' Zemeckis says in this first look at the movie. ... The classic children's tale by Chris Van Allsburg is about a boy who takes a night train to visit Santa in the North Pole.” It then describes the motion capture process used to film the actors and how they are integrated into the backgrounds. “To achieve the artistic effect, Zemeckis called upon a team of artists led by Doug Chang, who created the palette for the way the images will look, based on Van Allsburg's distinctive illustrations.”

Redford, Tippett and Monsters
Starship Troopers 2The Alameda (California) Times-Star has this interview with Phil Tippett, the special effects legend whose company Tippett Studios has been around for 20 years. The occasion of the article is that his “first film as director, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, debuts on DVD and VHS Tuesday,” and his wife Jules, who“runs the studio. 'She's my boss and my wife,' Tippett, 53, says. 'There's a line from Chinatown in there somewhere. It works out pretty well.' Perseverance and keeping things fun are among his secrets to success. 'You try to keep a sense of humor and laugh, and hopefully hook up with the right playmates who are like-minded,' he says. The trick for Starship Troopers 2 was to keep moving. The 1997 original cost $140 million. The sequel was budgeted at $6 million. 'We moved very, very quickly,' Tippett says. 'That was extremely painful, particularly toward the end. I shot with two cameras the entire time. ... Essentially, I used a Robert Altman model, with a camera on all the time.'”

Digital Art: Paychecks
San Francisco Business Times has this article on “Emeryville's Ex'pression College for Digital Arts [which] expects to more than double its revenue from 2001 to 2004 as talent demand from multimedia players like Pixar, Electronic Arts and Industrial Light and Magic ramps up. Started by Dutch billionaire Eckart Wintzen and current Ex'pression President Gary Platt in 1999, the school fed the voracious demand for technically savvy workers during the dot-com boom. But even after that bubble burst, the for-profit company has prospered by catering to a growing demand for workers to help on movies driven by computer graphics and video games rich in visual and audio detail. ... That growth will come in part from a new plan, unveiled in May, to offer bachelor's, rather than associate, degrees. But college founders and placement staff also chalk it up to a hot job market in video games and digital cinema, as well as to the strengthening over time of Ex'pression's reputation. ''Finding Nemo changed the entire landscape in the movie business, and everyone wants to make a Nemo,' said Platt. 'It had a huge impact. It's been a big thing for us.'

What Have We Learned, Smarty Jones?
Will Hickman in his current Knot Magazine sports column ends by ruminating on this childhood passion for Charlie Brown TV specials. He begins by recalling that, “When I was little, I had a lot of cartoon movies on tapes, as little kids tend to do. In particular, I had, I think, every Peanuts special ever made, which is impressive, because there are a lot of them, including one for every single holiday. (It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown!) Anyway, my favorite by far of these, which I watched regularly, all year round, was a decidedly weird film entitled What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? In it, the Peanuts gang goes to France, and Snoopy drives them around in a little French car that regularly electrocutes him for some reason. They spend most of their time lost. Then, abruptly, they wind up at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Linus proceeds to describe the D-Day invasion to Charlie Brown, in detail that would make Spielberg proud, while the animation changes from the typical warm Charles Shulz variety to something that looks like it was lifted from Pink Floyd's The Wall.”

In Brief: Arthur's Magic & Shrek 2's David Lipman
The Independent in this brief article on Cinesite, reports, “The British film animation and special effects industry has turned into a £1.4bn business thanks to the success of blockbusters such as the latest Harry Potter movie and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory .... Cinesite, one of the UK's top three post-production houses, said yesterday that it plans to double its workforce to cope with a huge increase in work from Hollywood giants such as Warner and Walt Disney. The company, part of the Kodak group, is supplying all 500 visual effects shots for the Jerry Bruckheimer epic King Arthur.” ... The Australian has this short interview with David Lipman, “the Australian-bred and South African-born [Hollywood animation producer who] returned to Sydney for the first time in eight years to spruik his latest blockbuster, the animated hit Shrek 2. 'I desperately wanted to go to film school ... but they told me I was too young so I went to an arts college instead,' said Lipman, who made his first animation by hand on a Super 8 camera. ... Lipman says there are talks for a third instalment, but he won't be involved. Last word? 'I'm all Shrekked out.'”

May 30, 2004
Faith, Hope and Anime
Jeffrey Rotter in The New York Times has this review of Breaking the Habit, the final music video from Linkin Park's Meteora album directed by “Kazuto Nakazawa (credited here as Nakazawa), a Japanese anime master best known in this country for his work in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 1. ... Breaking the Habit looks like a video game programmed by German expressionists, with flat, ghoulish figures floating through a densely layered landscape.” He concludes by saying, “Breaking the Habit may be morally simplistic, but it's a blast to watch. This is a thrilling video, elegantly animated and compellingly paced. And Mr. Nakazawa was a shrewd choice for a band whose largely adolescent audience is already interested in anime. Furthermore, his style is a good aesthetic sparring partner for the band — where Linkin Park blends dark emotions with shiny pop, Mr. Nakazawa's animation contrasts cartoon cuteness with a grim view of humanity. And anime, unlike live action, gives Linkin Park's treacly message enough ironic distance to make it palatable to teens. Best of all, Breaking the Habit makes reclaiming your life seem fun and easy.”

Tails from the Toffee That's Good for You
Scotland on Sunday has this interview with children's writer Marghanita Hughes, whose creation, Toffee the Highland calf “is about to become a household name in her homeland when her animated adventures hit the small screen. Narrated by Monarch of the Glen’s Hamish Clark (who plays Duncan), also possessed of big soft eyes and unruly curls, the series is to be on air 'very soon', confides Hughes. 'It won’t be long now. There are 13 episodes to begin with. Hamish’s narration is captivating and children are completely absorbed by it. The animation is going to be big, it’s an enormous leap for us and it’s a little scary just thinking about it,' she says.”

May 29, 2004
In Brief: PBS Kids' Channel, 'Hum Tum' & Nataraj Pencils
Hum Tum
Current reports, “PBS is talking with the producers of Barney & Friends and Sesame Street [HIT Entertainment and Sesame Workshop] about creating a digital cable network for preschoolers that would earn license fees from cable operators. The channel, co-branded with local stations, would replace the existing PBS Kids service that 74 stations now air as a DTV multicast service.” The service would be expected to include a healthy dose of animated programming. ... India Abroad has this review by Tanmaya Kumar Nanda of Kunal Kohli's Hum Tum, a movie which “is interspersed by the animated characters of Hum and Tum [pictured], which Karan has created and syndicates for a newspaper, who argue constantly about the gender divide. The animated characters effectively are the Sutradhars who inject debate into the narrative. Here, they merely move the story along a seven-year timeline. As a narrative device, they add little, even though Kohli must be cheered for the experiment. If anything, in fact, the cartoons prove that Indian animation is as good as any in Hollywood and credit for the execution must go to Prakash Nambiar of Kathaa Animations.” ... According to Indian Television, “Using 2D animation technique to depict the strength of Nataraj pencils over its counterparts, O&M Mumbai has recently released new television commercials for its client Hindustan Pencils. On the decision to prefer animation over live-action, [O&M senior creative director Sumanto] Chattopadhyay said, 'Our scripts called for animation. And since children are part of the target audience, we felt it would add the fun element that would appeal to them. We all felt that working on a category like this allows one to think in a childlike manner. And to be creative in any sphere you have to, in any case, tap into the child inside.'”

May 28, 2004
‘Shrek' Sticks a Fork in Disney Mythos
Shrek 2The Santa Cruz Sentinel columnist Wallace Baine says, “These are bleak days for the Disney empire. Top man Michael Eisner is making more enemies than Donald Rumsfeld. After a rebirth in the 1990s, Disney’s great animation division is close to comatose. Its partnership with Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo) has dissolved. And, on top of all that, there’s Shrek 2. DreamWorks’s huge hit animation, which opened to record box office last week, takes a few overt swipes at Disney icons. But more fundamentally, it is an attempt to forever bury the Disney mythos, which not only informed Disney movies, but reinforced the American Dream as well.”

Disney Cartoon Sequels Could Damage Pixar — Analyst
According to The Hollywood Reporter (here and here), “In a private meeting this week with a leading Wall Street analyst, Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner confirmed earlier company statements that the studio has several sequels in the works to the blockbuster films Pixar has created for the company. While analyst Jessica Reif Cohen of Merrill Lynch apparently regards that as a positive for Disney, she cautions that such sequels could have an 'adverse impact' on Pixar, which called off contract extension talks with Disney in January, ending a partnership that resulted in such hits as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. The unproven writing and graphics quality of Disney's work with computer-guided-image animation may have an unintentional 'contagion' impact since consumers may subconsciously associate these films as Pixar product,; Reif Cohen said.”

'Strindberg and Helium,' a Sweet Flowering of Youthful Creativity
Absinthe and WomenThe New York Times has this story by John Rockwell about “four miniature animated films viewable on the Internet under the title [August] Strindberg and Helium .... I find these films, which can be seen and heard free on www.strindbergandhelium.com, funny and sweet and adorable. They were conceived by two members of a San Francisco comedy troupe called Killing My Lobster, most of whom went to Brown University in the mid-90's. Erin Bradley, who wrote the text, is the voice of Helium, and James Bewley is Strindberg. The films were animated by Eun-Ha Paek, who is part of a computer graphics collective called Milky Elephant, then in San Francisco, now in Brooklyn. Strindberg's words are drawn from his novel Inferno and his Occult Diary. Some reasonable (if humorless) people might find Strindberg and Helium trivial. For me, these films represent a delicious skewering, affectionate and satirical, of European dead-white-male pretensions by American pop culture by way of Japanese anime (its not far from Helium to Kitty, as in Hello, Kitty), with no slight, and all due deference, to Europe, Japan or the United States.”

Simpsons' Episode Assailing Patriot Act Will Rank Among Program's Classics
Frederick B. Meekins in Michnews.com writes, “The Simpsons is a series at its wittiest when it pokes fun at issues with broader social implications. Classic episodes that come to mind include the ones spoofing the Masons, the UFO cult, and Homer's Drudge-style webpage. Joining these will no doubt be the one alluding to the Patriot Act.” He concludes, “For years, Conservative interest groups have castigated The Simpsons as inappropriately subversive. Instead, Conservatives ought to look to the show as a source of satire occasionally allied with their movement exposing in a humorous manner the folly and stupidity regularly gaining an upper hand throughout society as a result of misguided policies and faulty assumptions inherent to the liberal way of life.”

May 27, 2004
Plea for Subsidy to Motivate Animators
Peppa PigAccording to The Financial Times, “The [British] animation industry is calling for public funding to support home-grown productions, arguing that the sector behind global favourites such as Wallace & Gromit and Bob the Builder is losing out to subsidised foreign cartoons. The Producers' Alliance for Cinema & Television [Pact] launched the campaign on behalf of British animators yesterday as new data revealed UK output accounted for just 20 per cent of all animation transmitted on terrestrial television last year. ... John McVay, Pact's chief executive, said UK animators were not just having to compete against subsidised products from other countries but were also being forced into co-productions with companies already benefiting from such help. UK animators were then being forced to sign away intellectual property rights to overseas co-production partners because of their greater financial contribution. For example, under the terms of a co-production agreement the merchandising rights for Watership Down belong to a Canadian company.” The story in The Guardian concludes, “Pact will argue in presentations to the government that animation, easier to export than other language-based productions, could improve the trade balance. The plan could increase new animation, from 30 hours a year to 80 by 2005.” See also the Pact announcement and the Optima Report.

Color Chips To Set Up Base In Philippines
The Financial Express reports,Color Chips India Ltd, engaged in 2D and 3D animation, has proposed to open a wholly-owned subsidiary in the Philippines to augment its current capacity and to facilitate timely completion of ongoing projects. ... When contacted, Sudish Rambotla, the company’s chairman and managing director said that two new projects from overseas companies have called for an additional manpower apart from advanced technologies. ... The company had recently recruited a batch of 50 professionals in the Philippines and they were brought to its Hyderabad centre to supervise the ongoing projects of the company, apart from helping the 400-member team of the company.” This is certainly not the first time an Indian studio has turned to the Philippines for help and, given the severe talent shortage plaguing the Indian industry, it will probably not be the last.

In Brief: Teen Arrested for Cartoon, Mayfair Animator & Disney & Pixar After Divorce,
Camp ChaosBay City News reports (here and here), “A 14-year-old Walnut Creek [California] boy was handcuffed and arrested at Walnut Creek Intermediate School on Wednesday for an animated cartoon he posted on the Internet that officials determined was threatening to teachers. The boy's mother, Karen Hamadanyan ... described the cartoon as 'South Park-quality satire.' and said, 'I don't particularly like it and I don't like the language but he is a graphic artist. Parts of it were actually funny.'” ... Northeast Philadelphia News Gleaner has this short profile of Anthony Tobin, a Mayfair resident who “is one of the animators for VH1's second season of Camp Chaos [pictured]. ... Tobin animated background and props for the series using the program Flash.... MTV has this rundown of the animation plans for both companies after the parting of the ways, including summaries of such films as Disney 's Chicken Little, as well as Pixar's next two films, The Incredibles and Cars.

May 26, 2004
Welcome to Planet Pixar
Brad BirdThis month's cover story in Wired has this cover story on Pixar, which describes the studio's history and philosophy in some detail; it also talks about Brad Bird [pictured] and his much-anticipated first CGI film, The Incredibles, and starts, “When Brad Bird arrived at Pixar in 2000, the first director ever recruited from the outside, he was skeptical about the company's reputation as an animator's paradise. You can't blame him. Already an industry legend for getting The Simpsons and King of the Hill off the ground, Bird was furious with Warner Bros. for botching the release of his labor of love, The Iron Giant. 'They were closing down the animation division while we were still working on it,' he says. 'Every week there another exec would be gone. When they released the film, we didn't even have a poster!' So on Bird's first day at Pixar he showed up with a video camera and recorded everything, from the reception desk to the view from his office. He wanted evidence Pixar wouldn't disappear beneath his feet. ... 'The knees of Pixar are trembling under the weight of my ignorance,' he says .... 'If you were to list the 20 hardest things to do in CG, I ordered double portions of all of them: hair, hair underwater, fire, explosions, humans, human clothing, clothing falling through the air,' he says. 'I was told by some that what I wanted was impossible, that it would cost 10 gazillion dollars and take 10 years. Fortunately there was another group that said: Bring it on.'”

Figures to Marvel at as DVD Deal Struck
Marvel Comics charactersAccording to The Toronto Star, “Coming straight to home video: Marvel comic-book characters in Canadian-made animation. Marvel Enterprises, which owns a library of 4,700 characters, including Spider-Man, X-Men and Captain America, announced a deal with Vancouver-based Lions Gate Entertainment that gives the filmmaker rights to characters in exchange for a share of profits from eight DVD movies. In addition to paying licensing fees for character rights, Lions Gate will pay to produce, distribute and market the films while Marvel will play a large role in creating content. The first of the films is scheduled to be released toward the end of 2005.” See also story in The Vancouver Sun, which notes Marvel will spearhead creative development and production, choosing the animation studio(s) that may or may not include Lions Gate's Montreal-based animation wing, CineGroupe.”

Kronos Asks What Music Looks Like
Steven Winn has this review in The San Francisco Chronicle of “Last weekend's Visual Music concerts by the Kronos Quartet” which tried to take on the question of “What do we see, if anything, when we listen to music?” The program was “accompanied by lush video, classic cartoon snippets (seemingly limited by a technical misfire on opening night), a projected musical score, color-saturated lighting and movable musical sculptures.” He also delves briefly into the history of visual music, including Disney's Fantasia, and concludes by saying, “Music's ability to move, amuse, infuriate and inspire is a complex matter. Somehow, whether it's as murky as a half-remembered dream or as sharply etched as a Disney cartoon, our visual apparatus must play some role in the sensory overtones it sets off. We're listening, consciously or not, with eyes wide shut.”

The War Culture
In this Sophists.org essay, Manuel Valenzuela says, “It is the barrage of cartoons and movies such as those marketed by Disney that are conditioning our society to accept violence, death, destruction and by consequence the wars draped in the American flag. Why is it that every single Disney animated film must engage its characters in battle, war, conflict, death and violence? Why is every story and plot infused with battles only solved by violent clash? It is these forms of storylines that make it acceptable for our young to imitate and indeed believe that human society relies on Disney-like solutions to fantasy-filled problems. Disney characters seemingly always wage violent conflict with each other, pitting good versus evil, with the desired outcome always assured as long as violence is the means by which it is achieved. Why must violence be such an incessant ingredient to Disney’s success, to the great detriment of our children and society? Is the War Culture so immersed and addicted to violence that even the perceived creators of goodness and happiness must flood the big screen with a violence that has been a part of the human condition since the beginning of time?

In Brief: House of the Rising CG Artist, Anime Ascent, Pixar's Fence,
FanimeConThe Asahi Shimbun reports, “The Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, together with about 10 companies, plan to launch a project called Digital Tokiwaso to support young computer graphic animators. The project is based in name and spirit on the legendary Tokyo apartment house that produced a host of famous cartoonists, including Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka, in the post-war period. The cartoonists said that sharing the same roof enabled them to constantly encourage and inspire each other. ... Metro Newspapers, in providing this preview of the 10th annual FanimeCon, which takes place in San Jose over Memorial Day weekend, it concludes by noting, “The convention takes place simultaneously with the rerelease of the original Godzilla. Gojira ought to be the convention's mascot. Like the King of Monsters, anime was, at first, misunderstood, carelessly dubbed by idiots and disrespected by critics. And like Gojira, it's seemingly invincible.” ... The Oakland Tribune reports, “A controversial fence around the Pixar campus will stay when the company expands with three office buildings and a six-story parking garage, despite neighbors' protests. The Emeryville City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the planned 20-year expansion.”

May 25, 2004
'Shrek 2': Sequels & Relaxation Technique
Shrek 2
Reuters reports, “Record-breaking Shrek 2 cast a bigger box-office spell than first imagined, convincing distributor DreamWorks SKG that even grumpy green ogres can live happily after — at least for two more sequels. ... The head of DreamWorks animation, Ann Daly, said that with the success of Shrek 2 the studio would move ahead, one at a time, with plans for a third and fourth installment. ... Daly said DreamWorks was in final talks with the principal voice actors to return, including Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz as the newlywed green ogres with horn-shaped ears, Eddie Murphy as the talking Donkey, and Antonio Banderas as the swashbuckling Puss in Boots.” ... Back Stage has this interview with John Cleese, which goes beyond his voice work as the king in Shrek 2. In talking about voice work, he says, “Ninety-nine percent of the time you're absolutely on your own and very dependent on the director to tell you exactly what's going on, since it exists in his head. By and large, it doesn't really exist outside of his head. It hasn't been animated yet.”

Indian Animators Ride Outsourcing Wave
According to Reuters (also here), “In films, television shows and electronic games, latecomer India has started to gain favour over more established animation centres such as Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines. India is winning animation contracts for the same reasons it has become such a hot outsourcing destination for other industries: lower costs, a large English-speaking workforce and a track record in meeting Western companies' technology needs. ... Diversification by big Indian entertainment firms into animation, and players backed by large companies such as Tata's Elxsi, Reliance's Paradox and the Escorts Group's Escotoonz, will also help boost growth. But analysts remain sceptical. 'Not many firms have gone beyond being a sweatshop,' said Apurva Shah, an analyst at Prabhudas Lilladher. 'I think it's tough for an Indian firm to be another Pixar.'” ... Meanwhile, Webindia123.com notes, In what may be the first of its kind Hindi film where an animated character will act alongside actors, Friends Forever is one such film. The film has an animated character named Zampano, who will act with Bollywood celebrities, Hrishita Bhatt and Ashmit Patel. Zampano is a mischievous, fun-loving character.”

May 24, 2004
'Shrek 2' Lands Far, Far and Away Ahead of Summer Pack
Shrek 2Hollywood seems to delight in tripping over box office numbers when new records are made; thus, Box Office Mojo exclaims, “A fractured fairy tale broke records as it mended a heretofore soft summer. The widest release ever yielded the biggest single day gross ever, the highest bow ever for an animated movie (topping Finding Nemo's $70.3 million), the second best weekend ever (behind only Spider-Man's $114.8 million) and the first uber-opening of the summer. The $70 million Shrek 2 raked in a whopping $108.0 million over the weekend at 4,163 theaters, bringing its five-day haul to $129.0 million since debuting Wednesday — the third biggest 5-day bow ever.” It also reports that polling by DreamWorks indicated Shrek 2 was attracting a much wider audience than the original film. It adds, “Shrek 2 is now well-positioned to become the #1 movie of the summer [and] is on a $330 million plus trajectory.” See also The Hollywood Reporter story.

A Demure Pixar Takes No Notice of Eager Suitors
Finding NemoAccording to The New York Times (also here), “Coy is rarely a word used to describe Steven P. Jobs. So it is more than a little surprising that he seems almost uninterested in finding a new partner for his Pixar Animation Studios once its joint venture with the Walt Disney Company ends next year.” It notes that he has so far declined invitations by such companies as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. “According to one of those executives who asked not to be named, Mr. Jobs told him 'he was not ready to talk.' ... Many analysts, and even some of Disney's competitors, say what Mr. Jobs wants most is to remain with Disney. Pixar's family-oriented films are a natural fit with Disney's wholesome image, and are easy to market alongside stalwart Disney characters like Cinderella. ... The problem, according to people who know both [Jobs and Disney CEO Michael Eisner] is whether the two can reconcile their fractured relationship.” This problem could be solved, it notes, if Roy Disney's efforts to oust Eisner succeeds. Also, Jobs does not really have to make a decision on what to do until early next year.

Are the Airline's Animated Ads Any Good?
United Lightbulb commercialSlate has this review by Seth Stevenson of the United Airlines animated commercials, which he initially did not like. “But after I thought on it some more, I started to like the campaign. For one, it's gorgeous. In terms of sheer visual splendor, no other ad out now comes close. Each spot was made by a different animator (or animators), and each animator has either won or been nominated for an Academy Award. The rose-for-mom spot, in particular, is breathtaking. Russian artist Alexander Petrov paints on a pane of glass, using his fingers. He photographs the painting and then — before the paint dries — swishes and swoops it around to create the next frame in the sequence. The effect is slurrily enchanting. As for the light bulb spot [by Joanna Quinn] (and I found this somehow even more impressive), the entire thing is simply hand-drawn with a No. 2 pencil. (The color in the light bulbs was added later.)” See also USA Today story on these commercials.

In Brief: Social Consciousness & History of Children's TV
Chhutir DineyThe Daily Star reports,“[Bangladeshi] multi-media company Shailee Digital Prakashoni will soon launch Chhutir Diney — an educational cartoon script to develop the moral sense in our children. This is a presentation of live, 3-D and 2-D animation on CD.” There are several components to the story and notes, The last attraction is a wonderful presentation in 3-D animation of Tagore's famous song Megher koley rod heshechhe. ... Chhutir Diney is a powerful tool to promote moral values amongst children. However, the question is whether it will be accessible to the downtrodden children of our country as well .” ... Voice of America has posted this transcript of a broadcast giving “a history of children's television in the United States.” It's all rather brief, but does cover the role of animation.

May 23, 2004
The SimpsonsThe Season Finale That Isn't a Season Finale
The New York Times notes, “The episode of The Simpsons that will be shown tonight at 8, the finale of the Fox hit's 15th season, includes pointed social satire, Capraesque small-town sentiment, broad physical humor and sly self-referential jokes. What it doesn't have, in a time when sitcoms like Friends and Frasier featured plot arcs that played out over the course of a year, is any reference to the fact that it's the last show of the season. In The Simpsons, everything is neatly tied up at the end of an episode. ... That consistency is one reason the show is one of the longest-running sitcoms in history.” The story goes on to discuss how the show is written and includes interviews with executive producer Al Jean and Don Payne, who wrote tonight's episode.

In Brief: Crest Rides High & Ryan Laney
News Today reports, “Mumbai-based Crest Communication Limited has posted gross revenue of Rs 17.77 crore [US$3.92 million] and incurred a net loss of Rs 16.91 crore [$3.73 million]. Adjusting for extraordinary items for expenditure, the company sustained a loss of Rs 1.97 crore [$435,000] at the operating level. ... In what has been an investment phase to build itself as one of the leading CGI (computer generated images) studios, the company had to deploy over $10 million in a continuous manner. Besides, it has scaled up from a team of six animators to the present 250 in the last three years.” ... The Plainview (Texas) Daily Herald has this profile of Ryan Laney, a 32-year-old native son who is a technical director and graphics artist for Sony Imageworks. It notes, “he was technical director for Day After Tomorrow, a disaster movie, and lead technical director for Hidalgo, a movie set in the desert. ... Right now, he´s working on a movie called Stealth that will be out next summer. 'It has both live explosions and those created on the computer. Explosions are a very complex beast.'”

May 22, 2004
'Shrek 2': Box Office & A Hoot for All Ages

Shrek 2Box Office Prophets reports, “The game of one-upmanship between Pixar and DreamWorks reached a new high on Friday as Shrek 2 earned a sensational $27.9 million. This total virtually equals the $28.0 million that Finding Nemo had on its best day, meaning that any increase whatsoever in Saturday box office will give Shrek 2 the biggest single-day box office total ever for an animated release. A shattering of Finding Nemo’s weekend record of $70.2 million is a virtual certainty as well, meaning that DreamWorks has regained the throne…at least until The Incredibles arrives in theaters on November 5th.” ... Business Week has this analysis of the importance Shrek 2 has to both to Hollywood in general and to DreamWorks Animation's competitiors. It notes, “according to the show-business trade Variety, movie execs are counting on Shrek II to add some box-office vim to what has been a lousy year. ... A successful Shrek II would be significant for another reason: It would illustrate just what a steep mountain Disney must climb to regain its preeminence in movie animation. Home on the Range, Disney's own big animated feature this year, was a dud. It cost $110 million to make but has only grossed $47.3 million in its first six weeks.”

'Kid from Toledo' Still Animated after Decades of Illustrious Work
Fred LaddThe Toledo Blade has this profile of Fred Laderman, better known in animation circles as Fred Ladd. “Honored yesterday as a distinguished graduate of Ohio State University, Mr. Laderman is considered an industry trailblazer — the first to transform Japanese animation into an American commodity.” It relates how he came to do Astro Boy, the English-language version of Osamu Tezuka' s Tetsuam Atom (Iron Fisted Atom Boy), the first Japanese animated TV series, as well as Tezuka's Kimba, the White Lion. It also notes he “became a well-quoted figure in a debate that still simmers today” about the debt Disney's The Lion King owes Kimba. I am also quoted in the piece, as I am currently helping Ladd write his autobiography.

In Brief: Schmoozing in Israel & NBC's Seinfeld Fraud
The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, in reporting on a trip to Israel by members of the Entertainment Division of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, makes reference to the fact that, “Last year, U.S.-based IDT Entertainment, the parent company of L.A.-based animation studio DPS Film Roman and several other entertainment entities, opened DPSI animation studio in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Started by just eight employees, the Israeli studio now employs 130 people, works on numerous animated television shows and has begun work on its first full-length feature.” ... The San Diego Union-Tribune television critic Robert Laurence's weblog complains that, “Even in the world of bogus TV hype, this one was a beaut. For several days, NBC hyped Jerry Seinfeld's supposed return to prime-time TV. 'For one night only, Jerry Seinfeld is back!' said the network promos. And: 'Bonus Seinfeld Surprise.' ... The surprise we got from Seinfeld and NBC Thursday (May 20) turned out be — Ta-DAAAHH!! — a commercial. Not just any commercial, but a five-minute commercial, directed by formerly-classy movie director Barry Levinson. I won't even help perpetuate the fraud by telling what the product was, but the commercial starred Seinfeld, with the animated figure of Superman, wandering around Times Square in New York.”

May 21, 2004
'Shrek 2': Shrek's Green Fairy Tale & Modesto's Marc Miller
Shrek 2
The Motley Fool opines,“If the DreamWorks sequel disappoints, then Steve Jobs and his army of animators [at Pixar] can gloat and once again claim exclusive rights to the incipient form. But, if lightning strikes for the proverbial second time, then maybe Jeffrey Katzenberg and his team of creative techies will gain the confidence needed to propel their animation unit to new heights. And I can tell you this: Disney's Michael Eisner is in a bind because although he'd like to see some thunder stolen from Pixar, that'll mean his old nemesis, Katzenberg — whom Eisner was reported to have called a midget behind his back — will be guffawing once again at the chief Mouseketeer.” ... The Modesto [California] Bee has this mini-profile of 1991 Beyer High graduate Marc Miller who “worked in the lighting department at PDI/DreamWorks” on Shrek 2.

The New Animania
The Three MusketeersThe Denver Post has this story (also here) on on the growing popularity of animation and the importance of the DVD market to this growth. It notes, “The explosion in the DVD-buying market will guarantee a steady stream of new studio cartoons, even if they are straight-to-video efforts like Disney's upcoming Three Musketeers. The whole genre is enjoying a creative renaissance even as it relies more heavily on supercomputer hard drives. After all, great ideas — not microchips — turned Shrek, Nemo and Ice Age into hits. ... Disney's renewed commitment to putting cartoon characters straight onto the newly profitable DVD, skipping the risks of the box office. Lion King 1½ has sold $150 million in DVDs, topping all theatrical movies this year except The Passion of the Christ. The video-only sequel to Lilo & Stitch has made $90 million, [Scott Hettrick, editor of DVD Exclusive] said. His take on the math: A big-screen animation costs $100 million to do it right, plus at least $40 million in marketing costs. If it did well and made $85 million, the studio would see only $50 million as its share.”

Emeryville Gives First Nod to Pixar Expansion
The Berkeley Daily Planet reports, “In a unanimous vote Tuesday night in front of a divided community, the Emeryville City Council passed a resolution to help movie giant Pixar Animation Studios take a major step towards tripling the size of its Emeryville campus. While Amaha Kassa, a local environmental activist ... accused the City Council of being 'afraid to ask anything of businesses and as result businesses don’t feel they have to be accountable to the community,' the Emeryville city manager called the council decision 'a step in the right direction for other businesses' considering locating in the city. ... The decision means that Pixar will not have to file a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and is the largest potential city hurdle the project has to pass.”

DVD-Day for Disney's WWII films
Der Fuehrer's Face Michael H. Kleinschrodt in The New Orleans Times Picayune raves, “A treasure trove of World War II-era animation is the highlight of a new collection of Walt Disney Treasures titles released to DVD on Tuesday. The series ... comprises four new titles: Walt Disney's Tomorrowland, Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Vol. 2, The Chronological Donald, Vol. 1, and On the Front Lines.” He draws special attention to the latter, which includes Donald Duck's “starring role in Der Fuehrer's Face [pictured], a runaway hit that won the Oscar for best animated short subject in 1943.” It also includes the 70-minute feature Victory Through Air Power. See also reviews of this and other discs in the series by Thomas K. Arnold in USA Today and Terry Lawson in The Detroit Free Press.

In Brief: Gill Fox Dead at 88, Hanna-Barbera on DVD, Ed Catmull in Utah, Ray Harryhausen in Toronto, Mickey on State Street, Disney Cartoons and Mentally Ill
The Associated Press has this short obituary of Fox (also here), “a Pulitzer Prize-nominated cartoonist who worked on animations from Betty Boop to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles .... NPR's Day to Day radio news magazine has this audio of Charles Solomon's review of “newly released DVDs of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 1960s.” ... The Salt Lake Tribune has this report on the keynote speech Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull gave at the Utah Innovation Awards luncheon at the University of Utah, which says, “In creating such cartoon movie hits as Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, Ed Catmull learned business axioms can be as useless as, well, Buzz Lightyear's decorative rocket packs. ... It turned out, he said, that constant tweaking, re-evaluation, rewriting and, when necessary, having the courage to start over, were part of the recipe for successful movie animation.” ... The Toronto Star has this interview with Ray Harryhausen, who was in town touting his book, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life. He says, “In my early days, I was very modest and it took me a long time to learn that modesty was a dirty word in Hollywood.” ... The Chicago Sun Times notes, “15 Mickey Mouse statues will flank State Street for the next two months. Each is over 6 feet tall, is constructed of polyurethane and weighs 700 pounds. All have been designed by celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Susan Lucci, sports figures such as Andre Agassi and artists such as Gary Baseman. The one-of-a-kind works of art on display here actually are part of a collection of 75 that were first unveiled at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on Mickey's 75th birthday in November. Chicago is one of the first of a dozen cities that will feature a selection of the statues. ... This brief item in The Montreal Gazette reports (also here), “Some of Disney's magical cartoon characters encourage children to shun, fear and ridicule the mentally ill, says a new study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

May 20, 2004
'Shrek 2': Earns Record $11.8, Products Roll & Improved 'Shrek' Tech
Shrek 2
Reuters reports (also here), 'Shrek 2 debuted to a record $11.8 million at domestic box offices on Wednesday, marking the best performance by an animated film opening at midweek, its backers at the DreamWorks film studio said on Thursday. ... The previous best one-day debut at midweek by an animated movie was Pokemon The First Movie ... that opened in 1999 on a Wednesday to $10.1 million at domestic box offices.” ... Reuters also has this report (also here) noting, 'As theater curtains rose on Shrek 2 on Wednesday, another rollout was taking place in stores and supermarkets nationwide that could be just as big and maybe even greener than the animated ogre's film sequel. ... The product marketing push is the largest in the 10-year-old studio's history. It comes as talk swirls in Hollywood and on Wall Street that principals Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg are considering selling stock in the studio's animation unit through an initial public offering later this year. ... Based on the first film's success, DreamWorks has licensed about 80 companies to make Shrek items from watches to skateboards, bed sheets to backpacks, and toothpaste to computer games.” ... And The Orange County Register has this brief story about how, 'In Shrek 2, animators have made significant advances in their computer-generated art from what was possible only a few years ago when the first Shrek was made. Most of the advances are subtle, but are easy to recognize on screen. Producer Aron Warner said the two main technological advances are called sub-surface scattering and global lumination, both of which deal with how light reflects on objects.”

'Shrek 2': Animated Careers
Shrek 2
DreamWorks Animation publicity is particularly aggressive about placing home town boy/girl makes good-type stories of rank-and-file animation artists, which can sometimes be refreshing. For instance, The MetroWest (Massachusetts) Daily News has this profile of Newton native and senior character animator David Spivack, detailing the scenes he worked on. '[From] an animation standpoint, Spivack says his favorite Shrek character is Donkey. 'Because his performance is so broad and humorous, you can do a lot with body movements,' he says. ... To succeed as an animator in the computer-generated field requires 'a high tolerance for tedious things,' says Spivack. 'Because it's not easy and it takes a lot of concentration. When you're finished with it, it still has a long way to go usually as the director will ask for changes.'” ... The Springfield (Ohio) News Sun profiles Phil Garrett, a Springfield native who served as an animation production supervisor, and Wittenberg grad Jason Waltman, who works in the studio's effects department. It notes Garrett is, 'One of three supervisors at DreamWorks’ Pacific Data Images ... the 1988 North grad is the link between a director and 60 artists, making sure the latter does what the former wants it to do. 'It's a classic management-type role. You're a manager, but you're dealing with artists. It's a weird position: art meets commerce.'” As for Waltman, he says, 'I think people in general know the limitations and they know what to ask for. Sometimes the artists ask for things that just aren't possible. But with every movie, new features are added. If you compare a frame from Shrek to Shrek 2, it's visually more pleasing. Take human skin. It almost looks too real in Shrek 2,' Waltman said. 'In Shrek 3, the hair will look extremely real.'”

‘Swim' Puts Cartoon Network in Fast Lane
Sealab 2021The Associated Press has this story about the success of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block, which includes such programs as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Family Guy and Sealab 2021 (pictured). It’s an eclectic mix of sharp writing, inventive subject matter and diverse visual styles that began nearly three years ago, but was in the plans since the channel’s conception in 1992. 'We just try to do things we haven’t seen, shows and styles you don’t see everywhere, that you don’t get in other types of sitcoms or sci-fi things. If it’s a superhero, it’s a superhero with a completely crazy spin,' said Mike Lazzo, the Cartoon Network executive in charge of Adult Swim. 'We don’t even subconsciously say, let’s do something like this. We say, let’s work with that person because they’re interesting and see what they come up with.' One of those people is Andre 3000 of OutKast, who has done some artwork for the duo’s albums and is developing an animated series for Adult Swim.'”

Business Briefs: State Funds to Question Disney Board & Pixar's Fence
Reuters reports (also here), 'Six state pension funds critical of Walt Disney Co. expect to grill company directors on long-term strategy and succession plans for Chief Executive Michael Eisner at a meeting on Friday, people familiar with the meeting said. ... The meeting comes about a week after Disney reported strong quarterly earnings, which Eisner claimed as a vindication for his growth strategy. Some critics, however, have questioned whether Disney's earnings growth is sustainable and want the board to demonstrate that it can hold management accountable.” ... The Oakland Tribune has another report on the brouhaha at the 'The Emeryville City Council [which] was poised Tuesday to approve Pixar's plan to build three new office buildings and a six-story parking garage .... The expansion would take place over 20 years and create 1,300 new jobs. The council did agree Pixar's expansion would not create significant negative impacts to the community. But the unified front dissolved over the location of a fence — or whether there should be a fence — along Hollis Street when two new office buildings go up.” Pixar's objection to the removal of the fence being the main point of contention.

In Brief: 'Ryan' Applauded & PJ's Idea
Canadian Press, reporting from the Cannes Film Festival, says, “Ryan, [a] NFB co-production by director Chris Landreth, is a 3-D computer-animated film about Ryan Larkin, once one of Canada's top NFB animators, now a panhandler. Pleased with the 'thunderous applause' his short film received, Landreth said young French filmmakers who are on the cutting-edge of the animation industry have been impressed by the computer graphics, as well as the way the work combines animation and documentary.” ... According to The Chicago Sun Times, “A Chicago filmmaker documented life in the Robert Taylor Homes, then turned it over to Oprah Winfrey, hoping for his big break. Now he says he was ripped off. In a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday, filmmaker Daryl Murphy said actor Eddie Murphy, director Ron Howard, Fox Broadcasting Co. and a host of other defendants stole his ideas and plugged them into the animated series The PJs [which was produced by the Will Vinton Studios]. Winfrey is not named in the lawsuit.”

May 19, 2004
More 'Shrek 2' Reviews
Shrek 2The reviews for the new DreamWorks film directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon continue to be on the positive side, though a few have their reservations. For instance, Stephen Hunter in The Washington Post feels the film has “a piecemeal plot that seems to go nowhere and be about nothing and wind up no place, somewhat effectively camouflaged by a number of intriguing but incidental bits.”He concludes it is “very pretty to look at, very hard to care for.” ... Ty Burr in The Boston Globe says, “Having no inherent reason to exist, second films must struggle to convince us otherwise. That said, I don't think I've ever seen a movie plunge so far over the cliff before pulling out of its nosedive and soaring into the air (motor spluttering) as Shrek 2. ... But the story line remains the weakest and most forced part of Shrek 2, and sometimes you pray for it to just get out of the way.” ... On a more positive note, Rick Groen in The Toronto Globe and Mail gushes that, “It's lightning quick, it's ultra-slick, it's awfully funny and, needless to say, it's state of the art, digitally animated right down to the last perfect hair on that donkey's smart ass. ... In short, the Shrek franchise is alive and well — Model 2 is zippier, sleeker, with ever-improving graphics, vast commercial potential and the same sly ability to reach out and hook the whole family.”

Living in Animation
Shrek 2Rediff has this home-town-girl-makes-good profile of Vanitha Rangaraju-Ramanan, a lighting technical director on Shrek and Shrek 2, who grew up in Trichy, in southern India. It notes, “In Shrek 2, she ... worked on hair design for several key characters, including the King and the Queen. 'Hair is one of the hardest things to do in computer graphics, mainly because it is extremely geometry-intensive,' she says. 'For example, having one character with a full head of hair strands is equivalent to roughly 100 characters without hair.' ... Lighting technical directors also help the artistes achieve their goals, she continues. 'You act as a liaison between the technical side of the production and the artistic side, because you have both technical and artistic knowledge and skills. 'In Shrek I was a lighting technical director,' she says. 'In the new film, I moved up to become more involved in the creative process directly as a lead lighter. You get more hands-on with the work.' ... She would love to make a short film when she gets time, she adds, asserting that it will be animated. 'That is the medium I enjoy the most,' she says, chuckling more. 'So do my nieces and nephews.'”

Portrait of a Filmmaker's Descent into Panhandling
RyanThe Ottawa Citizen has this report (also here) from the Cannes Film Festival, which begins by noting, “Thirty-five years ago, a Canadian animator named Ryan Larkin was nominated for an Oscar for an innovative movie called Walking. Today, he lives at Montreal's Old Brewery Mission and panhandles outside Schwartz's Delicatessen on St. Laurent Boulevard. How he got there is the subject of Ryan, a movie that is part animation and part documentary: 13 minutes of creatively jagged imagination that pictures Larkin with only part of a face and an open skull. Ryan looks inside that skull to find a disturbing mixture of resignation, anger and waste. ... Lambeth's [3D animation] technique pays homage to some of Ryan's animation, which was made by making hundreds of original drawings: He shows Ryan walking in profile as a salute to Walking, the 1969 Oscar contender made at the National Film Board of Canada. But it is wholly original work that is both twisted and realistic looking, save for the fact that Ryan has only part of a head and that there seems to be something boiling in behind his brain.”

'Japanimation' Makes Cannes Debut
InnocenceAccording to Agence France-Presse, “Japanese director Mamoru Oshii's futuristic art movie Innocence is the first example of 'Japanimation' to be selected in competition for the Cannes film festival's coveted Palme d'Or. The visually stunning animated film, which gets its festival screening on Thursday, blurs the line between humans and machines, dream and reality. ... The use of both traditional two-dimensional animation and three-dimensional computer graphics (3DCG) to twist viewers' perceptions are among the film's visual effects that have drawn rave reviews in Japan, where the film was released in early March. ... Innocence is one of two animated films out of 18 movies in competition this year, along with Shrek 2 .... Cannes is belatedly recognising Japan's animated movie genre. In the 2003 Academy Awards, Hayao Miyazaki won the Oscar for best animated feature with Spirited Away, which a year earlier became the first animated film to win a Golden Bear award at the Berlin film festival.” See also shorter version of the story here.

Pixar Threatens to Leave Emeryville in Spat over Fence
The East Bay Business Times reports (also here), “Pixar Animation Studios threatened to leave Emeryville during an emotional eruption at the Emeryville City Council late Tuesday. Pixar, creator of box office hits like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, will leave Emeryville, a company executive said, if the council embraces a proposal to eliminate much of the eight-foot-high metal fence that surrounds the company's campus. The company delivered its ultimatum as council members seemed to be seriously considering the teardown. Pixar facilities director Tom Carlisle delivered the threat in an impassioned speech, leaving some council members sputtering and much of the city staff looking ashen. In the end, the council decided to table the contentious decision for a week.” ... The plan seemed to be gaining momentum during the meeting. Several community members spoke in support of it, and Councilman Richard Kassis voiced support for it. 'We all bought into that you guys need a fence,' Kassis said of the company's 1998 move to Emeryville, at which time Pixar had already insisted it would need a barrier around its campus. 'But ... for the life of me I cannot understand why this item, a brick building, cannot serve as a secure fence.'” See also earlier report in The Oakland Tribune, which begins by noting, “Residents here [in Emeryville] turned out in force Tuesday night both to support Pixar's three-building expansion plans and to ask that the company do more to help the community.”

Dept. Of Prevention: Pitching Rubbers
The Three AmigosThe New Yorker has this article about The Three Amigos, a PSA by Brent Quinn promoting the use of condoms, which is being used in South Africa's fight against HIV. “'We really need to destigmatize the condom,” Brent Quinn said the other day, as he sipped from a Margarita. “Let’s make the condom lovable. It’s kind of a crap word. If you say, ‘Hey, have you got an Amigo?’ it’s a bit more lovable. Quinn, who is forty-five, is a South African screenwriter and comic who recently started an unlikely humor campaign to stop the spread of AIDS. He was talking about it at a burrito joint downtown shortly before returning to Johannesburg, following a week of meetings, in Washington and New York, with various government and international organizations ... seeking funding for worldwide distribution of ... The Three Amigos, which has become a cult sensation in South Africa.” See also storyhunters.com report on the article.

Rome: First a Game, Now on TV
Rome: Total WarWired News reports, “As video-game graphics evolve to portray increasingly realistic environments, TV producers are turning to game developers for help in re-creating history. The History Channel is the first TV network to utilize a not-yet-released PC game to visually re-create epic battles and tell the story of key confrontations in Roman history. Decisive Battles, a 13-episode, half-hour series that debuts July 17, makes use of British video-game developer The Creative Assembly's Rome: Total War PC game (pictured), which Activision will publish this fall. ... Margaret Kim, director of programming and executive producer for the History Channel's Decisive Battles show, hopes that the fresh perspective the video game brings to history will attract a new audience to the channel. ... In particular, the History Channel is hoping the use of video-game graphics will score points with younger viewers.” See also Hardware Zone story.

LSU Festival Plan Animates Organizers with Vision for BR
The Baton Rouge Advocate says, “Like the once-declining industrial town of Middlesbrough, [England] which in the 1990s transformed itself by embracing technology from its local university, LSU [Louisiana State University] officials want to apply computer research to turn Baton Rouge into a technology hub. But first things first. LSU hopes to showcase its creative technology with an international film festival, a program that will include some heavy hitters from Hollywood, and could help launch a new industry. The first Red Stick International Animation Festival is planned April 20-23 at the downtown Shaw Center for the Arts. ... Organizers pitched the event Tuesday with presentations from their English mentors, who founded Middlesbrough's Animex international festival.”

May 18, 2004
'Shrek 2' Reviews
Shrek 2The first batch of reviews are in for Shrek 2 and, as expected, they are mostly estatic. The Associated Press' Christy Lemire says, “Whatever was wrong with Shrek — and there were more weaknesses than its beloved status would suggest — has been eradicated or improved upon with Shrek 2, a rare example of a sequel that’s better than the original. ... the most important change of all, and the most fundamental, is in the screenplay. While the Shrek script consisted of little more than a litany of pop culture references, many of which already felt stale, Shrek 2 has a strong story line, with more fully developed characters.” ... CNN's Paul Clinton agrees, concluding that “Shrek 2 is downright wonderful. It's the best comedy of the year so far.” ... However, A.O. Scott in The New York Times (also here) demurs somewhat, saying, “For myself I accept Shrek 2 for what it is — a slick and playful entertainment that remains carefully inoffensive beneath its veneer of bad manners — but I don't really love it. ... Certainly Shrek 2 offers rambunctious fun, but there is also something dishonest about its blending of mockery and sentimentality. It lacks both the courage to be truly ugly and the heart to be genuinely beautiful.”

'Shrek 2 ' — Can the Ogre Sell the Stock?
Shrek 2The effect of Shrek 2's prospects on the financial health of DreamWorks SKG continues to generate interest among financial reporters. The latest is this CNN/Money story, which says, “even if DreamWorks SKG's sequel to its 2001 hit turns out to be as big a box office and profit hit as anticipated, investors should be wary of the studio's plans for an initial public offering [for its animation division]. That's because the company's track record has been uneven at best, and it faces increased competition and the typical difficulties seen by stocks of stand-alone movie studios. ... Independent stock analyst Dennis McAlpine said DreamWorks' uneven record compared to Pixar should give pause to potential investors. 'Pixar's movies have been better than average and better than what DreamWorks has seen,' said McAlpine. 'The reviews are good on Shrek 2. It's not I don't have faith in DreamWorks. I just don't know how you make it an attractive investment.'”

Pixar Draws Critics for Expansion Plan
The Oakland Tribune reports, Pixar, the famous animation studio beloved for such hits as Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and Toy Story, is not getting the same adoration for plans to expand its Emeryville campus. According to plans headed to the Emeryville City Council tonight, the studio is seeking approval to construct three more buildings and a six-story parking garage within its 21-acre fenced enclave bounded by Park Avenue, 45th Street, Hollis Street and the Promenade Project on San Pablo Avenue. ... But while many neighbors like Pixar, they say the company could do more to reduce what will likely be significant traffic and pollution impacts as more employees are added. Other residents and a few elected officials say the company could do a better job of integrating its campus into the community by removing fences or adding more attractive landscaping along Park and Hollis. At the same time, those elected officials don't want to rock the boat too much for fear of losing the company headquarters to another city; Pixar relocated from Richmond to Emeryville in 1999.”

Animator Offers Dose of Abstract & Dutch Animation Stars Illuminate Seoul
The JoongAng Daily has this brief interview with Adriaan Lokman whose Annecy Award winning short film, Barcode, was seen at The Korea-Dutch Animation Festival. It says, “from Barcode, he created Barcode Live, a live animation using a computer program he developed in the Netherlands. The setting he envisioned for Barcode Live was clubs with electronic music.” Asked if he considers himself an abstract animator, he says, “I'm still surprised by it. I don't think Barcode is abstract. I made it very simple, and I threw a lot of things away. There are certain rules to moviemaking. I thought about it, but I thought this way, it's easier to attract the audience's attention for a film that is already strange. In eight minutes, you don't have a lot of time for people to get used to the film's language. On the other hand, Barcode Live is not narrative, it's totally abstract.” ... The JoongAng Daily also provides this overview on what's showing at the Korea-Dutch Animation Festival

On NBC's Lineup, 'Pride' but No Shame
The Washington Post in reporting on a show touting NBC's fall lineup notes, “In what has to be a broadcast network first, NBC on Monday trotted out a partially paralyzed mauling victim as part of its dog-and-pony show to promote its new prime-time lineup to advertisers. Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn talked to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall via satellite about NBC's new animated Tuesday comedy, Father of the Pride. It's about a pride of white lions that perform in the 'world famous Siegfried and Roy show,'” However, the fact that the act has closed down since Horn suffered a stroke after being mauled during a performance in October, the “ jokes [in the clips shown advertisers] took on a tacky inappropriateness, as when Animated Roy says to Animated Lion Family, 'Goodbye my lions, or should I say “GRRRRRR!,” ' as he crouches down and tries to look like a wild cat.”

In Brief: Pooh's Honeypot Wrangling, IDT's Graphics Empire & Measle and the Wrathmonk
Measle and the Wrathmonk coverAccording to Reuters (also here), “ A Los Angeles judge who threw out a 13-year-old suit against Walt Disney over Winnie the Pooh royalties, has refused to step down from the case, dismissing a challenge to his impartiality. Another judge must review the motion by Stephen Slesinger Inc., which two weeks ago argued that Judge Charles McCoy favoured Disney and should step down or be disqualified from the case and that his pro-Disney ruling of March 29 should be vacated.” See also the Slesinger Family Statement issued as a press release.
The New York Post asks, “Is an oft-ignored telecom company from Newark poised to be the next global entertainment giant? IDT Corp., best known for its calling cards and its back-end telecom services, has quietly assembled an impressive portfolio of media assets under its IDT Entertainment unit.” It notes that just last week, IDT acquired anime distributor Manga Entertainment and made a deal with “Todd McFarlane to bring the Emmy -winning Spawn series back to life.” It also reports IDT Entertainment's claim to be“ producing more minutes of animation than any other studio in the world.” ... According to Comingsoon.net, “Warner Bros. and [Robert Zemeckis'] ImageMovers have purchased Measle and the Wrathmonk, the first of what will be a three-book series by Ian Ogilvy, reports Variety. The film is eyed as another opportunity to use the 'performance capture' [i.e., motion capture] animation technique to be used this fall in The Polar Express.

May 17, 2004
A Monster Hit but No Happily Ever Afters

Shrek 2The New York Times notes, “With the release this Wednesday of Shrek 2, DreamWorks SKG will probably enjoy the benefits of something that has lately been in exceedingly short supply: a hit. Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen created DreamWorks in 1994, promising an entertainment powerhouse for the 21st century. But a decade on, the television production business has not had a hit in years, the music division was sold off last year, the Internet ambitions popped with the rest of the dot-com bubble and the live-action movie division is significantly smaller than its major competitors. Which is why many analysts and Hollywood executives say the possibility of DreamWorks Animation, the most marketable part of the company, going public this fall may be the best hope of cashing out for longtime investors like the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.”

For This Animated Movie, a Cast of Household Names
Foodfight!The New York Times has this story on Foodfight! (also here), the CGI movie due out next year. It notes, “Threshold Entertainment , a modestly sized animation and special effects company that has never made a full-length animated film before, hopes to go Toy Story one better [in using name brands] with Foodfight!, [which] takes place in a supermarket after the lights go down. ... In the movie, Charlie [the Tuna], Mr. Clean, the Coca-Cola polar bears and other well-known product icons come alive at night after the customers have left. Joining with characters created by Threshold ... they try to save the store from the evil Brand X. ... To hold down costs, Threshold outsources most of its work. It employs only 22 digital animators at its headquarters in Southern California; it expects to use about 100 others, many of them working from their homes in Australia, Europe and South Korea. Threshold has also struck a deal with IBM to use its Linux server farm in Poughkeepsie, NY, when extra processing power is needed to supplement Threshold's 120 on-site PC's.” The film, however, still does not have a domestic distributor.

After Eisner: Stanley Gold's 'Short List'
Business Week has this interview (also here) with Stanley Gold who, with Roy Disney, is attempting to oust Michael Eisner from his leadership of the Walt Disney Co. He notes, “I have said publicly that if they [the Disney board of directors does not get rid of Eisner], we'll do something to dislodge the board.” Asked when, he replies, “Well, their next annual meeting is at the beginning of next year.” As to who would be on his short list to replace Eisner, it includes News Corp. President Peter Chernin, Viacom President Mel Karmazin, Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's chairman of entertainment and networks, and MTV Networks chief Tom Freston. As to Pixar Chairman Steve Jobs?, he says, “He's definitely on the short list. He has proven that he has creativity, talent, and the people on the creative side love to work for him. The result is that his product is very good, and it makes money. This is not rocket science.”

Local Films Get High Tech
ArahanThe Korea Times has this report on the increasing use of digital special effects in Korean movies. It says, “Although local movies have increased the use of computer graphics, most of them were merely mediocre or disappointing in terms of their special effects in the past. But the latest local movies such as 'Taegukgi' and Arahan (pictured) seem to now be able to compete with the technology of Hollywood films like The Matrix trilogy. People tend to expect comic book-inspired films like Arahan or sci-fi epics like Star Wars to be full of scenes enhanced by computers. However computer graphics are also used in such realistic movies as the recent Korean War epic Taegukgi and the traditional folk story-based film Chunhyang (2000), though it might be harder to tell. ... In battle scenes from Taegukgi, 500 extras were made into 100,000 soldiers, and images from different locations were merged to create fictional traditional towns in Chunhyang.

India Director to Have Animation Academies in Dubai, Kathmandu
Indo-Asian News Service reports (here, here and here), “Indian film director Ketan Mehta's animation academy plans to set up overseas centres in several cities, including Dubai, Kathmandu, Colombo and Bangkok, to cater to the rising demand for skilled animators. The three-year-old Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics (MAAC) is producing scores of trained personnel to meet both domestic and overseas demand for animators .... 'In Dubai we are already in talks to set up our own institute with an investment of around Rs. 2.5 million ($550,000) but in other places like Kathmandu we are planning either a joint venture or the franchise route as we have done at many places in the country,' said [Naveen Gupta, vice president of MAAC]. Gupta sees great potential in catering to the demand in the entire Middle East through the academy in Dubai. Within the country, MAAC is planning to start around half a dozen academies this month, including three in Bangalore.”

May 15, 2004
Shrek, Meet Your New Father-in-Law
John Cleese voicing Shrek 2The New York Times has this interview with Monty Python alumnus John Cleese, who is “the voice of King Harold [in Shrek 2], a narrowly rational potentate who tries to foil the marriage of his daughter, Fiona (the voice of Cameron Diaz) to the title character (Mike Myers).” He says, “I think animation is taking on an importance that's very different from what it used to have. In the old days, I don't think anybody knew particularly well who did the voices in Bambi. And now, all of a sudden, not only are the actors doing it, but so are all the young writers. I'm writing an animated movie at the moment for DreamWorks [about cavemen]. And my son-in-law, he's now working in animation. He's written a very zany comedy.” ... See also a separate interview with Cleese in The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Man Who Made the Monsters Move
Charles Solomon has a review of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen's autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, in The San Francisco Chronicle. He notes, “After years of neglect, Harryhausen and his work are belatedly getting the attention they deserve. The artist recently received a star on Hollywood Boulevard, he appeared in a cameo in Spy Kids II, and Pixar animators named a trendy restaurant after him in Monsters, Inc. His new memoir lives up to the subtitle An Animated Life, as it focuses almost exclusively on his career, from his early short films to the features that showcased his special effects wizardry. ... It's astonishing to discover just how little these effects-heavy films cost. In his account of making The Valley of Gwangi (1969), Harryhausen notes, in the late 1960s a typical effects budget for us would have barely been $35,000-$40,000. He later comments that the $16 million budget of Clash of the Titans (1981) exceeded the sum total of all the Schneer/Harryhausen collaborations up to that point — 14 features!”

Bill Moritz Tribute Issue of Animation World Magazine
I usually don't include animation publications here, but I will make an exception to the special issue of Animation World Magazine devoted to the late Bill Moritz, whose passing I have previously noted. Bill was a pioneering animation historian, with special interest in Oskar Fischinger and other abstract filmmakers, as well as German animation. The issue is basically an anthology of Moritz's writings for Animation World Magazine, some of which I had the honor of editing, and includes articles on such topics as Lotte Reininger, Mary Ellen Bute, Frédéric Back, Feodor Khitrik, and visual music, which is practically a book in itself. There is also Cindy Keefer's profile of Bill and Robin Allan's review of Moritz's last book, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger, along with tributes by the likes of Jerry Beck, Giannalberto Bendazzi, John Canemaker, Christine Panushka and myself, among many others. Highly recommended.

May 15, 2004
'Shrek 2' Gets Rapturous Reception

The team of "Shrek 2" arrive at the top of the steps of the Palais des Festivals.“The team of Shrek 2 arrive at the top of the steps of the Palais des Festivals,”is the caption for this photo issued by the Cannes Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere. In this regard, Reuters reports, “Critics have given a rapturous reception to Shrek 2 at the Cannes film festival, guffawing over the tale of a green ogre who finds true love. 'Thank you for that,' DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said on Saturday after the critics, often notoriously hard to please at Cannes, welcomed the follow-up to the worldwide hit for voiceover stars Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. With global appetite raging for animation movies, Katzenberg said work had already begun on Shrek 3 and Shrek 4.” ...Along the same lines, BBC News says, “The film may be in the running for the festival's prestigious Palme d'Or award — but its stars have played down their chances of winning.”... At the same time, The Associated Press gushes, “Even the snooty Cannes Film Festival loves computer animation, which has become such the rage in Hollywood that it has virtually displaced traditional hand-drawn cartoons on studio slates.” It then adds, “Filmmakers say it's largely Hollywood's follow-the-leader mentality that has elevated computer animation over the traditional cartoon form ... 'CG is the new thing that people are interested in animation, and 2-D had a huge run there. It had about a 17-year golden age that it's kind of coming off of,' said Kelly Asbury, co-director of Shrek 2. 'Now there's a new form of animation. There's going to be a CG film that doesn't succeed, and people are going to say, 'Oh no, people aren't interested in CG anymore.'”

Ovitz Goes Wild & Eisner Retains $1 Million Salary
According to Bloomberg, “Former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz testified that he should be able to keep his $140 million severance because he saved the company more than that by fixing projects for Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner. Ovtiz's remarks, contained in transcripts filed two weeks ago in state court in Wilmington, Delaware, came in a deposition for a lawsuit by shareholders to recover the money. The suit comes to trial Oct. 18. Shareholders sued Ovitz, Eisner and several directors, alleging the payment for his 1996 firing was a waste of company money.” See also stories in The New York Post and The New York Daily News. ... The Associated Press reports (here and here), “Michael Eisner will keep his $1 million annual salary as chief executive of The Walt Disney Co., although he no longer serves as board chairman, according to the company's quarterly report. His compensation package still remains lower than those given to executives at Time Warner Inc. and Viacom Inc. The company disclosed his salary Thursday in its quarterly filing. ... Analysts said it was not unusual or unexpected that Eisner would retain his full salary, given that he has most of the same responsibilities to run the company he had before he was removed as chairman.”

Mixed Media Probes Divided Nation
Drawing by William Kentridge for the film Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old.A screening by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image of 12 films by William Kentridge, as well as an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and a staging of a recent opera, spurred this article in The Age about the South African artist and animator. It notes, “His intense charcoal drawings and animations, largely inspired by his experiences under a harsh [apartheid] regime, have become sought-after collectors' items and a curatorial must-have for museums and galleries around the world. Kentridge's drawings stand alone as powerful, gestural recordings of memories and semi-fictional mis-en scenes, but it is his animations that have left audiences spell-bound.”

May 14, 2004
In 'toon
Shrek 2USA Today has this story on the animation fortunes of DreamWorks and the imminent release of Shrek 2. It notes, “the studio hasn't had an animated success since the original Shrek. Heck, it hasn't even had a modest live-action hit since its aged frat-boy frolic Old School more than a year ago. Also at issue: The company may offer shares in its animation unit to the public later this year. A new day is about to dawn, and Shrek 2 signals a confident switch in style. ... 'They are chapters in our past,' Katzenberg says of Spirit and Sinbad. Since animated features take about four years to complete, 'Those films were well into production when Shrek came out. We knew it would take a couple of years to achieve a new direction.' ... 'They've figured out a formula that works for them,' says animation expert Jerry Beck. 'It's not so much a change at DreamWorks but a change in audience tastes and attitudes. The Disney style that Katzenberg honed so well and revitalized is not in fashion.' ... Shrek 2 [also] marks the debut of a customized animation logo, which flashes onscreen before the film while strains of the big green guy's theme song are heard.”

'Shark Tale' Takes a Bite Out of Cannes
Shark TaleDreamWorks is taking full advantage of the publicity surrounding the screening of Shrek 2 at Cannes to tout its upcoming Shark Tale. Thus, The Associated Press obligingly reports that, The Cannes Film Festival has had its first shark attack. Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Jack Black rode a 14-foot inflatable shark Friday along the beach in the Mediterranean resort town to promote their upcoming computer-animated flick Shark Tale, which debuts in October.” While The Scotsman added that, “Fans hoping [Jolie] the Tomb Raider beauty would strip down to a skimpy bikini for the occasion were disappointed — she took to the water in a lifejacket over her jumper and jeans.” Other stories focus on these actors' voice work, including these reports from BBC News and Reuters.

Weta Workshop Wary of Employment Law Changes
The New Zealand Herald reports, “Wellington's Oscar-winning Weta Workshop has told a parliamentary committee proposed changes to employment law would make it more difficult to compete internationally. Weta's submission today to the committee which is considering the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill said the type of work undertaken by the special effects film company was subject to tight time frames, weather conditions, the availability of overseas actors and production facilities. 'This means that we often work through public holidays and change rosters at short notice,' the written submission said.” Weta's submission was on behalf of a group of companies which mainly services “Three Foot Six, producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. ... The bill is designed to strengthen good faith bargaining, protect workers when businesses change hands, and prevent employers undermining the conditions of the Employment Relations Act.”

Disney Foes in Pooh Case Want New California Trial
In not unexpected news, Reuters reports, “The family firm suing Walt Disney Co. over merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh has asked the Los Angeles court that threw out the 13-year-old suit to grant a new trial. The motion by Stephen Slesinger Inc. responds to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy's March 29 ruling that the firm was guilty of misconduct and stealing evidence. McCoy then threw out the case, a move the Slesingers challenged as too harsh a sanction in their filing made late on Thursday.”

May 13, 2004
GE's NBC Completes Universal Acquisition & Considers MGM Bid
The New York Times reports, “NBC formally announced the completion of its acquisition of Vivendi Universal's entertainment operations yesterday, promising a new entity that will aggressively cross-market its television, movie and theme park properties to drive profits while avoiding the pitfalls of previous media mergers. ... Bob Wright, the current chief of NBC, will be chairman of the new NBC Universal, which will have 7 cable channels, including USA and Bravo; 29 television stations; movie and television production studios; and 5 theme parks.” The deal, was between Vivendi Universal and NBC's parent, General Electric, was criticized by the Center for Digital Democracy for eliminating one of the last major independent outlets for writers. In terms of animation, Universal Cartoon Studios is mainly involved in direct-to-video features, some TV series, and owns the Walter Lantz library. The International Herald Tribune adds that, “General Electric may seek to buy the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer now that its NBC television network has been merged with Vivendi Universal's U.S. entertainment assets, Bob Wright, chief executive of the new NBC Universal, said Wednesday. See also The Associated Press story.

Is DreamWorks' Next Epic an IPO?
Business Week has this story that asks, “Is DreamWorks going to follow Google and launch its own initial public offering (IPO)? It's definitely thinking about it. The privately held movie studio, started nearly a decade ago by superstar director Steven Spielberg and moguls David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, says it's considering a public sale for its animated unit, which has turned out such critically acclaimed hits as Shrek and Antz. However, it does allow that it's looking to unlock some of the value it has built up in the animation unit, which includes PDI, its crown jewel. PDI is the 300-person computer animation studio in Palo Alto that the company bought five years ago, in part to do battle with Steve Jobs and his Pixar Animation Studios. ... How much the DreamWorks animation unit would be worth is unclear. But the valuation could be pegged to a recent $100 million investment in the overall studio by Japanese holding company Kodokawa Holdings for a 2.83% stake. That values DreamWorks at just over $3.5 billion, likely putting the money-generating animation unit at around $2.5 billion to $3 billion.”

'Shrek 2': Where to Go from Happily Ever After?
Shrek 2Zap2it.com has this background piece on Shrek 2 which seems to buy into DreamWorks promoting both the film's story and its cutting-edge technology in the same way Pixar does. Thus, it notes, “The three-dimensional animation used in the first film was obsolete when they started the sequel two years later so audiences should be prepared for an even more impressive visual experience. The greatest advancement in Shrek 2 is the PDI/DreamWorks bounce shader that shows how natural light would affect the scene or characters. Shrek's face has more expression, thanks to 218 facial muscles alone that were operated by computer. The artistic team went even further, perfecting the use of rain and fur in the film, including animating 50,000 hairs on Prince Charming's head.”

Studio Kasatmata Got its Start in University Lab
The Jakarta Post has this profile of Studio Kasatmata, which notes, “They are a group of 12 university students and recent graduates from Yogyakarta, brought together in Studio Kasatmata, who recently brought us the first locally made, fully three-dimensional animated movie, Homeland. Their portfolio is impressive, ranging from architectural models, animated shorts, music video clips and now a feature-length animated movie. And all of this came about because 'we just wanted to get a kick out of trying', said animator and one of the Kasatmata's founders, Kelik Wicaksono, during a recent interview at Visi Anak Bangsa's headquarters in South Jakarta.”

TV Gets Animated
Harvey Birdman Attorney-at-LawThe Christian Science Monitor has this report on the current state of adult TV animation. It notes that,“This year ... a dark horse has charged onto the TV scene: animation, a genre that to date has provided some of the edgiest and most sophisticated shows on TV. NBC, Fox, the SciFi Channel, and Comedy Central — to name a few — plan to add animated fare to their menu next season. Just as The Simpsons essentially saved Fox Network 15 years ago, animated cartoons could become the small screen's pinch hitters, even if they've been benched for a while. 'To a large degree, network programming has quit taking risks and is becoming the same thing over and over again,' says Mike Lazzo, a senior vice president at Cartoon Network. 'And I think that animation is just something different.' (Pictured is Harvey Birdman Attorney-at-Law, which is part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block.)

Well-rendered Television
Game OverJim Munroe in Toronto Eye Weekly stands up for Game Over, the short-lived primetime CGI TV series which got pulled from the air after only a short run. He admits, “I got hooked on UPN's Game Over the first episode I saw. Admittedly, I expected it to suck, presumed it would be a cheap cash-in on videogame hype with a dysfunctional family à la The Simpsons, which one of its producers wrote for. But despite the similarities with that most esteemed clan, the family in Game Over doesn't come off as derivative. ... It's a sharp depiction of a passive-aggressive neighbourly interaction that manages to mix the real and ridiculous. And the attention to detail — the grey stubble shading the monk's head, his saying thank-you in Mandarin (xie xie) — shows an admirable familiarity with the cultures being lampooned.”

Pixar's Plan Closes Doors to Community
The San Francisco Chronicle asks, “ Is Jobs man enough to realize that with a little ingenuity he can make his corporate home in Emeryville a whole lot better? The question arises because, on Tuesday, Emeryville's City Council will be asked to clear the way for Pixar Animation Studios to add three office buildings and a 1,081-car garage to its 21-acre campus in the center of this small East Bay city. ... There's a chance for him to create the enclave of animation he craves, maintain the private preserve of hillocks and meadows and jogging paths — and at the same time create a gem-like plaza that could serve as Pixar's front door to Emeryville and the world. The result could be a wonderful civic gesture. Done right, it would show that Pixar understands that the measure of a company isn't simply what it does to make a profit, but the impact it has on its surroundings.”

In Brief: IDT Acquires Manga & Chay Hawes
New York Newsday reports in passing that, IDT Entertainment said Thursday that it has acquired Manga Entertainment, a film company specializing in Japanese animation, or 'anime.'” Further details on the latest in IDT's continuing animation-related acquisition binge can be found in this press release, which boasts that, “Manga Entertainment is one of the largest distributors of Japanese 'anime' outside of Asia, with rights to over 300 titles,” including Ghost in the Shell. ... The Banbury Guardian has this brief home-boy-makes-good profile of Chay Hawes, “The 21-year-old from Eydon designed several of the characters for [I'm Not An Animal,] the comedy animation series during a year working for Triffic Films as part of a student placement.”

May 12, 2004
Shrek 2 Carries Heavy Load for Anxious DreamWorks
Shrek 2
The fate of DreamWorks is the focus of this story in The Los Angeles Times (here and here) which begins, “Its time, the fairy godmother cruelly informs Shrek 2s green ogre, you stop living in a fairy tale. Can the same now be said to DreamWorks? Founded 10 years ago, the studio is poised to enjoy a monster summer, as every one of its four summer films stands out as a potential blockbuster,” including, of course, Shrek 2. “But like all once-upon-a-time stories, there have been many surprise turns for DreamWorks to get this far. Just as Shrek has proved to be much more of a phenomenon than anyone could have envisioned, DreamWorks itself has become much less of a studio than initially projected and hyped. By the studio's own admission, this summer represents a critical juncture in the company's history.”

Mark Schilling in Screen Daily has this review of Casshern, “ Kazuaki Kiriya’s retro futuristic epic” based on the 1970s animated TV series. The box office hit “was shot for only Y600m (sub $10m), mostly on blue and green screen, in around three months, with six months in post. Usually filmmakers try to blend CG cuts into live-action images as seamlessly as possible: Kiriya, however, made the live-action shots fit the CG-created images. ... Stylistically, the film ... owes more to European features like Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element or Enki Bilal’s recent Immortel (Ad Vitam) than Hollywood — or indeed anything Japanese. Its aesthetic is diametrically opposed to the 'glittery future city' and 'cool mecha' look of recent offerings like recent anime title Appleseed and so much other 'traditional' Japanese sci-fi. It will be interesting to see what foreign anime fans — who tend to be several years behind their Japanese counterparts in tastes — make of it.”

Stan Lee Rises from Dot-com Rubble
Stan LeeUSA Today reports, “Almost four years later, Stan Lee, the usually chatty comic-book icon who redefined the genre with angst-filled superheroes such as Spider-Man and X-Men, is still at a loss to explain. ... 'What happened was a nightmare I'm trying to forget,' Lee, 81, says ruefully. 'I want to put it behind me. I don't want to be associated with it.' In early 2000, Stan Lee Media was one of the most-hyped dot-coms, generating buzz on Wall Street ... and in the tech world. Some industry watchers predicted it would bring high-quality animation to the Web and spin off a new generation of cartoon crime fighters to movies, TV shows and toys. Within months, however, the Southern California company collapsed in one of the Web's most sordid flameouts.” The article then summarizes the status of the ensuing case and notes that, “Lee still stings from the experience. He wasn't hurt only financially, friends and colleagues say, but his reputation was sullied and he is less trusting of others.”

The Sky Is the Limit!
Clootie and DumplingIndian Television has this wide-ranging interview with Zee Telefilms-owned Padmalaya Telefilms' “Executive Director G V Narasimha Rao and director for animation Rajiv Sangari, to get their take on where they feel India's Animation Industry is headed and what could hinder its progress to the top.” It covers such topics as competition with other Asian countries and how they are dealing with the shortage of animators. When asked what “problems that the Indian Animation industry faces in penetrating new markets?,” they say, “Undercutting. Nobody can be blamed for it but the one thing that affects the industry adversely is under pricing. I wouldn't like to mention names. The other problem we face is lack of government support. I was recently at MIP TV, where countries like China had their pavilion in all splendor, even countries like Scotland had their own pavilion. But we had to do the rounds like salesmen with bags in our hands.” (Pictured is Clootie and Dumpling, which Padmalaya is doing for Mallard Media.)

Visual Effects: Lemony Snicket & Magic Maked
Celebritynews.about.com reports on the preview on the set of Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events, which was given by the film's visual effects producer Tom Peitzman. It notes, “Many of the [some 400 special effects] shots come from the character of Sunny, a baby. Peitzman said they were able to do 80 to 85% of Sunny’s shots with the real babies, Kara and Shelby Hoffman. For some of the situations in which they could not put a real baby, they used a CGI double. ... The Straits Times has this interview with “Wilson Tang, the self-taught [Chinese-Canadian] designer behind the visual effects in Star Wars: Episode II and The Hulk,” who is now a senior visual effects art director at ILM, where he is now working on Lemony Snicket. Visiting Singapore to give a talk, it notes, “While he believes that the special effects of Asian movies are generally not on a par with American films, due to 'an issue of both budget and vision', there are some, like Zhang Yimou's Hero, which are pushing the artform further than US movies. 'The East just has to mature to a point where it starts to also see films and culture as something that is inherently 'radical',' he said.”

In Brief: Disney Earnings Rise, Return of Spawn & Lord Provost in Storyland
Atoz poster
The Associated Press notes, “Walt Disney Co. reported strong fiscal second-quarter earnings Wednesday and raised its guidance on earnings for the full year.” The good news was said to have been “fueled by rebounding attendance at its theme parks and hot DVD sales”; one assumes the latter included sales of Finding Nemo. ... According to Comingsoon.net, IDT Entertainment and Todd McFarlane Productions (TMP) today jointly announced a multi-faceted development, production, and distribution agreement to produce animated programming and merchandise based on Spawn and other TMP original intellectual properties. ... According to the terms of the agreement, the initial project is the return of Todd McFarlane's Spawn: The Animated Series. ... The Evening Telegraph has this report on a visit by “Lord Provost John Letford and [Dundee] city council economic development convener Councillor Joe Morrow” to Storyland, where it was “found it to be making significant headway with feature film, Atoz. Critically acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Joe Austen, the firm’s creative director, welcomed them, and he told them Atoz is already attracting interest among major players in the film industry, both in Europe and in the United States.

May 11, 2004
The Voices of 'Shrek 2': Antonio Banderas & Julie Andrews
Antonio Banderas voicing Puss in Boots in Shrek 2Celebritynews.about.com has this interview with “Antonio Banderas [who] joins all the Shrek regulars [in] Shrek 2, [where] he voices Puss in Boots, who acts strangely like Zorro.” Asked “Did they come to you do to a Zorro type character?,” he says, “No, because at the beginning, when I first got on this, they said to me the guy was thought to be French, kind of a D’artagnan, from Three Musketeers but obviously, once I jumped in there with my accent, he became Zorro.” In addition to recording his moves in the recording studio, Banderas feels, “they [also] went to some of my epic movies like Zorro, Desperado, The 13th Warrior, movies like that, because sometimes I recognize some moves.” ... Comingsoon.net has a shorter talk with Julie Andrews, who voices Queen Lillian, mother of Cameron Diaz's Princess Fiona. It notes, “Although Julie first stepped into a recording studio as a singer at the age of 12, she says voiceover work was a challenge unlike anything she's faced in show business. 'It was like learning a whole new craft,' says Julie. 'You're flying by the seat of your pants. You don't see anything. It's just vocal and they ask you for endless changes on a single line.'”

In Brief: Here Come 'The Jetsons,' The Queen of Cute & Conflict and Crisis
The JetsonsUSA Today, noting the DVD release of The Jetsons, “forty-two years after [it] jetted onto TV screens,” as well as “the Saturday-morning boomer favorite Jonny Quest,” provides a survey of forthcoming TV animation titles. It says, “Last year, the number of cartoon DVD collections released rose to 34 from 21 in 2002, says Ralph Tribbey, editor of the DVD Release Report. And so far this year, with 14 already released, cartoon collections are ahead of last year's release rate.” ... The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “Hometown artist Mary Engelbreit is coming to a VCR near you. The Queen of Cute is releasing a direct-to-video cartoon, her first venture into animation. The half-hour production [which is being released by GoodTimes Entertainment] is based on another Engelbreit first: the lavishly illustrated The Night Before Christmas, published in 2002 by HarperCollins.” ... The Star, in its coverage of the Silver Screen Awards of the 17th Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF), initially focuses on “Conflict and Crisis [a 16 minute] stop-motion animation short that shows their perspectives of the Iraq war, which was made by 25 teenage girls from Singapore. “The girls, classmates in the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (Toa Payoh) secondary school, won best director under the Singapore Shorts category of the awards. They are the youngest ever filmmakers to win best director since the Silver Screen Awards were introduced in 1991.”

May 10, 2004
In Brief: Disney/Ovitz Files, Andre 3000, Mark Latimer & Award Winning Students
Andre 3000
The New York Times has this report on “the latest batch of documents” unveiled in the Disney shareholder lawsuit regarding the firing of Michael Ovitz 10 years ago as president “and the hefty severance package he received. ... As the correspondence from [Disney CEO Michael] Eisner shows, he brought in Mr. Ovitz in part to appease his wife, Jane, and turned to other family members as well for counsel about the business.” ... In its profile of jazz pianist Mark Latimer, The Western Mail reports, “He has been awarded a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council of Wales which he will use to develop a creative collaboration and long-term partnership with the animation collective Cinetig. The duo will create experimental work combining improvised and notated music with improvised and pre-determined animation. ... ”According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Andre 3000 [pictured], one-half of the chart-topping hip-hop group OutKast, is developing a potential series project with Cartoon Network. The musician is hashing out ideas for a half-hour special pegged for the cable channel's Adult Swim block. If Andre 3000 and Cartoon — both based in Atlanta — are happy with the results, the channel will greenlight the special for series treatment.” ... ABC Online has this transcription of story from The World Today radio show about a “claymation film [which ]has won an award that's every bit as prestigious for its own producers [as the Oscar-winning Harvie Krumpet] — a group of students at the Gunbalanya indigenous school in western Arnhem Land. With the help of two Melbourne animators, these 11 and 12 year olds turned an ancient dreamtime story into a four-minute classic, taking out an award at this year's Down Under International Film Festival in Darwin.”

May 9, 2004
Poker with The Simpsons
Nikki Finke in her Deadline Hollywood column in the L.A. Weekly takes a behind-the-scenes look at the job action by the voice actors for The Simpsons. She notes, “The voices behind the animated Simpson extended family learned from [the cast of] Friends that there was strength in numbers, but their negotiations still turned into a true bloodletting because Fox at first assumed that since the characters were animated, the actors behind them were expendable. Even though there wasn’t any yelling and screaming or Ovitz-ian “You’ll never work in this town again,” the implied threat was always hanging in the air like a guillotine, not just for the actors, but also for their reps. Bargain too hard and, to paraphrase Bart, your shorts will be eaten. Not only would the plug be pulled on the Fox series, but also on a Simpsons appearance scheduled for the 2005 Super Bowl. (Yes, these things are planned that far in advance.)”

May 8, 2004
Ryan Buddy, Can You Spare a Second Chance for a Fallen Star?
The Toronto Globe and Mail has this article about Chris Landreth's Ryan, a short film about Ryan Larkin, “A gifted Canadian animator, [who] peaked with the counterculture, only to drop away from filmmaking and into cocaine and alcohol dependency in the 1970s. Today he is on the street.” The film, which mixes documentary footage with animation, was co-produced by the National Film Board and Copper Heart Entertainment. “After a sneak preview in Toronto a little over a week ago, Ryan is already receiving acclaim on the digital-media and animation-festival circuits. In two weeks, it will play at Cannes and, more importantly, the [Annecy] international animation festival in France, in June. 'With this mix of the art film and documentary and animation that you are starting to see, Chris has really slapped computer animation on the head,' said Chris Robinson, artistic director of the Ottawa International Film Festival, who helped to introduce Landreth to Larkin.”

Animal Pragmatism
The Sunday Herald has this review by Damien Love of I Am Not An Animal, the new British animated TV series debuting Monday, about some animals who “have been chosen as the subjects of a secret experiment, namely, the attempt to create talking animals.” The show caused a stir when animal rights activists complained about the show. Love feels the criticism was unwarranted and “[Peter] Baynham’s satire isn’t really about animals; as if it needed saying, it’s about us. On one level, the programme is mocking our pathetic, eternal desire to subject animals to relentless anthropomorphism. Mainly, though, it’s about what a miserable bunch we are, what we’ve done to the planet, how we’re obsessed with celebrities, sex, food, design, body image, 'culture' and money. The exclusive suite the animals live in — ceaselessly observed by and playing up to hidden cameras — is any reality TV house but there’s a larger point. Sitting in there, blithely oblivious to the harsh realities and suffering endured by their fellow kind beyond the door, Baynham’s animals are all of us sitting watching his programme. It’s an odd, ugly, interesting little thing, but with one big flaw: for a comedy, it’s not actually very funny.”

May 7, 2004
Pixar Profit Triples on Success of 'Nemo'
Reuters reports, “Pixar Animation Studios Inc. reported on Thursday that its quarterly profit more than tripled as movie Finding Nemo continued to be a hit with international audiences in theaters and on DVD and home video in the United States. First-quarter net income rose to $26.7 million, or 46 cents per share, from $8.2 million, or 15 cents per diluted share, in the prior-year quarter .... Analysts on average had expected Pixar to post earnings of 39 cents per share, far ahead of Pixar's forecast of 30 cents.”

Disney Foes in Pooh Suit Want Judge Ousted for Bias
According to Reuters (also here), “The Los Angeles Judge who dismissed a widely watched royalty lawsuit over Winnie the Pooh in March had undisclosed ties to Walt Disney Co. and should disqualify himself and reopen the case, the family that had sued Disney argued in court documents filed on Thursday. Lawyers for Stephen Slesinger Inc., the family firm with U.S. merchandising rights to the honey-loving bear created by British author A.A. Milne, said in a motion filed on Thursday that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy had praised Disney as a 'joyous' and 'profitable' company in a book [Why Didn't I Think of That? Think the Unthinkable and Achieve Creative Greatness] he wrote on innovation.” The Associated Press also reports that, “McCoy has disqualified himself in the past in cases where one party was represented by the judge's old law firm and one of Disney's legal consultants on the case in 2003 joined the judge's old law firm.”

Gross Animation
The Australian has this interview with Yoram Gross and his wife Sandra, which notes, “The grand old man of animation is slowing down these days and has handed over to others much of the onerous duties of managing the country's biggest animation studio [Yoram Gross-EM. TV], but at 77 he is still thinking about how to reach children — what makes them happy, what is good for them and what stories they love. ... His business partner and wife, Sandra ... oversees the complex of studios where designers beaver away quietly in front of banks of beeping computers, perfecting tiny, complex actions on screen. One or two work the old-fashioned way, with pencil on paper. 'The drawing. That's still where it all comes from,' Sandra says. ... Commercial networks everywhere have absolutely no interest in children's TV, Sandra adds. 'They buy material by the kilo rather than by the quality. If not for the legislation forcing them to buy Australian material, they would rather pay peanuts to the US or Europe or Japan.' ... Of the many films Yoram has made in his long career, Sarah (1982) holds special resonance. It's a gentle tale combining animation and photography in his trademark style, with an introduction and conclusion by Mia Farrow.”

In Brief: Nagma Turns Director, Kid Robot & Taiwan Animation Festival,
Nagma According to Mid-Day Mumbai, “Actress Nagma [pictured] is all set to make her directorial debut with a 3-D character generated animation film. Produced by Media Factory, over 80 per cent of the movie will be generated on the computer making it along the lines of Hollywood animations like Shrek and Antz. ... Aashish Chanana, managing director of Media Factory says: 'This is the first time a movie of this stature will be made in India. It is a very comprehensive and expensive venture and we are still conceptualising the film. We are trying to get the animators of Antz roped in too.'” ... Wired News has this story on Kerry Conran, director of the forthcoming science-fiction adventure, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which is “the first live-action studio release in which every scene is at least partly computer-generated. The actors are real, but just about everything else, from city sidewalks to exploding zeppelins, is digital. 'A lot of filmmakers would find it limiting, but I find it strangely liberating,' Conran declares. 'You wish you could just move that actor over an inch? Well, we can.'” ... The Taipei Times notes, “The Taiwan International Animation Festival is coming back for the second year — bringing in another 300 films from 37 countries — after the success of last year when it attracted 30,000 film fans.” The festival will open with Jacques-Remy Girerd's Raining Cats and Frogs and closes with Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers, and also includes Sylvain Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville and a preview of Chris Wedge's Robots, which is still in production.

May 6, 2004
Mel, the Man for the Mouse?
The New York Post reports (also here) the rumor that, “A consortium of mysterious European investors has approached [Mel] Gibson about a possible takeover of Disney now that Comcast has thrown in the towel ... 'We were very impressed with the way Gibson handled The Passion of the Christ,' one insider said. The group was especially motivated after 'The Passion,' made for $25 million, raked in almost $600 million. 'Gibson has the sensibilities Hollywood needs,' says a source close to the star. 'He has the right insight to lead a studio. Look at those numbers! Now, that is how to make movies — none of this $120 million nonsense.' The backers would want Gibson to kick in a few hundred million of his own money and want him to run Disney if the takeover succeeded.”

For the Viewer, No Escape Hatch in a Digital 3-D Film
Star Trek: Borg Invasion 4D posterThe New York Times has this story about the 7½-minute film that opens Star Trek: Borg Invasion 4D, a 22-minute attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton which “combines 10 actors with 130 computer-generated figures.” It notes that Threshold Digital Research Labs “has created a 3-D movie that not only gives the illusion of a world in front of you, but all around. The visual technique created by the company ... surrounds the viewer with images in the same way that Dolby Digital 5.1-channel audio gives listeners a sense that they are enveloped by voices and effects: it's surround sound for the eyes. ... To reduce eyestrain, the company shot each scene so that both the foreground and the background were in focus. ... Because everything is always in focus, the production company had to imbue each element with rich detail, whether it was part of a ship or one of the many computer-generated characters talking to colleagues on catwalks or riding elevators seemingly hundreds of yards away.”

Virtual Skin Looking Even Better
BBC News has this story on the technique developed by Dr. Henrik Jensen of the University of California at San Diego, who recently received a Technical Achievement Oscar for his work. The software was first used for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and most recently in Van Hesling. “The secret in making virtual skin seem real is all to do with light. Dr Jensen found that light did not just bounce from surfaces such as marble and skin. Instead light beams penetrate below the surface and scatter at different points. It is being used in almost all visual effects for movies and there are a number of game companies looking at how to adapt the technique for games as well.” The software developed out of a project at at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998 which attempted to “simulate weathering of marble. ... Dr. Jensen is now working on refining the technique so that it can capture the subtle details in the skin on a human face.”

South African Artist Chalks up His Visions
Robin Rhode animationThe Boston Globe has this piece on South African artist Robin Rhode, who has five animations on exhibit at Brandeis University's Rose Museum in Waltham, which begins, “Four children soar above the ground on a giant flying horse. A young boy balances upside-down on his bike, his school papers catching the wind behind him. Children ride a seesaw until they fly off into the air [pictured]. In the world of artist Robin Rhode, all it takes is a piece of chalk and anything is possible. The South African artist draws images on vacant lots, city buildings — wherever chalk will stick — and then interacts with them as if they were real. For instance, he might draw a car on a wall and then change its tire. He often photographs this performance graffiti and then combines the successive images and drawings into stop-action animations.”

In Brief: Cameras Are His Life & The Polar Express in IMAX 3D
The Indianapolis Star has this story on Van Hesling cinematographer Allen Daviau in which he talks about working with CGI special effects. “'Before, we had optical effects,' Daviau said. 'We had things that were more arduous in terms of the construction of an effects shot that had to be done on an optical printer. Now you can conceive of shots that are far more complex, and they can be executed with greater finesse by the effects companies.' It's now possible to combine effects created by different companies with a seamless result, he said.” See also celebritynews.about.com interview with Daviau. ... Comingsoon.net reports, “IMAX Corporation today announced that it has reached an agreement with Warner Bros. Pictures through which the Studio will release its full-length CGI stop-motion feature, The Polar Express, to conventional theatres and in the IMAX® 3D format, exclusively to IMAX® theatres, on November 19 in the U.S. and many international territories. The film will be digitally converted into IMAX 3D using both the proprietary IMAX 3D conversion process and IMAX DMR® (Digitally Re-mastering) technology.”

May 5, 2004
It Takes Computer Effects to Make Movie Monsters — But Elbow Grease Helps
Van Hesling special effects drawingThe San Francisco Chronicle begins its story on the creation of the special effects in Van Hesling by noting, “The speckled wings of Dracula's vampire brides, one of the most impressive effects created by Industrial Light & Magic for the new movie Van Helsing, were born during an eel-hunting expedition in a San Francisco fish market. ... While George Lucas' effects house has traveled light years since the filmmaker covered a Marine World elephant with fur and fake horns to create the Bantha creature in Star Wars, workers at the 29-year-old San Rafael studio are still engaging in a surprising amount of low-tech problem-solving. As ILM employees strive to blow away moviegoers with never-before-seen visuals, the characters in Van Helsing were created in part from hundreds of sketches, dozens of sculptures, motion-capture filming sessions with flesh-and-blood actors, a visit from a pair of wolves and that field trip to the fishmonger on Fisherman's Wharf.”

Cartoon Kolobok Plays up USSR's Down Side
The Story of the KolobokThe St. Petersburg Times has this interview with Dutch/American filmmaker James Boekbinder, whose “animated version of the Russian folk tale The Story of the Kolobok ... has been recently released [in Russia] on DVD as part of the collection Independent Animation from the Netherlands.” He talks about how he adapted the tale a loaf of bread and why he changed its setting from a forest to a subway. Boekbinder says, “The potential viewer for Kolobok is an adult who takes animation seriously [and] has some knowledge of the folk story and the social setting of the post-communist world (including the subway). ... the film is not really universally understandable outside of Eastern Europe, for that reason — in that sense, I've failed to make it as universal as it should be. I identified entirely with the context I encountered in the ex-U.S.S.R. However, the responses of Russians, other ex-Soviet citizens, and other Eastern Europeans have been very enthusiastic! They immediately understand that it's really a kind of 'cartoon verite,' the animated equivalent of a documentary about the lives and thoughts of four everyday working people. I don't see it as a children's film, but the response of children has been surprisingly positive. I was amazed by that, because I thought they'd be bored by it.”

Maison Ikkoku and Displaced Nostalgia
Maison Ikkoku posterPopMatters columnist Brian Ruh here ruminates about 1986 his college days and his nostalgia for the movies Top Gun and Transformers: The Movie, as well as the Japanese TV show, Maison Ikkoku. He notes, “Maison Ikkoku has long been a favorite of anime fans in the US because they can connect with it on both exotic and familiar levels. By depicting the culture of daily life that existed in Japan in the mid-'80s, Maison Ikkoku presented a world so different from the lives of American fans that the show was worth watching to see how an 'everyman' ... lived and interacted with others. ... On the other hand, though Maison Ikkoku presented feelings of love and longing (as well as some highly comedic moments) that transcended the specificity of Japanese culture. Watching Maison Ikkoku was to be both learning and entertained; it was a potent mix of cultural education and love story.”

Trained Talent Eludes Animation Industry
The Financial Express has this update on the ongoing talent shortage in India's fast-growing animation industry. It reports, “Ants Animation training school director Chetan S said, 'In terms of the projected potential for growth, there is an acute shortage of trained manpower in the industry. That’s because there exists a mental block in India agai-nst taking up an arts as a career, as returns — and huge returns at that — come only after you have done something noticeable.' He said certain studios in India had to hire billboard painters and artists and send them for short-term training with Ants before inducting them. Bangalore-based Ants is planning to set up 50 training centres across the country by the end of the year.”

In Brief: Voice Actors, Shrek 2 Release Moved Up, Tron returns & HIV Video
Shrek 2
NPR (National Public Radio) has this audio report from its Day to Day show, in which “John McChesney explores the world of cartoon voiceover actors with profiles of the famous voices behind The Powerpuff Girls, SpongeBob SquarePants and scores of other cartoons.” .... Comingsoon.net reports that, “In response to ogre-whelming early demand, Shrek 2 has moved up its opening date from May 21 to May 19, 2004 ..... In addition, tickets for Shrek 2 will be available for advance sale on the Internet, beginning on May 7, 2004, almost two weeks before the film's release date.” ... According to The Los Angeles Times, The 1982 computer animation landmark “Tron will be back on the big screen Thursday for a special 10-day engagement at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood; the film originally played across the street at the Chinese. An archival 70-millimeter print, featuring a six-channel Dolby soundtrack, will be shown. Original costumes and memorabilia also will be on display at the theater.” ... Mmegi has this report on “The launch of [a live action/]animated patient education video[which] has marked the latest step in the Masa programme in mobilising communities on HIV/AIDS and Anti-Retroviral (ARV) therapy in Botswana.”

May 4, 2004
Disney Dissidents & Jobs Could Fix Company
Reuters reports, “The two dissident investors of Walt Disney Co. who campaigned to unseat Michael Eisner as chairman [i.e., Roy Disney and Stanley Gold] will nominate an alternate slate of directors next year if the current board does not 'face up to the issues', former director Stanley Gold said on Monday. Although Disney has been forecasting strong earnings growth over the next few years, Gold said Disney's results will deteriorate because the company has 'buildings full of suits' but is 'bankrupt of creative people.'” ... Meanwhile, according to The San Francisco Business Times (also here), “Dissident Walt Disney shareholder and former director Stanley Gold said Monday that Steve Jobs would be on his short list of people who could fix the troubled company. 'If I had a list, Steve Jobs would be on a short list of people who could fix this company,' Gold said in response to a question from the San Francisco Business Times following his presentation at a meeting of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in Fort Worth, Texas.”

Exxxcellent! ‘Simpsons' Strike Settled
Reuters provides additional details about the settlement between the producers and voice actors of The Simpsons. It notes, “The actors who provide the voices for Homer, Bart and the rest of the cartoon stars of Fox TV's The Simpsons will return to work this week with twice as much D'oh in their pockets, having won a new contract collectively valued at $33 million a year. ... Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday that the show's six principal cast members doubled their pay from $125,000 to $250,000 per episode. That would boost the earnings of each actor to $5.5 million a year for a 22-episode season, a tidy sum for what amounts to a day's work per show but is far less than the $8 million originally sought by the cast. Collectively the deal was valued at $33 million a year. Sources said the actors also gave up their key demand for a share in profits from the show. See also the E! Online report.

You Could Die Laughing
New York Newsday, in a story on Israeli comedy, includes some comments from “Muli Segev, a 32-year-old senior producer at Keshet Studios in Herzliya,” where he is “now at work on an animated comedy called Memkoof 22, or Army Base 22, with the quality of animation being very similar to that of South Park, and the 22 a deliberate reference to Joseph Heller's Catch-22. The show, the first Israeli animated comedy, started running on a small cable channel to test audience reaction, but this month is scheduled to run on one of the national networks. 'It deals with the Israeli army in the same way South Park deals with the American Heartland,' he explained. 'It looks like South Park — very blunt, hard satire on the army. It's very, very critical of Israel's militarist society and the military itself.' ... With such topical, controversial humor, alienating viewers is always a risk. Segev thinks satirical comedy has fallen on tougher times because of the failure of the Oslo peace accords and the Palestinians' intifada, or uprising, against the Israeli occupation, which began in 2000.”

Tokyo Godfathers
Tokyo GodfathersThe DVD release in the U.S. of Satoshi Kon's film has elicited several new reviews, including Kim Hollis in Box Office Prophets, who gushes that, “Along with outstanding character development and dialogue, Tokyo Godfathers is infused with humor, both subtle and overt. Kon never goes for the cheap shot, though, and the real reward is watching the film with a close eye to detail. Even as the plot progresses, something fascinating always seems to be happening in the background, making it almost a necessity to rewind and watch what was missed. As in both Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress, one of director Kon’s biggest successes comes from his exquisitely designed landscapes. The wintry Tokyo setting allows some excellent opportunities to create some nearly real-looking scenes. One back alley in particular is so natural that it almost could have come straight out of a live-action Matrix film.

Sakhalin Power Plant Uses Cartoons to Shame Debtors Into Paying
Sakhalinenergo cartoon showMosNews reveals that, “Sakhalinenergo, a power plant in the Russian Far East, plans to air animated shorts on local TV to pressure debtors into paying back over 440 million rubles (over $15 million) owed. ... The cartoons will feature Sakhalinenergo’s debtors as patients treated in a clinic for 'chronic non-payment disease,' with a cartoon doctor coming up with a solution for the case. The power company was forced to look for an original approach to recover its money after the debtors remained uncooperative.”

May 3, 2004
Blood: The Last Vampire
Blood: The Last Vampire Jürgen Fauth in worldfilm.about.com reviews the Hiroyuki Kitakubo film, noting it “is the latest entry in a series of would-be Japanese Animation crossover titles to hit American theaters.” But despite their critical acclaim and the success of “Pokemon, Digimon, and Whatever-mon and a persistent mistrust for drawings as anything but a kiddie medium, the general public has yet to accept anime. It is safe to say that Blood: The Last Vampire, currently playing in New York, won't do the trick of bringing animation to the masses either. ... I found myself intrigued by the Blood's slick surface, and whole-heartedly recommend it to fanciers of the genre for its state-of-the-art animation — it's a wild ride that lasts slightly longer than an IMAX film and looks better than anything I've ever seen in 3-D glasses.”

Dual Jobs Make Jobs Chron 200's CEO of Year
The San Francisco Chronicle has named Steve Jobs The Chronicle 200's CEO of the year because he excelled at running two companies” — Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios. In regards to the latter assignment, it points out that, “Pixar Animation Studios is coming off a record-setting year in 2003, posting $262.5 million in revenue (a 30 percent increase from the year before) in the wake of Finding Nemo ... The movie, produced by Pixar and distributed by Walt Disney Co., was released on May 30 and generated $792 million in gross box office revenue by Jan. 3, the end of Pixar's fiscal year. Nemo was the highest grossing film of the year and the highest grossing animated feature ever. It was released on home video in November, selling 24.9 million DVDs and VHS tapes by the end of the fiscal year.”

Now, NID Has Designs on Animation Industry
According to The Indian Express, “The already booming animation industry in India will soon receive a shot in the arm with NID [National Institute of Design] planning to set up an International School of Animation near Thiruvanananthapuram [Trivandrum]. NID has tied up with Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA) to set up the institute. The tie-up has still not received NID Governing Council’s nod, but the partners, having decided on the need for a full-fledged training centre, are all set to design the curriculum, list requirements of the centre and construct the building. With the Kerala Government taking care of the infrastructure, NID is expected to draw up and implement the plan at the earliest.” If this goes through, it would be a major coup for Kerala, as the world-class animation program at NID easily ranks among the best in India.

Padmalaya Seeks 400 Animators to Execute New Projects
In the planning ahead department, The Financial Express earlier reported on how Color Chips hoped to expand from 150 to 1000 over a period of a year. Now, Indian Television reports on a somewhat more modest expansion plan by Padmalaya Telefilms, animation arm of media major Zee Telefilms [which] has clinched a hat-trick of deals in the last quarter. Great for Padmalaya no doubt but there is a problem of personnel (or should we say lack of it) that it is grappling with. In order to execute the deals, it needs around 400 animation industry professionals with different skill sets. ... Speaking to indiantelevision.com last Friday, Padmalaya Telefilms executive director V Narsimha Rao said, 'A major concern for us is the lack of animators in the country. We have bagged all these contracts, but the implementation is a big apprehension for us. The dearth of animators in the industry is going to prove fatal if we don't pull up our socks.' ... In an attempt to churn out more animators, Padmalaya - ZICA, a premier traditional and digital academy based currently in Hyderabad and Mumbai with a total capacity of 85 students is also going to be setting up its base in Calcutta. A launch of ZICA in other metros too is in the pipeline, as an impetus to attract and train more individuals for the animation industry per se.”

Popeye Fans Get Animated in DVD Debate
Popeye 7th Anniversary DVD coverThe Boston Globe reports on the consternation of Fred M. Grandinetti, the author of Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History, and other Popeye fans about the “75th anniversary compilation of Popeye cartoons on DVD [which] contained only Popeye cartoons that aired on television in the early 1960s, and not the short black-and-white films that debuted in the 1930s — and that connoisseurs consider the best and truest representation of the sailor with the wizened mug and the bulging forearms. ... [Although] around 25 of the 86 cartoons on the recently released Popeye: 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition, he concedes, are 'very good.' But the others, he maintains, are inferior and slapdash compared to the short films made by Fleischer Studios and its successor company, Famous Studios. He says he gets as many as 275 e-mails a week from fans complaining about the absence of the short films from the DVD shelves. 'What is appalling is that on the 75th anniversary, you cannot walk into a video store and get a collection of his work,' he says.”

May 2, 2004
Viacom Eyes India For Outsourcing Animation Content
The Financial Express reports, “Media giant Viacom Inc., which owns popular channels like MTV and Nickelodeon, is exploring the possibility of outsourcing animation content from India. A team of senior Viacom officials were in India to identify opportunities for growth. Though most of the animation content for the Viacom channels are made in the US, the media giant also outsources some work from Korea and Philippines. Viacom could shift some of its work from these two Asian countries to India.”It also notes that, by joining “Sony-Discovery’s One Alliance for distribution, Viacom may now be in the right position to bring in more channels [to India]. The first task, however, is to stabilise the two existing channels — MTV and Nickelodeon — in the youth and kids space .... The company’s focus this year will be to invest in Nickelodeon and try to push it into a strong position.”

May 1, 2004
'Simpsons' Cast Heads Back to Work with New Deal
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The ensemble voice cast of Fox's hit animated comedy The Simpsons has inked a new four-year deal with the show's producer, 20th Century Fox TV. Dan Castallaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer and Yeardley Smith, who went on strike about a month ago in the midst of contract negotiations, will return to work next week. The New York Times added that, “associates of the actors said that the cast's major effort to gain a percentage of the profits had failed ... In recent days, people close to the negotiations said, several of the actors had grown concerned about the possibility that the show would be canceled — as Fox was threatening — if the impasse was not resolved.”

Bring Me the Head of Jessica Simpson
The Toronto Star has this story about The Wrong Coast, Cuppa Coffee's animated puppet series shown on The Movie Network. “Coast is a takeoff on infotainment shows like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood and features completely fabricated gossip, celeb interviews and remotes. Highlights include Robert Redford arriving at Sundance Film Festival atop a skiing horse; a love triangle between Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Ted Danson; and movie spoofs like The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. ... All these larger-than-life personalities are built on 11½-inch puppets dressed by chief costumer Sarah Morden, who makes you feel terminally frumpy. ... There were over 638 characters in 200 sculpts (bodies). They shot 14 episodes in 8 1/2 months and used between 50 and 80 puppets per episode.”

Megas XLR
Megas XLRThe Honolulu Star-Bulletin has this review by Wilma Jandoc of Cartoon Network's new series, Megas XLR, done in the anime style. She complains that its “anime stylings are fast becoming an overused shtick. With American cartoons such as Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans and Samurai Jack — not to mention other big-mech anime such as Gundam and Voltron — in the collective consciousness, Megas XLR will need more than its Japanese look to stand out from the rest. But hey, it's hard to give a complete judgment on the planned 26-episode series on the pilot alone. To its credit, the animation is good, and the cartoon does have its moments. ... One thing's for sure: Even if it turns out to be a flop, Megas XLR's gigantic robots ensure it will get in some good toy merchandising along the way.”

Ralph Bakshi on the DVD release of ‘Wizards', May 25
Wizards DVD coverFulvue Drive-in.com has this interview with Bakshi who recalls that, “when we released Wizards the first time, it was two weeks before Star Wars, and it was doing fantastic for an animated film out there, especially in the fantasy film genre that wasn't Disney, and Star Wars started going right through the roof, and Fox wasn't prepared for either Wizards or Star Wars to do so well, so they pulled Wizards to make more room for Star Wars. I'm not complaining, I just wish they had been more prepared, but with the science fiction/fantasy genre ... then I ran into another picture like that when I did Lord of the Rings and this time, the date worked to my benefit.” In addition, Bakshi also talks about a number of his other films, including Fritz the Cat and Coonskin.

Nowhere Men Caught in a Cartoon Land
The Yellow Submarine DVD coverThe Toronto Star has this interview with animator Ron Campbell on the occasion of his appearance of The Beatlemania Shoppe. It notes that, “because he is only one of two artists to draw the Beatles for television and for film, he remains an inside source for Beatlemanics everywhere.” Campbell talks in particular about the design and animation of The Yellow Submarine, which he says, “was designed by Heinz Edelmann. I animated the characters. I laid out certain sequences, designed scenes and did the background. The design of the film was everything about the film. I think the way Aubrey Beardsley captured the zeitgeist of the 1890s, the Beatles captures the zeitgeist of the 1960s.”

© 2004 Harvey Deneroff


Animation Consultants International
News on the Web — May 2004